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Tommy, we hardly knew ye

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He's 42 years old now, ancient by football standards. It's an age where, despite whatever healthy diet you're on, and whatever exercise program you follow, the things you have to do as a professional athlete morph from fun, to work, to a downright burden.

Dick
Flavin

Here is what I think. I think that Tom Brady is more than half-way through his final season as an NFL quarterback. I sincerely hope that this forecast is wrong and that people will come up to me next September as number 12 trots onto the field at the Patriots' home opener, waving the paper on which this is written under my nose and singing "Who's Sorry Now?"

I'm pretty sure that I'm right, though. Mind you, I'm not 100 percent sure, but pretty sure.

I have no inside information. I don't know Tom Brady or anyone close to him, but the circumstantial evidence is all around us.

In the past, whenever the subject of retirement has arisen, Brady has quickly doused it by stating he intends to play until he's 45. This season, as much as he dislikes talking about quitting the game, there has been little or no mention of age 45.

He is selling his home in Brookline and is reportedly relocating his family to Greenwich, Connecticut. Why would he do that if he expected to be showing up at Gillette Stadium for practice every day? He has never spent a football season away from his wife and children and there is no reason to expect that he would do so at this stage of his career. Greenwich is convenient to New York City, one of the international centers of the fashion world, in which his wife, Gisele Bundchen, amassed a fortune, and to which she remains committed as her modeling career winds down. It is also close enough for Brady to stay in touch with his own company, TB12, a health and wellness firm that markets everything: from health foods to exercise regimens to lines of apparel.

Incidentally, do you know where the corporate headquarters of TB12 is located? It's at 240 Patriot Place, Foxboro, Massachusetts, right on the same grounds as Gillette Stadium. It makes perfect sense for the most beloved player in Patriots' history to have his business located right where he achieved football immortality, but it would make no sense at all if he were planning to wind up his playing days in some other place, like Buffalo or Cincinnati. And perhaps wearing a different number on his uniform. Tom Brady will play out his career as a New England Patriot. You can bet the farm on that.

Besides, he is truly loved here. Around the rest of the league, not so much. His reputation took a fearsome hit with the deflate-gate scandal of 2015-16. The Patriots, instead of just saying, "We were wrong, we're sorry, and we won't let it happen again," decided to play hardball and forcefully refuted the charges that they were purposely deflating footballs. In so doing, the team let Brady become the focus of the whole mess. Whoever advised Tom to throw away his cellphone on the eve of his testimony in the case did him a great disservice. It elevated what was a minor infraction (no one can make the charge that he did any worse, with his continuing string of Super Bowl championships, after deflate-gate than before it) into one of the biggest sports stories of the year. He ended up with a four game suspension and a tarnished legacy.

He's 42 years old now, ancient by football standards. It's an age where, despite whatever healthy diet you're on, and whatever exercise program you follow, the things you have to do as a professional athlete morph from fun, to work, to a downright burden. It's important to Brady, and to TB12, that whenever he does step back, he still be at the top of his game. It will do neither him nor his company any good if he is still hanging around when he's well past his prime.

His numbers are off somewhat this season, though that seems to be mostly due to the lack of trustworthy receivers, with the notable exception of Julian Edelman. It is worth noting that the one game in which he did have an outstanding receiver, the self-destructive Antonio Brown, Brady still had the old magic.

As he maps out his retirement, Brady certainly doesn't want to go out the way that his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, did. In his last few seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Montana had become injury prone, and his backup, Steve Young, had done at least as well as he did, leading Montana to demand a trade from the team with which he'd become a legend. He had a couple of good years in exile with the Kansas City Chiefs, but it was never the same.

One can assume that Brady has researched the way other Boston sports legends have played out their final acts on the big stage. Everyone knew that 1960 was Ted Williams' last year. What they didn't know was that he had chosen to end his career at Fenway Park instead of Yankee Stadium, where the Red Sox played their final three games of the season. The rest, of course, is history. In his final at bat in the major leagues Ted hit perhaps the most famous of his 521 home runs and cemented his place in baseball lore.

Bobby Orr was not so fortunate. He didn't have any choice in the matter. By then a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, due to the treachery of his own agent, who cost Orr millions of dollars, Bobby retired in 1978 because he had to. At age 30 he had already undergone more than a dozen knee surgeries.

Bill Russell, who always walked to the beat of a different drummer, continued that pattern in announcing his retirement. He did so in an article in "Sports Illustrated" after leading the Celtics to the 11th NBA championship in his 13-year career.

The time is drawing near when Tom Brady announces his own retirement. Hopefully, it will be with another Super Bowl trophy under his arm. But either way, as I read the tea leaves, he's coming down the home stretch.

Appreciate him while you still have the chance.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox “Poet Laureate” and The Pilot’s recently minted Sports’ columnist.



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