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Can Tom Brady shine in his NFL re-boot? Heck yes, history says

A number of NFL stars flourished following a brief retirement.
If history is any sign, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady could flourish in 2022 following a 40-day "retirement" from the NFL.
If history is any sign, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady could flourish in 2022 following a 40-day "retirement" from the NFL. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Mar. 14|Updated Mar. 14

After 22 seasons, seven world titles and volumes of NFL records, we’ve finally discovered what makes Tom Brady like all the other garden-variety GOATs.

He can’t stay away from the arena.

History is rife with legends lured from a brief retirement by the insatiable desire for one more title or ovation. How has it typically worked out? That’s a case-by-case thing.

So let’s examine some NFL cases. In the immediate wake of Brady’s announcement that he’ll play a 23rd NFL season following a 40-day “retirement,” we researched how some other prominent players did in their respective second acts.

If that history is any sign, Brady just might have some glory remaining in the gas tank.

Brett Favre

At age 40, Brett Favre passed for more than 4,000 yards and led the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2009.
At age 40, Brett Favre passed for more than 4,000 yards and led the Vikings to the NFC title game in 2009. [ PAUL SANCYA | Associated Press (2010) ]

This Hall of Famer actually emerged from retirement twice. After 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre filed for reinstatement in the summer of 2008 and hoped to remain in Green Bay, which already had chosen to move forward with Aaron Rodgers. He retired again after a modest 2008 season (9-7 record, 22 TDs, 22 INTs) with the Jets, but un-retired again for two final years with the Vikings. In 2009 at age 40, Favre passed for 4,202 yards and 33 TDs, leading Minnesota (12-4) to the NFC title game.

Rob Gronkowski

Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates after scoring the first of his two touchdowns in a 48-25 rout of the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium last September.
Bucs tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrates after scoring the first of his two touchdowns in a 48-25 rout of the Falcons at Raymond James Stadium last September. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Thanks to Brady’s bombshell tweet Sunday, Gronk’s glorious second act in the NFL might not be finished. Lured by Brady from a one-year retirement to join him in Tampa Bay in 2020, the four-time first-team All-Pro needed a few games to return to football shape, but quickly evolved into his old self: a matchup nightmare and sturdy, selfless blocker. In two regular seasons, Gronk has totaled 100 receptions for 1,425 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Ed “Too Tall” Jones

Cowboys defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones lays out Bucs quarterback Doug Williams during a 1983 playoff game.
Cowboys defensive end Ed "Too Tall" Jones lays out Bucs quarterback Doug Williams during a 1983 playoff game. [ Times (1983) ]
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After helping lead the Cowboys to a pair of Super Bowls (and one title) from 1974-1978, Jones — a Golden Gloves amateur fighter in a previous life — left the sport to take up boxing. Endowed with a significant height and reach advantage, this 6-foot-9 defensive end beat six nondescript opponents before returning to football in 1980. He shined in his re-boot, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors three times and finishing as one of the top tacklers in franchise history.

Marshawn Lynch

In his last hurrah with Seattle in 2019, running back Marshawn Lynch (24) scored a 1-yard touchdown in a Sunday night loss to the 49ers on Dec. 29, 2019.
In his last hurrah with Seattle in 2019, running back Marshawn Lynch (24) scored a 1-yard touchdown in a Sunday night loss to the 49ers on Dec. 29, 2019. [ STEPHEN BRASHEAR | Associated Press (2019) ]

A couple of months before turning 30, “Beast Mode” retired in early 2016 after nine seasons that included four Pro Bowl years (all of which featured at least 1,200 rushing yards) and a Super Bowl crown in Seattle. An Oakland native, Lynch yearned to suit up for his hometown team before it moved to Las Vegas, and he was acquired by the Raiders via trade. He posted three 100-yard games in two controversy-tarnished seasons in Oakland before re-joining Seattle for the waning stages of the 2019 season.

Randy Moss

Randy Moss emerged from retirement in 2012 to help lead the San Francisco 49ers to a berth in Super Bowl 47.
Randy Moss emerged from retirement in 2012 to help lead the San Francisco 49ers to a berth in Super Bowl 47. [ MIKE ROEMER | Associated Press (2012) ]

After 13 seasons, 954 catches and nearly 15,000 yards, Moss un-retired on Feb. 13, 2012 — his 35th birthday. A month later, he signed with the 49ers and emerged as a solid complement to feature receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis, ultimately helping San Francisco reach Super Bowl 47. Moss finished the regular season with 28 catches and three touchdowns, and added seven more receptions in the postseason.

Anthony Munoz

Offensive tackle Anthony Munoz (78), who tried to re-boot his Hall of Fame career with the Bucs, retired from the NFL for good after tearing his rotator cuff in this 1993 preseason game against the Bills in Orlando.
Offensive tackle Anthony Munoz (78), who tried to re-boot his Hall of Fame career with the Bucs, retired from the NFL for good after tearing his rotator cuff in this 1993 preseason game against the Bills in Orlando. [ Associated Press (1993) ]

Okay, so not all second acts work out. This nine-time first-team All-Pro was training for a triathlon when the NFL’s escalating salaries and the chance to reunite with Sam Wyche (his old Bengals boss) lured him from a brief retirement to Tampa Bay. But two days after his 35th birthday, in a preseason game against the Bills in Orlando, Munoz tore his right rotator cuff and called it a day.

John Riggins

Washington running back John Riggins (44) eludes a tackle attempt by the Dolphins' Don McNeal (28) during Super Bowl 17 in Pasadena, Calif.
Washington running back John Riggins (44) eludes a tackle attempt by the Dolphins' Don McNeal (28) during Super Bowl 17 in Pasadena, Calif. [ Associated Press (1983) ]

Quite possibly the greatest re-boot on record. “Riggo” didn’t possess Hall of Fame credentials when he sat out the 1980 season and Washington placed him on the left camp/retired list. But he sealed a spot in Canton upon his return, posting a pair of 1,200-yard seasons, winning league MVP honors in 1983 (at age 34), and helping Washington to a pair of Super Bowls. His 42-yard scoring run in a Super Bowl 17 win against the Dolphins remains iconic footage in NFL archives.

Deion Sanders

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders recorded the last five interceptions of his career during his two-year stint with the Ravens (2004-05) following a three-year retirement.
Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders recorded the last five interceptions of his career during his two-year stint with the Ravens (2004-05) following a three-year retirement. [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | Associated Press ]

“Prime Time” hadn’t played in three years when buddies Corey Fuller and Ray Lewis coaxed him from retirement to join them with the Ravens in 2004. Wearing No. 37 (his age), Sanders had spurts of success in two seasons, totaling five interceptions including the last of his nine career pick-sixes.

Reggie White

The Panthers' Reggie White (92) sacks 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia (5) during the 2000 season.
The Panthers' Reggie White (92) sacks 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia (5) during the 2000 season. [ Associated Press (2000) ]

After 13 All-Pro seasons and a Super Bowl title, the “Minister of Defense” emerged from a one-year retirement at age 38 to play for the Panthers. He started all 16 games for Carolina, totaling 5.5 sacks, then retired for good. Three years later, White, who had suffered from sleep apnea for years, died from cardiac arrhythmia.

Jason Witten

Eleven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten (82) retired for good after a 13-catch season for the Raiders in 2020.
Eleven-time Pro Bowler Jason Witten (82) retired for good after a 13-catch season for the Raiders in 2020. [ JEFF BOTTARI | Associated Press ]

An 11-time Pro Bowl tight end with the Cowboys, Witten retired at age 35 after the 2017 season and spent the next year in the Monday Night Football booth. He returned to Dallas for the 2019 season, totaling the same number of catches (63) he recorded two seasons prior. He then signed a one-year deal with the Raiders, and retired again after a 13-catch season in 2020.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

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