TAMPA — We had just gotten used to the spotlight, and already the stage door has slammed shut.
No more Tom Brady, and no more Gisele. No more hanging with the cool crowd, and no more telling the relatives up north, bless their hearts, maybe one day they could afford a Tom Brady, too.
Just like that, Brady has retired and the party has ended. Two years was just not long enough.
On the other hand, forever should last a while.
And, really, that’s what Brady has given Tampa Bay. He gifted us the memories of a lifetime. He arrived with ridiculous fanfare, then delivered against all odds. No preseason, no fans, no Bill Belichick, and still Brady helped the Bucs erase a dozen seasons of losing and win a Super Bowl amidst a pandemic in 2020.
Suddenly, it was hip to be in Tampa Bay. Stars wanted to come here to play. TV networks were fighting to put the Bucs on prime time. Buccaneers jerseys could be worn without irony or shame.
When you think about it, this was the greatest two-year fling in sports history.
Seriously, name one marriage of athlete/town that lasted 22 months and worked out as well for both sides. It wasn’t just the Super Bowl or the combined 29-10 record. It wasn’t just the records, ratings and cash registers. It wasn’t just the credibility for an oft-ridiculed franchise, nor the comeuppance for a quarterback supposedly on his last legs in New England.
It was all of that, and more. And now it has come to an end.
As much as you hate to admit it, this is probably for the best. The Bucs are in a salary-cap crunch with half the starting lineup eligible for free agency, and no promise that the 2022 season will be anything like the previous two years.
So it’s better for Brady’s health and legacy to get out before the inevitable downturn. And it’s probably better for our memories and sanity, too. The chances of reaching the Super Bowl next season are slim, and the thought of Brady being used as Florida Man fodder is too horrific to consider.
This way, Brady goes out on top. Another Super Bowl would have been magical, but it wasn’t necessary. Brady got what he wanted when he came here. He stepped away from Belichick’s massive shadow, and he proved he could still be an elite quarterback long past the expiration date of all his peers.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The Bucs gave him a landing spot when the roster had grown thin in New England and allowed him to win that seventh Super Bowl that sent his legacy into otherworldly places.
More than that, Tampa Bay gave Brady a new identity. Less rigid, less haughty. NFL fans around the world who used to look at the robotic Brady in disdain began to warm up to this chill version of TB12.
He was funny and playful on social media. He got drunk at the boat parade. He and Rob Gronkowski did goofy videos after practice with their bare feet in a plastic kiddie swimming pool. Can you imagine how Darth Hoodie would have reacted to that?
And even as Brady kept the community an arm’s length away, some of his magic inevitably spilled over onto the rest of us. A once-retired head coach became a Hall of Fame candidate. A long-suffering receiver and an overlooked linebacker found out what the good life looks like. A beaten fan base remembered what it feels like to be 12-years-old and giddy about a game again.
In the end, that’s how he should be remembered in Tampa Bay.
Let everyone else argue about his place on the list of history’s greatest athletes. And let the folks in New England begin planning the statue in Foxborough and the pilgrimage to Canton.
Our memories of Brady will be smaller and more intimate, and somehow that feels appropriate. We only got 83 of his 624 touchdown passes, and five of his 35 postseason victories. When the retrospectives and books are finally completed, Tampa Bay will be more addendum than centerpiece.
But you will know better. You will recall how Brady brought confidence to a place with an inferiority complex. You will recognize that his time here was the climactic ending that helps define his career. You will know that the past two years made up for a lot of mistakes and heartbreaks Tampa Bay has had to endure.
They say all good things must come to an end, but I’m not sure that’s apropos to this day.
Brady was something different. We didn’t discover him, and we didn’t nurture him. We don’t own his story, and we can’t claim to have dreaded this moment for years and years.
All we did was open our arms to possibility.
And Tom Brady gave us more than our fill.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.