ATLANTA – When Tom Brady gave his last news conference before the Super Bowl on Thursday, a guy holding a ukulele serenaded him with “We Are The Champions.”
Brady laughed, but he has made it clear this week that he will not be played off the stage.
Remember during the 2017 season, when the Patriots traded valued backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers? Hand-wringing ensued. The Patriots had just jettisoned Brady’s obvious successor, meaning he had won a power struggle within the organization, meaning the Bill Belichick-Brady relationship was cracking, meaning that the greatest dynasty in modern football was veering toward an iceberg of its own making.
Then Brady led the Patriots to a second straight Super Bowl, passing for 505 yards in the loss to the Eagles, and now has led the Patriots to a third straight Super Bowl, and the smart question is not whether the Patriots will miss Garoppolo but whether the kid will still be in the league when Brady retires.
Brady is 41. In his ninth Super Bowl, he will duel with the Rams’ Jared Goff, who is 24. Brady denies he is considering retiring, and has said he would like to play until he is 45.
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The quarterback with the best combined regular-season and postseason résumé in NFL history will face a third-year player who two years ago was feared to be a bust. Both hail from northern California, are tall, lean and composed, and made it to the Super Bowl rapidly — Brady in his second season, and Goff becoming the first quarterback who was a No. 1 pick to make it to the Super Bowl in his third season.
Goff is easy to like. He is calm and friendly, and has rebounded from going 0-7 as a rookie starter to building a record of 26-8 since the arrival of coach Sean McVay.
Brady is easy to hate. He is the most important player in the Evil Empire, a Patriots dynasty occasionally accused of football espionage. He is easy to envy — he’s better-looking than most movie stars, is married to a supermodel who makes even more money than he does and has been the beneficiary of Belichick’s genius.
Here’s why sports fans should admire, if not love, Brady: He is what all fans in all cities want their athletes to be.
Dedicated? His work ethic isn’t just legendary; he has even butted heads with Belichick over the presence of his personal trainer.
When Brett Favre suffered a crushing loss at age 40 — to the Saints in the NFC title game — he had to be coaxed and bribed to play another season, and his heart never seemed to be in it. When Brady suffered a crushing loss at age 40 — last winter in Minneapolis — he never considered retirement.
Tough? Since Brady went to training camp in 2002 as the Patriots’ starter, he has played in 17 seasons. He has played all 16 regular-season games in 15 of those seasons.
Single-minded? He does not need to work. He does not need the money. His résumé does not require burnishing. He is risking injury out of sheer ambition and love of the game.
Valuable? Belichick’s coaching record was 41-57 before Brady made his first NFL start.
Brady’s record as an NFL starter: 207-60. His record in postseason games: 29-10. His postseason winning percentage is almost identical to his regular-season winning percentage.
Brady’s passer rating since turning 40 is 100.2, better than his career rating of 97.6. That rating of 100.2 would be the third-highest in NFL history.
“I’ve set a goal for myself at 45,” Brady said of his preferred retirement age. “Like I said before, it’s very hard to make it that far. I know how hard it was this year and the commitment it takes, and hopefully I’ve learned from some of the things that happened this year to be better next year, but every year’s tough.”
To be “better” next year. Yes, it’s about time Brady made something of himself.
Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. Twitter: @SouhanStrib