underdog hero, villain, retired legend

To borrow from a bat: The G.O.A.T. lived long enough to see himself become the villain.

You loved him. Really, you did. You then hated him. Today, your feelings are probably somewhere between those two poles, but you do have strong feelings.

However you remember Tom Brady — as the greatest underdog story ever; as the most annoying winner ever; as the champion of champions or the weirdest of eaters — you are right. Until yesterday, Brady refused to walk out of our lives, which meant he evolved in front of our eyes. We saw the worst. We saw the best. We saw every moment, which makes this moment the most jarring.

For one last time as a player, Brady allowed fans into his world, his suspiciously full head of brown hair blowing in the breeze on a beach when he announced: “I’m retiring. For good.”

Thus ended a 23-season career that began when the Twin Towers still stood. A person who only existed then as a glimmer in a to-be parent’s eye can legally drink today. Just about everything has changed — Brady very much included — but his presence in our lives had not.

Brady entered the NFL on April 16, 2000, when the Patriots spent a sixth-round pick on a flabby quarterback who could not eclipse Drew Henson at Michigan. He took over for the Patriots on Sept. 23, 2001, when Mo Lewis nearly split Drew Bledsoe in two, and he became one of the most endearing figures in sports.

Before he was Tom Brady™, and before you were intrigued or alienated by TB12, he was the ultimate little guy. A 199th-overall pick, with a grand total of 14 NFL starts, was pitted against The Greatest Show on Turf as two-touchdown underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots did the impossible and beat Kurt Warner’s Rams behind a serviceable Brady, who threw for 145 yards and a touchdown and most notably did not get picked off.

Tom Brady’s victory in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams capped a chapter in an all-time great underdog story.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

The image that will last forever from the game is the champion Brady, with a backwards hat, a large smile and hands on his head, shaking his head in disbelief. Not even he could believe his luck and his fortune. The Patriots had unearthed a franchise quarterback and America had found a new sweetheart.

Somewhere along the way from one Super Bowl ring to seven, a feisty David grew into an unbearable Goliath. He led the league in touchdowns the following season. He beat the Panthers in the Super Bowl following the 2003 season and the Eagles the next season. He established himself as the unquestionably best player in the game, threw for a silly 50 touchdowns in 2007 before losing to Eli Manning’s Giants, then tore his ACL in 2008. He bounced back and authored essentially a second Hall of Fame career. He lost to the Giants again and began adding to his ring collection with a win over the Seahawks after the 2014 season.

Derek Jeter has The Flip. Michael Jordan has the step-back on (and push-off of) Bryon Russell. Maybe the Patriots’ comeback from 28-3 down to the Falcons in Super Bowl LI stands out, but the guess here is there’s not a Brady exploit from that game that is imprinted in your mind. Brady does not have a defining moment. What has defined him is the sheer quantity of moments.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick celebrate after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, along with their six Super Bowls together, appeared to form the perfect marriage. Then, it all unraveled.
Boston Globe via Getty Images

He just kept winning. His seven Super Bowl rings are more than the Jets, Chargers, Titans, Cardinals, Bengals, Panthers, Falcons, Vikings, Bills, Seahawks, Rams, Eagles, Bears and Saints have put together.

His persona kept changing. The quiet rookie’s confidence became a veteran’s cockiness. A pristine image was tarnished during Deflategate, when the NFL itself branded him a cheater. We know far too much about his personal life and his romances with Bridget Moynahan and Gisele Bündchen, neither of which lasted. His marriage with Bill Belichick fell apart, too. Brady landed with the Bucs, with whom he appeared to be fully removed from the shadow of The Patriots Way. He started cursing in interviews a lot more. He became a lot of things, human included. His pivot, as a brand, to relatable did not extend to his face, which grew more chiseled, or his diet, which famously has never included strawberries. With each successive year of excellence, TB12 became the playbook, and every aging star athlete (LeBron James, Max Scherzer, Lionel Messi) had a new role model.

With every quarterback — really, every athlete — eventually it ends. Father Time wins. But Brady never became Willie Mays, on his last legs at Shea Stadium. After leaving Belichick and shoving aside eternal goodwill from New England, he won a Super Bowl at 43 years old. The 45-year-old threw for 4,694 yards with the Bucs this past season, which would be the Jets record by nearly 700 yards.

Tom Brady’s personal life took a toll on the quarterback and overshadowed his final NFL season.
Tom Brady’s personal life took a toll on the quarterback and overshadowed his final NFL season.
Getty Images

Granted, he is not fully exiting our lives. His arm is finished, but his mouth is not. He can transition to Fox Sports as a well-compensated broadcaster. He’ll be around.

But for the first time since Bill Clinton was in office, Brady will not be on an NFL roster next season. Whether you loathe or love him, Brady leaving is startling in its finality. We never thought he would truly retire — for a last time, at least — until he did.

Today’s back page

The Post's back page recalls many of Tom Brady's most memorable moments.
New York Post

Read more:

🏈 How Tom Brady’s retirement affects crowded quarterback market

🏈 Where things stand with Giants and Daniel Jones, Saquon Barkley

🏀 Nets overwhelmed by Celtics in lopsided loss

Breanna Stewart and the era of the WNBA superteam

If you have been paying attention to Breanna Stewart’s intriguing and drawn-out free agency, that appears to have been part of the point. One of the WNBA’s superstars is drawing attention to the league and bringing her talents to where that attention can be maximized: here.

The former league MVP will sign with the Liberty, she announced yesterday, and will join All-Star point guard Sabrina Ionescu and fellow former MVP Jonquel Jones on what amounts to a superteam. Maybe the WNBA needs its version of the Big Three Heat — or UConn women — to reach a greater audience.

The free agency for WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart ended with the creation of a superteam.
The free agency for WNBA superstar Breanna Stewart ended with the creation of a superteam in New York City.
NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions, for sure, and I decided to go to New York because I want to continue to be great,” Stewart said on “SportsCenter.” “I want to go to the place where I can continue to help this league become better, to continue to raise the standard.

“I feel like, why not go to the biggest market in all of sports, and I’m really excited to go after their first championship.”

The Liberty opted to charter the team flights for part of the 2021 season, which earned Joe Tsai (also the Nets’ owner) a $500,000 fine. It likely is not a coincidence that Stewart is joining a franchise willing to be trailblazers in best accommodating WNBA players.

Stewart joining the biggest market and a franchise that wants the best for its players sounds like it will be best for the WNBA.

Fighting the good fight

Read this story about Howie Rose’s cancer battle.

Baseball broadcasters are a part of fans’ lives like few others. For 162 games per season, you allow them into your living room, another background voice over plates of dinner. Radio announcers such as Rose, especially, are beloved because they are given the time, in a slow sport, to weave stories in between pitches. To millions of Mets fans, Rose is part of the family.

Howie Rose’s voice became a familiar backdrop for Mets fans and their families.
Howie Rose’s voice became a familiar backdrop for Mets fans and their families.
MLB Photos via Getty Images

Rose’s own family has been privately dealing with his bladder cancer diagnosis, which led to a surgery, followed by a hernia, followed by another operation.

In taking the battle public, Rose may help others. That’s what family does.

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