After nearly two decades of winning Super Bowls for the ages, Tom Brady’s latest win was for the aged.
For every graybeard who has to double up on knee braces to run full-court hoops, for every fading softball slugger who has to gulp down Ibuprofens to swing for the fences, for every former Pop Warner star whose flag football teammates now call him Pops, Brady gave them a reason to keep going.
While his contemporaries such as Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson are starting to make their way to Canton, elected to the Hall of Fame, Brady continues to add to his resume. And while the next generation of players looks to push him from his throne — including, on Sunday, the prince who most believe is next in line for the crown — the king lives on.
The 43-year-old outplayed 25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, throwing three first-half touchdown passes to give Tampa Bay a 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.
It was Brady’s seventh championship in an illustrious career that shows no signs of slowing down, let alone ending. He has more Lombardi Trophies than any other team in the NFL.
The defending champions and their explosive offensive playmakers were held without a touchdown, slowed by the loss of their two starting tackles. By the end of the game, it was the limping Mahomes, dealing with a toe injury he suffered in a playoff win last month, who looked like an old, beat-up shell of himself. His night ended with a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Devin White.
"We knew we weren’t going to be able to win 1,000 championships in a row," Mahomes said.
Brady picked up his record fifth Super Bowl MVP award. He became the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl in three different decades and the first to win a Super Bowl from two different conferences. Only Peyton Manning had won championships with two different teams, and Brady joined him in that regard.
It was a game that did not live up to the hype in terms of competitiveness and drama. It will be remembered forever, though, mostly because of the exploits of a quarterback who looks as if he will be able to play just that long.
The Bucs hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2007 and had not won a Super Bowl since the 2002 season. That may seem like a long drought, but the last time the Bucs raised the Lombardi Trophy was the year after Brady raised his first.
As Brady held the hardware on the platform amid the confetti, he already was talking about next year. "Yeah, we’re coming back," he said, letting his kids play with the trophy.
Perhaps one day he’ll be up on the stage with his grandkids.
Brady (21-for-29, 201 yards) was, of course, the star attraction in the game. He was able to win a championship without Bill Belichick in his first season outside the Patriots’ system. On a team of outcasts and transients, a team that had all 31 of its points scored by players who were not on last year’s roster, Brady was far from the only one to feel a sense of redemption on Sunday.
There was Bruce Arians, who had to wait until age 60 for his first head-coaching gig, retired as head coach of the Cardinals three years ago amid health issues and was enticed back after a year away only because he was able to bring together a coaching staff of his liking. That included defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Had Bowles not been fired by the Jets and available for the Bucs’ staff in January 2019, Arians might well have been calling Sunday’s game as an analyst and not a head coach. At 68, he became the oldest to win a title, but like Brady, this was no sunset ride for him either."I’m not going anywhere," he said. "I’m going to try to get two and then we’ll see after that."
There was Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s trusty tight end, another happy retiree who was in broadcasting and dabbling in pro wrestling before Brady arrived in Florida. That move spurred in Gronk a desire to come back to the game after a year away, and the Bucs were able to trade for his rights from New England. Gronkowski caught two first-half touchdown passes as he and Brady surpassed Joe Montana and Jerry Rice for the most postseason TDs by any quarterback-receiver combination with 14.
"It’s hands down one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history," Gronkowski said of the Bucs’ Brady-fueled victory and another ring for himself. "I mean, the story is just unbelievable. It definitely ranks up there as one of my biggest accomplishments ever."
There was Antonio Brown, who had become an NFL pariah because of on- and off-field behavior issues. Brady vouched for Brown’s behavior and pushed the Bucs to sign him, then threw a key TD pass to him just before halftime.
And there was Leonard Fournette, whose season began with his release from the Jaguars after his once- promising career in Jacksonville fizzled out. He was signed by the Bucs as a backup and spent most of the year playing in a very limited capacity. In the last month of the season, though, his touches began to increase and he stepped into a starting role. In the third quarter, he scored on a 27-yard run to push the lead to 28-9, making him only the third player in NFL history to score a TD in four games in the same postseason (Terrell Davis and Larry Fitzgerald are the others).
None of the three players would have been on the Bucs without Brady there to lure them. Two of them, Gronkowski and Brown, might not even have been in the league without Brady.
"It was great to see big-time players making big-time plays," Brady said. "Love to see what they added to the team."
It was a team of men and women (yes, for the first time in Super Bowl history, women) who were not supposed to be here. Even "here" wasn’t supposed to be here — Tampa Bay wasn’t scheduled to host this Super Bowl until construction delays in Los Angeles made it impossible to stage the game there. Just another example of a seized opportunity for a franchise that became the first to play in — and then win — a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
"We’ve been grinding pretty hard, so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about things like that," Brady said when asked what the win means to his already immense legacy. "It’s been a great year."
He never answered it. Maybe he’ll be asked the question again after next year’s Super Bowl.