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Tom Brady: simply the best
Tom Brady: simply the best

Tom Brady: simply the best

Tom Brady forged a reputation as the greatest quarterback in NFL history in a two-decade career studded with a slew of records that may never be beaten.

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The 44-year-old NFL icon, who is reportedly set to announce his retirement, will leave the sport after 22 seasons that yielded seven Super Bowl victories, five Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards and three NFL MVP awards.

And while Brady was unable to crown his final season with an eighth Super Bowl, he went out on a high after amassing a career-high 5,316 passing yards.

He also heads the all-time passing rankings, with 84,520 yards, more than 4,000 yards clear of his nearest rival, the now retired Drew Brees.

Brady's longevity is all the more remarkable given the relatively short average career length of an NFL quarterback -- around 4.4 years according to a 2019 study.

By the time Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an improbable victory in last year's Super Bowl, he had long since earned the right to be regarded as the greatest quarterback the NFL has seen.

Last year's seventh Super Bowl win catapulted him firmly into the pantheon of North American sporting greats, alongside the likes of Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Wayne Gretzky.

The plot points of Brady's career have become the stuff of NFL folklore.

He entered the NFL to little fanfare, chosen by the New England Patriots with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

Upon arrival in New England, he was ranked way down the Patriots' quarterback pecking order, a gangly freshman with everything to prove.

Yet Brady slowly but surely began thrusting himself into the reckoning, driven by a relentless work ethic and competitive spirit that would become the hallmarks of his career.

- Coolness under pressure -

Patriots officials would get calls from puzzled security staff in the dead of night to inform them that Brady had arrived at the team's training facility, to practice by himself.

When an injury to Drew Bledsoe in September 2001 saw Brady elevated into the starter's jersey, he seized his chance.

He kept his place for the remainder of the season and led the Patriots to a first ever Super Bowl in February 2002.

That win marked the start of a two-decade reign that would see Brady and coach Bill Belichick's Patriots emerge as the dominant force in the NFL, encompassing eight more trips to the Super Bowl, five of them victorious.

While the personnel on those championship-winning teams evolved over time, the one ever-present remained Brady, who year after year, season after season would confound predictions that his career was in decline.

"Guys come, guys go. Everything changes. Except one thing - Tom," is how former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann puts it.

There were disappointments and controversies along the way. In 2007, Brady and the Patriots just missed out on becoming only the second team to complete a perfect championship season when they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants.

In 2015, Brady was given a four-game suspension by the NFL over allegedly tampering with the pressure of balls used in a 45-7 AFC Championship win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Typically, Brady responded with another Super Bowl win. In the 2016-2017 season, he orchestrated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, leading the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit for a 34-28 overtime win.

That coolness under pressure was another Brady calling card.

"When the game's on the line, he plays his best football," was how former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner put it.

"For me, we're living in the era of the greatest quarterback in the game."

- 'Winning mentality' -

Another Super Bowl appearance followed in 2018, when he finished with 505 passing yards in a losing effort to the Philadelphia Eagles.

His final Super Bowl win with the Patriots came in 2018, a dour 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Atlanta.

It made him the oldest Super Bowl winner, at 43 years and 188 days.

That for many seemed like a perfect opportunity for Brady to ride off into the sunset. Instead, he remained in New England for the 2019 season and struggled.

Then in 2020, he shocked the NFL by announcing his decision to leave the Patriots and join the Buccaneers.

It seemed like a move loaded with potential pitfalls -- the Bucs had not made the playoffs for over a decade and the coronavirus pandemic limited Brady's ability to integrate with his new team-mates. But he turned them into Super Bowl champions.

"He brought a winning mentality to a really talented team that didn't know how to win," was how Bucs coach Bruce Arians described it.

While last year's win brought a fresh avalanche of accolades, Brady himself has always resisted being drawn into discussions over "personal legacy."

"Sporting success for me has never been about passing yards or touchdowns or Super Bowls," he said.

"It was always about trying to maximize my potential. Being the best I could be."

There was almost time for one last miracle. In this season's playoffs, Brady led the Bucs back from 27-3 down to tie the Los Angeles Rams, only to lose 30-27 on a last-gasp field goal.

Rumours Brady may retire had emerged just before that game. On Monday, Brady, who is married to Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, said family considerations would weigh heavily on his future.

"They've been my biggest supporters," he said. "My wife is my biggest supporter. It pains her to see me get hit out there. And she deserves what she needs from me as a husband, and my kids deserve what they need from me as a dad."