If you’re surprised that Tom Brady is still here, preparing his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in his 10th Super Bowl on Sunday, having just completed a 40 touchdown regular season, all while padding stats in everything from passing yards to games won, well, you’re not alone.
Brady is 43 years old. This is implausible.
Well, except for the guy who thought it was so plausible that he actually predicted it.
That guy is Tom Brady.
In the middle of the 2014 season, Brady was 37 and playing for the New England Patriots. At the time, he had won just three Super Bowls and was the center of a debate about who was the NFL’s best quarterback, perhaps of all time. One of his chief rivals in that argument was Peyton Manning, the then-38-year-old QB of the Denver Broncos. Manning had just one Super Bowl victory then (in a previous stint with Indianapolis), but held multiple passing records.
That’s when a childhood friend of Brady’s emailed him a link to a Grantland story comparing the two quarterbacks and their relative declines in play. Brady emailed back, ever confident that he would not only outlast Manning, but pile on so many more accomplishments and statistics that there would no longer be a debate.
“Thanks … I’ve got another 7 or 8 years,” Brady wrote. “He has 2. That’s the final chapter. Game on.”
The email became public fodder about nine months later, when a trove of Brady’s personal communications were leaked during the NFL Deflategate scandal.
The email quickly went viral. Fans and media went wild on the crazy idea that Brady might play until he was 44 or 45 years old.
Brady sent an apology text to Manning, who said such contrition was “not necessary.” Manning joked about Brady just joining everyone else in predicting when he might retire.
Well, here we are in 2021, six-and-a-half seasons later and Brady’s email looks less and less like a quick response to a lifelong friend and instead an astounding bit of clairvoyance that suggests Brady is never casual when it comes to discussing his future.
Let’s start with the simple part. Brady will be 44 at the start of next season. Certainly circumstances can change, but he’s indicated that he expects to be the starter in Tampa, where he is under contract through the 2021 season.
Manning, meanwhile, is retired. If you count the 2014 season as one of the “two” Brady predicted, then Brady was dead, solid, perfect. Manning retired a year later, after the 2015 regular season, when he quarterbacked Denver to a Super Bowl title, the second of his career.
At the time of his retirement, Manning was the NFL’s all-time leader in regular season touchdowns (539), yards passing (71,940) and was tied with Brett Favre for most regular season victories (186). He also won 14 postseason games.
As for Brady, at the time of the 2014 email, he was just getting started with a late-career burst of success that would end any and all debates between Manning and him.
Brady led New England to the Super Bowl title that year, not to mention following the 2016 and 2018 regular seasons. In 2020, he left the Patriots and signed with the Bucs.
He’s deep into, but not done, with those “7-8 years” which means his “final chapter” has yet to be fully written.
Even still, he’s soared past Manning in many career statistical marks — he’s thrown 581 regular season touchdowns, 79,204 yards passing and a whopping 230 regular season, 33 postseason and six Super Bowl victories, to name but a few.
Manning, a five-time MVP, was undoubtedly one of the all-time greats in the NFL. Brady has, as he predicted, left him behind by essentially any metric. Championships. Wins. Individual stats. He’s done the same with everyone.
These days, the debate is whether the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, just 25, could ever challenge Brady’s accomplishments.
And that’s before Brady potentially wins Super Bowl No. 7 on Sunday.
Or next season, when 4,600 passing yards and 40 TDs and 11 or 12 more wins and who knows what in the playoffs, is still on the table. And, then, of course, there’s the season after that, 2022. Or, maybe even longer. Brady hasn’t reset the plan to play past age 45, but he did say this week he was open to the possibility.
And that’s what he said with cameras in his face. Who knows what he’s emailing to friends.
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