SAN JOSE — Tom Brady says he’s not a 49ers fan anymore. The franchise he grew up idolizing bypassed him in the 2000 NFL draft and said no when he wanted to return to his hometown as a free agent in 2020.
Moreover, they did it because they had more belief in Jimmy Garoppolo.
Well, Brady has proven every team wrong. Not only did he win Super Bowl 55 with the Bucs, he has played at a level well beyond the expiration date of most NFL quarterbacks.
Even Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, who along with general manager John Lynch made the decision to pass on Brady, has to acknowledge he was wrong. When asked if he was surprised what Brady has done since arriving in Tampa Bay, Shanahan began lobbing bouquets.
“I’d like to say of course not, but I think everyone’s since then, you’re wondering when is the number too high?” Shanahan told reporters earlier this week. “But now, like, when you watch him that first week in Tampa, you’re like, ‘What the hell was anyone ever thinking?’
“The dude looks the exact same he did that year (in 2020). He does when he comes off injuries, and I think he’s playing as good now and throwing the ball as well now as I’ve seen anybody ever do it.”
That’s certainly a different stance than a couple of years ago.
Nobody knows if Brady will play beyond this season. He retired earlier this year for 40 days but didn’t like it. He’s now divorced. He has a $37.5 million per year job as an NFL analyst lined up at Fox when he does hang up his cleats. Those were all unknowns the last time he walked away.
But if Brady does decide to play in 2023? Even though they twice rejected him, it might make sense for the 49ers to swallow hard and see if the seven-time champion can get them to a Super Bowl and win it.
Their roster is loaded with the NFL’s top defense and tons of speed, a commitment to running the football and a good offensive line.
Also, don’t underestimate what playing near his home in San Mateo, California, would mean to Brady, as well as becoming part of the 49ers’ quarterback legacy with Joe Montana and Steve Young.
One thing is certain: Shanahan’s tone has changed.
“He plays the position better than anyone ever, and he’s definitely the GOAT from what I’ve ever seen,” Shanahan said. “But I don’t say that just because he has won Super Bowls, but because of how he plays the position. The ball always goes to the right spot, and that answer is based off a thousand different things: it could be matchups, it could be the coverage, it could be based off a down and distance, the time in the game, how the defense is playing.
“... He just has command of the game and knows how to win it and what it takes, whatever that is. He’s kind of flawless in his technique, how he gets everyone the ball, and he’s done that his whole career. But his throwing mechanics, they only get better each year. So, I feel like his arm’s stronger now than it was 10 years ago, and his legs move just as good as they did 10 years ago. ... He’s still the best to play.”
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The 49ers could wait another year on Trey Lance. If they want Brady, you have to think he’d be interested.
You’ve heard of Spygate and Deflategate. But when Brady was a sophomore at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, his team may have been the victims of what receiver John Kirby referred to as Sprinklergate.
Serra was playing Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose for the sophomore co-championship. Brady was leading the Padres on a potential game-winning drive when suddenly the sprinklers came on.
There already had been mud in the middle of the field because it was late in the season and the grass had worn down. The game was paused. The Padres continued their march downfield, and the sprinklers returned.
“The first play after they had stopped, Tommy threw a swing pass to our fullback,” Kirby said. “The ball was wet. He fumbled, and they returned it for a touchdown that won the game. I don’t know if it was intentional, but I’ve always referred to it as Sprinklergate.”
One of the most positive signs for the Bucs offense is the reemergence of receiver Chris Godwin.
Returning from a devastating knee injury in which he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, Godwin started slowly this season. A hamstring strain suffered in the opener at Dallas cost him two games.
But Godwin has returned with a vengeance. In his last nine games, he has at least six catches in every one.
“I remember where he was before he got hurt,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “It seemed like he was catching 15 (passes) a game. He and Tom were in a good spot. I don’t even think it’s been since the actual day when he got hurt. The fact that he’s even out there for us says how good a football player he is and how he approached this offseason.
“We know he’s going to get better. We know he’s only going to get better with time the more he can be out there. You see it almost every day. I see a little bit more coming every day. I’m happy for him. Happy that it all paid off.”
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