In Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady will come face to face with old ghosts, an able adversary and the future defining of his legacy.
Brady’s return to the green turf on Sunday will be an earth-shattering moment. With his reputation and character in dispute, and his ailing parents traveling to watch history unfold, he is left with only one option – win.
Winning solves everything; this truism is one that Brady understands. Winning punishes the provocateurs, it silences the critics and it rewards the faithful.
Leave it to Brady, though, to have the mental wherewithal and fortitude to ignore the noise, and instead focus on the mission at hand.
Coming off a four-game suspension for allegedly under-inflating footballs in the 2015 AFC Championship, he has arguably had the greatest season of his illustrious 16-year NFL career.
Leading his team to the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, Brady set NFL records for touchdown-to-interception ratio in a single season, as well as number of pass attempts on the road without an interception.
Now, as he prepares for his seventh Super Bowl, another NFL record, Brady will be chasing his fifth championship – a feat that no other NFL quarterback can lay claim to achieving.
But what reasons drove Brady’s MVP-caliber season? What underlying purposes are responsible for his ascension back to the mountaintop?
They can be summed up in five words: validation, admiration, vindication, celebration and recognition.
Validate his family’s faith
When the New England Patriots drafted Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL Draft, emotions were flying high in the Brady home.
Those in his inner circle expected his number to be called in the second or third round, but, regrettably, those expectations never came to fruition.
Instead, Brady fell to the sixth round before the Patriots selected him with the 199th pick.
It’s a day that Tom Brady will never forget.
In a 2011 ESPN documentary, Brady, recalling the events of that day, displayed a level of emotion rarely seen from the man many fans think of as a superhero.
The usually unflappable quarterback broke down again in front of reporters this week when speaking about his father during Super Bowl Opening Night. He later acknowledged that the past year has been a “challenging” one for his family for “personal reasons.” He did not elaborate on what those challenges were, beyond saying, “It’s my mom and dad. They’ve been so supportive my entire life. It’s nice to be there to show them – to try to make them proud.”
This week, reports also circulated that Brady’s mother was suffering from a serious illness.
Brady, himself, confirmed that his mother has been dealing with some “health issues” this year.
His parents have attended all six Super Bowls he has played in.
A win on Sunday would be an achievement that none of the Brady’s ever expected him to accomplish in their wildest dreams.
You can know for certain that when he takes the field on Sunday, Brady will, in part, be playing for his family.
Admire his impressive career
At 39-years-old, Tom Brady looks remarkably young and athletic to be the second oldest quarterback ever to play in the big game.
It’s truly a testament to his work ethic and talent.
And the records don’t stop there – Brady has also won his fair share of awards:
- Four-time Super Bowl Champion (2001, 2003, 2004, 2014)
- Three-time Super Bowl MVP (2001, 2003, 2004)
- Two-time regular season MVP (2007, 2010)
- Comeback Player of the Year (2009)
- Two-time Offensive Player of the Year (2007, 2010)
- Two-time first-team All-Pro (2007, 2010)
- 12 Pro Bowls
It’s hard to find a quarterback statistic that Brady either doesn’t hold, or isn’t within the top-10 of that category.
The argument over who the all-time greatest quarterback is will always persist; however, Brady can make a convincing case for himself with one more Super Bowl ring.
Quarterbacks will continue to come and go in the NFL, but none will ever eclipse what Tom Brady will have accomplished in his career if he secures another Super Bowl win on Sunday.
Regardless of how events play out in Super Bowl LI, when he retires, Brady will leave behind an indelible mark on the league.
The mark of a champion.
Vindicate his tarnished reputation
Embroiled by the Deflategate controversy and the ensuing investigation that followed, the New England Patriots and its fans turned to their quarterback for answers.
Why were the balls deflated? Who deflated the balls? Did you play a part in deflating the balls? How can you not tell the difference between a ball that is inflated to 11.5 PSI versus one inflated to 12.5 PSI?
The questions never ended.
So, what did Tom Brady do? He worried about what he could control and shut the rest out.
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, Brady addressed the issue:
“I think there was a little bit of an energy drain, like I said, with my emotions and my feelings being involved earlier in the week,” Brady said. “But you gotta be able to move past those things and compartmentalize those things and be mentally tough enough to go out there and try to shine through.”
And, wow, did he ever “shine through.”
The following week, in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady completed 37 of 50 passes – setting a Super Bowl record for most completions – for 328 yards and four touchdowns, with two interceptions. He also set the record for career touchdown passes in a Super Bowl, 13, which was previously held by San Francisco 49ers QB Joe Montana.
But legal issues still hung over Brady and the Patriots like a dark cloud.
Despite his vow that he “would never do anything to break the rules,” Brady would ultimately pay a price for the under-inflated balls.
On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced that Tom Brady would be suspended without pay for four games for violating the NFL policy on the integrity of the game. The league branded Tom Brady a cheater.
Three days later, the NFLPA filed an appeal on Tom Brady’s behalf.
After a four-month battle in court, Judge Richard M. Berman nullified Brady’s four-game suspension.
But Commissioner Goodell refused to accept the ruling, announcing in a statement that the NFL would appeal the ruling in order to, again, “protect the integrity of the game.”
Ultimately, Goodell and the NFL would prevail in the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed Judge Berman’s decision in a 2-1 ruling that reinstated Brady’s four-game suspension.
Brady took to Facebook to send a message telling his fans that he would “no longer proceed with the legal process.”
But he also put Goodell and the league on notice when, in the last sentence of his post, he said, “I look forward to having the opportunity to return to the field this fall.”
Don’t look now, but Brady is one win away from leaving Roger Goodell nowhere else to hide.
Sports Illustrated legal analyst Michael McCann suggested that a defamation lawsuit from Brady against the NFL would hold serious water.
“The reality is that the evidence suggests he has been defamed in the sense that there have been things said about him that basic tenets of science repudiate,” McCann said. “And if you’re him, you can clearly show that you’ve been harmed. His reputation has been harmed. He’s been embarrassed. The rest of the country calls him a cheater. It’s going to stay with him for the rest of his career.”
Maybe, maybe not.
Remember: Winning solves everything.
Celebrate his presidential friendship
Recently, Brady’s name has become associated with politics, appearing in the news numerous times over the past two years, due to his longstanding relationship with President Donald Trump.
It all started when reporters first noticed an unusual object resting on the top shelf in Brady’s locker at Gillette Stadium in September 2015.
A bright red “Make America Great Again” hat.
Since that day, reporters have been incensed by Brady’s refusal to denounce his friend. However, with their attention laser-focused on Trump, they, for the most part, spared Brady from an inquisition.
Then the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl and things took on a nasty tone.
With the 2016 presidential election concluded, and Trump securely in the White House, reporters began venting frustration at a new target: Tom Brady.
“I’m not talking politics at all,” Brady told reporters as he took questions during media day.
Understandably, he’s trying to stay focused on winning the Super Bowl.
Unable to goad him into responding, reporters, not surprisingly, took to their respective outlets to assassinate Brady’s character.
Fair or unfair, in the span of a single week, Brady has been called “loser,” “coward,” “un-American” and “Deplorable.”
On Tuesday, Brady tried to dismiss the questions, telling USA TODAY Sports that he “has a right to stay out of it.”
Will this satisfy the media? Doubtful.
Some are even rooting against Brady and the Patriots this weekend because of their – wait for it – political views.
Invoking the right to free speech, or the right not to speak, is rarely respected in our country anymore.
Journalists will continue to try and draw parallels between San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady, but are these comparisons justified?
Kaepernick kneeled during our nation’s national anthem to protest social injustice and racial inequality. Brady refused to publicly denounce his 15-year friendship with then real estate mogul Donald Trump, now United States President Donald Trump.
The media put Kaepernick on the cover of TIME magazine, but then proceeds to call Brady “un-American”?
Looks like it’s time for the media to do some serious soul-searching.
Recognize his “most-valuable” season
Prior to this season, Ryan was considered by many as an above average quarterback, but certainly not in the same stratosphere as Tom Brady.
However, in 2016, Ryan was spectacular.
He led the league with a 117.1 passer rating; threw for 38 touchdowns, second in the league only to Aaron Rodgers; and recorded a 69.9 percent completion percentage.
And in the playoffs, Ryan guided the Atlanta Falcons to their second Super Bowl in franchise history.
Meanwhile, Brady finished the regular season with the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, throwing 28 touchdowns to just two interceptions. In his first four games back from suspension, Brady threw for 1,319 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
With Brady at the helm, the Patriots went 11-1 in their final 12 games, finishing the season with an NFL-best 14-2 record.
In what will undoubtedly be an electric Super Bowl finale, Brady will square off against the regular-season MVP with everything on the line.
And while every game matters when a team is trying to make it to the Super Bowl, the last one is the only one that ends with a trophy.
Will the real MVP please take a step forward?
The script is already written…
The “revenge tour” has nearly reached its end.
We know the story of the Michigan quarterback who was selected in the sixth round, who became the NFL “Golden Boy,” only to be cast down and vilified by the league that had elevated him.
But the story is never finished until the final chapter is written.
Sit back, get comfortable and witness – the “GOAT” is scripting his final act.