Being the NFL’s biggest star puts you under the microscope. Every turn, every move, every statement – whether on or off the pitch – is scrutinized.
Over the years, it’s fair to say that 2022 has become something of an Annus Horribilis for Tom Brady.
His Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost three straight, the first time that has happened in Brady’s career since 2002.
The Bucs’ inconsistency saw the 45-year-old quarterback’s frustrations boil over, with his explosive outbursts being sidelined in several games.
Meanwhile, Brady’s personal life also commanded vast column inches. After rumors of marital troubles between him and his wife, Gisele Bündchen Bündchen, the couple announced last week that they were divorcing after 13 years of marriage.
So how did we get here?
After a crushing end to the Bucs’ playoff season last year, the team was left with more questions than answers.
What would happen to head coach Bruce Arians? What would happen to all the veteran players in the franchise? How do they avoid playoff pain in the 2022/2023 season?
One thing the Bucs probably weren’t worried about was Brady’s long-term commitment, given the quarterback had previously said he wanted to continue playing until he was nearly 50 years old.
Yet just weeks after February’s Super Bowl, the NFL world was stunned when Brady announced he was retiring from the sport he had conquered with such aplomb.
It seemed like the end of an era as the NFL’s most successful player ended his career, with Brady citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
But saying goodbye to a sport that has been pretty much your life is easier said than done.
Within days, rumors began circulating that Brady’s status as a retired player was not as concrete as previously thought.
Weeks later, Brady confirmed he would return for his 23rd season in the NFL, saying he “realized my place was always on the court and not in the stands.”
With Brady back in the hot seat and with many of their veteran players choosing to return, the Bucs reclaimed their Super Bowl contender status.
The only major change for the franchise was that head coach Arians left his post and became a senior adviser to the general manager.
However, for Brady, whose commitment to the game has taken him to never-before-seen heights, it was a season that just felt different from the start.
He had an unexplained and unexpected 11-day absence from training camp in August to take care of some ‘personal matters’ and repeatedly seemed more thoughtful about retirement as he said it was n wasn’t too far.
And despite reiterating his commitment to the Bucs organization, Brady just hasn’t looked at himself this season.
While he played quite well, the Tampa Bay team struggled in general, and Brady showed glimpses of his human side; not the almost robotic winning machine we know it for.
He broke a tablet out of annoyance one week; was seen swearing on his offensive line against the Pittsburgh Steelers; and in general, cut a frustrated figure on the pitch.
Nor was it last week when the 45-year-old became the most sacked quarterback in NFL history in the Bucs’ 27-22 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football.
Brady was sacked twice late in the first half to initially tie and then break the record previously held by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The next day, the explosive news confirmed her divorce from Bündchen.
Reports of marital problems between him and Bündchen surfaced just over a month ago, with sources close to the couple telling CNN that they had hired divorce lawyers and were “living separately”.
In an interview with Elle magazine published last month, Bündchen, 42, said she had “concerns” about her husband’s return to the field after retiring last winter.
“It’s a very violent sport, and I have my kids and I wish it had more of a presence,” Bündchen told the publication.
“I’ve certainly had these conversations with him over and over again. But at the end of the day, I think everyone has to make a decision that works for them. [them]. He must also follow his joy.
Earlier in October, Brady admitted on his podcast that he had used both physical and mental therapy to address his mental health in recent years so he could “be good to the people around me” as he he opened up about the “intense amount of stress” he faced during his NFL career.
Brady’s difficult 2022 has led some commentators to suggest the quarterback should have stayed retired.
Football writer Don Yaeger notably drew parallels to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It doesn’t matter what type of organization we’re talking about; leaders improve everyone around them by understanding what their teammates expect of them and each other to be successful,” Yaeger wrote on Forbes.com.
“Leaders model and transmit the values of the coach and the organization as new players enter the fold, and leaders inspire their teammates through the sheer force of their success and talent.
“When age claims that talent, as it claims all things in this life, the team doesn’t just lose functionality; he loses some of that precious psychic glue that binds a set of individuals together as a team.
Yaeger added: “As for Brady, everyone who has seen him lead his teams to victory over the years and exemplify grace under pressure deserves to wish him luck before he breaks another Microsoft laptop. out of frustration. None of us benefit from it, let alone our current teammates.
“We are all aging out of our profession. One of the traits of a leader is knowing yourself well enough to do it with grace.
Or, as District Attorney Harvey Dent put it more prosaically in the hit 2008 film “The Dark Knight,” “Either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
In what is presumed to be Brady’s final season in the NFL, many – including undoubtedly the quarterback – would have hoped for a fairy tale ending to arguably the greatest career in sports history.
The caveat is that we’ve seen Brady perform miracles before, so it’s not impossible that he could turn things around.
But with his changing personal life and problems piling up on the pitch, the task seems difficult, even for the GOAT.