Well, folks. The inevitable has happened. After two blissful months of a Tom Brady-less National Football League, the legendary quarterback has announced that he will not retire. Instead, he will return to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, intent on looming over the sport for at least one more year. No doubt this is music to the ears of Bucs fans, who have likely just released a breath they’ve been holding in since the beginning of February. It’s also probably great news for any celebrity whose only knowledge of football is that Tom Brady is good, and own a version of his jersey to prove it. Unfortunately, for the rest of the world, it means yet another season in which nobody is allowed to shine brighter than TB12.
Brady, now entering his 23rd year in the league, is indisputably the greatest player of all time. Statistically speaking, it’s just impossible to argue against. Nobody in the history of football has had a better career, with 7 Super Bowl wins stacked on top of 10 appearances, 3 NFL MVPs, 15 Pro Bowls, and countless individual NFL records broken. The man is a monster who just keeps going, and going, and going, and going. Yet, his endless employment may not be the blessing his numbers suggest it would be. In fact, whatever deal the oddly youthful quarterback may have struck with the Devil is probably going to be worse for the NFL than it is good. Not necessarily in a competitive way, but more so in qualitative one.
You see, just like any other television program, live sports are dependent on ratings. Television ratings tend to go up when your show has a famous lead that people would like to tune in and see, and there has not been an athlete since Michael Jordan that’s felt like as big of a leading man as Tom Brady. The NFL knows this, and it’s been apparent since they joined the modern age of social media that Brady would be the face of their sport. When Tom is doing well, the NFL seems to be doing well, and somehow Tom is always doing well. What this means is that every year, without fail, no matter how incredibly well other younger quarterbacks may have performed, the conversation always comes back to Brady.
While this may seem impressive for now, it actually has the potential to stunt the league’s growth in the long run. As with most natural cycles, football must be allowed to usher in new eras as the old take their leave. Fresh young stars, duking it out in exciting newborn rivalries, telling original stories and letting them live on the field. A game adapting to new play styles and a wide variety of teams with drastically different skillsets. Think about those glorious few weeks of playoff football in January, the ones after Brady had been eliminated from Super Bowl contention. They were unpredictable, thrilling, and most importantly, the general public were rooting for good games instead of a good player. There is a place for veteran players with “unfinished business”, as Brady claims to have, but he simply doesn’t fit satisfyingly in the narrative.
A lot of what keeps fans invested in the NFL is it’s storytelling. One would hope the games aren’t rigged, but if they were, one might at least hope they were rigged to be enjoyable. There is nothing fun about watching the same person win repeatedly for decades. This is not to say Brady hasn’t earned his victories, or that anything should be done to stop him from winning. That wouldn’t be ethical, and it’s not the point of the article. It’s just to say that the 5x Super Bowl MVP should have a better idea of when to make way for the next generation. By sticking around, Brady ensures that the NFL remains more or less the same one fans have come to know. Any hope of seeing a competition for his G.O.A.T. successor, any enthusiasm for other veterans who’ve yet to snag a ring to maybe finally get one (a la Matthew Stafford). Compelling storylines thrown to the wind for yet another year of “but can he do it again?”
To link the message being conveyed with another recent hot topic, think of this in terms of Batman movies. People have always loved Batman, from the whimsical 1960s Adam West series to the gothic Tim Burton movies of the late 1980s. Of course, certain takes had more fans than others, but there was a place for each version of the character to be appreciated. That was, until Christopher Nolan changed the game by dropping his trilogy of critically acclaimed films. Since then, as they are still considered the greatest Batman adaptations out there, any and all Batman film or television projects have been graded based on how they stack up to The Dark Knight. No live-action Joker can exist without being compared to Heath Ledger, and every frame of every one of Batman’s movements will be put in an hours-long YouTube video explaining why the former is still the better. If this was not obnoxious enough, imagine The Dark Knight re-released in theaters every year to remind people it was still the best, casting a huge shadow over any other mint editions that dare come after it. It would get old, quickly, and people might stop caring for Batman movies altogether.
Tom Brady is an excellent, time-defying football player. It’s just that every year he stays in the league, it prevents the league from crafting any sort of identity away from him. There is a new dawn on the horizon in football, we might simply have to wait a little longer for it. Cross some fingers that it’s another early playoff exit, because it’s time to move on from Tom. Even if he won’t admit it yet.