Tom Brady has a chance to pass Michael Jordan as the most successful superstar in American team sports over the past four decades. If his Buccaneers beat Kansas City in the Super Bowl on Sunday, it will give him a seventh ring, one more than his basketball G.O.A.T. counterpart.
"Michael is one of my sports idols and I think he’s pretty incredible," Brady said on Monday.
But Brady also hinted that Jordan’s jewelry box might not be the one he is aiming to eclipse. At age 43, with no signs of slowing down and a desire he shared Monday to play beyond the age of 45 that he shortsightedly set as a goal for himself several years back, who knows how many championships Brady can total?
Is it possible he could match Bill Russell’s 11? Yogi Berra’s 10? Is anything out of reach for a quarterback who already has defied age and history to get this far and has no intention of stopping?
Brady doesn’t seem to think so. As has been the case in the past three or four of his record nine previous Super Bowls, he was asked Monday how much longer he wants to play and left the question open-ended.
"I would definitely consider that," he said when asked about playing past 45. "It’s a physical sport and the perspective I have on that is you never know when that moment is, just because it’s a contact sport."
As for his own terms and the possibility of walking away, Brady is looking for signs that tell him it’s time to leave the NFL stage. He hasn’t found any yet.
"I think I’ll know when it’s time," he said. "I don’t know when that time will come, but I think I’ll know and I’ll understand that I gave everything I could to get to this game. You put a lot into it. I don’t think I could ever go at this half-assed. I have to put everything into it.
"When I feel like I can’t do that anymore, when I don’t feel like I can commit to the team in a way that the team needs me, then I think that’s probably time to walk away."
It’s a decision that almost all of Brady’s contemporaries already have made. In the past 13 months, quarterbacks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers have retired from Hall of Fame-worthy careers, and the expectation is that Drew Brees will come to that conclusion soon. It was Brady who handed Brees what likely was his final loss when the Bucs beat the Saints in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. The two 40-somethings spent a few minutes chatting on the field after that game in a poignant moment.
When Brady signed with the Bucs last spring, he did it on a two-year contract. That means he could be a free agent for the second time in his career after next season. He might decide to remain in Tampa Bay after that — he seems to like it there and the Bucs seem to like playing in the Super Bowl — or maybe he’ll find a new team that he can push over the top.
Perhaps he’ll spend the next decade of his life bouncing from franchise to franchise, spreading Lombardi trophies like Johnny Appleseed. Imagine the Jets winning Super Bowl LX with Brady as their quarterback?
That might be too difficult to picture, but Brady makes it hard to put limits on possibilities.
"Not many people have played at my age," he said.
It may be something he says for years to come.
MOST U.S. TEAM SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIP AMONG PLAYERS ALL-TIME:
Tom Brady: 6
Charles Haley: 5
Bill Russell: 11
Sam Jones: 10
Yogi Berra: 10
Joe DiMaggio: 9
Henri Richard: 11
Jen Beliveau, Yvan Cournoyer: 10
MOST U.S. TEAM SPORTS CHAMPIONSHIPS AMONG PLAYERS SINCE 1980:
Tom Brady: 6
Charles Haley: 5
Robert Horry: 7
Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie Pippen: 6
Derek Jeter, Paul O’Neil, David Cone, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Luis Sojo, Ramiro Mendoza: 5
Bernie Williams, Orlando Hernandez, Chuck Knoblauch, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, Mike Timlin, Jack Morris, Javier Lopez, Mike Stanton, Darryl Strawberry: 4
Bryan Trottier, Glenn Anderson, Kevin Lowe, Mark Messier: 6
Randy Gregg, Charlie Huddy, Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen: 5