Being the NFL’s biggest star puts you under the microscope. Every turn, every move, every utterance – be it on or off the field – is scrutinized.
As years go, it’s fair to say that 2022 has become something of an Annus Horribilis for Tom Brady.
His Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost three straight matches, the first time that’s happened in Brady’s storied career since 2002.
The Bucs’ inconsistency has seen the 45-year-old quarterback’s frustrations boil over, with his explosive outbursts caught on the sidelines in multiple games.
Meanwhile Brady’s personal life has also commanded vast column inches. After rumors of marital unrest between him and his wife, Gisele Bündchen Bündchen, the couple announced last week that they are divorcing after 13 years of marriage.
So, how did we get to this point?
A long few months
After a crushing end to the Bucs’ season in the playoffs last year, the team was left with more questions than answers.
What would happen to head coach Bruce Arians? What would happen to all the franchise’s veteran players? How do they avoid playoff pain in the 2022/2023 season?
One thing the Bucs most likely weren’t worrying about was Brady’s long-term commitment, given the quarterback had previously said he wanted to keep playing until he was close to 50 years old.
Yet, just weeks after February’s Super Bowl, the NFL world was stunned when Brady announced he was retiring from the sport he had conquered with such aplomb.
It appeared to be the end of an era as the NFL’s most successful player called time on his career, as Brady cited a desire to spend more time with his family.
But saying goodbye to a sport that’s been pretty much your life is easier said than done.
Within days, rumors began to circulate that Brady’s status as a retired player wasn’t as concrete as previously thought.
Just weeks later, Brady confirmed he would return for his 23rd NFL season, saying he “realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands.”
With Brady back in the hotseat and with many of their veteran players choosing to return, the Bucs reclaimed their status as a Super Bowl contender.
The only major change for the franchise was head coach Arians stepping down from the role and becoming a senior advisor to the general manager.
However, for Brady, whose commitment to the game has driven him to heights never reached before, this was a season which just felt different from the start.
He had an unexplained and unexpected 11-day absence from training camp in August to deal with some “personal things” and repeatedly sounded more pensive about retirement as he spoke about it being not too far away.
And although he has reiterated his commitment to the Bucs organization, Brady has just not looked himself this season.
While he’s played pretty well, the Tampa Bay team has struggled in general, and Brady has shown glimpses of his human side; not the almost robotic winning machine we’ve come to know him for.
He smashed a tablet in annoyance one week; was seen swearing at his offensive line against the Pittsburgh Steelers; and in general, has cut a frustrated figure on the field.
No more so than last week when the 45-year-old became the most sacked quarterback in NFL history during the Bucs’ 27-22 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football.
Brady was sacked twice at the end of the first half to initially equal and then break the record previously held by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The following day came the bombshell news confirming his divorce from Bündchen.
Reports of marital issues between him and Bündchen surfaced just over a month ago, with sources close to the couple telling CNN that they had had hired divorce attorneys and were “living separately.”
In an interview with Elle magazine published last month, Bündchen, 42, said she had “concerns” about her husband returning to the field after initially retiring last winter.
“This is a very violent sport, and I have my children and I would like him to be more present,” Bündchen told the publication.
“I have definitely had those conversations with him over and over again. But ultimately, I feel that everybody has to make a decision that works for [them]. He needs to follow his joy, too.”
Earlier in October, Brady admitted on his podcast that he has been utilizing both physical and mental therapy to address his mental health in recent years so that he can “be good for people around me” as he opened up about the “intense amount of stress” he has faced over his NFL career.
Brady’s tough 2022 has led some commentators to suggest the quarterback should have stayed retired.
Notably football author Don Yaeger has drawn parallels with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s last season with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of organization we’re talking about; leaders make everyone around them better by understanding what their teammates need from them and each other in order to be successful,” Yaeger wrote on Forbes.com.
“Leaders model and transmit the values of the coach and organization as new players come into the fold, and leaders inspire their teammates by the sheer force of their success and talent.
“When age claims this talent, as it claims all things in this life, the team doesn’t just lose functionality; it loses some of that precious psychic glue that binds a collection of individuals as a team.”
Yaeger added: “As for Brady, all those who watched him lead his teams to victory through the years and exemplify grace under pressure, deserve to wish him well before he breaks another Microsoft notebook on the sidelines in frustration. None of us benefit from that, and least of all his current teammates.
“All of us age out of our profession. One trait of a leader is to know ourselves well enough to do so with grace.”
Or, as District Attorney Harvey Dent put it more prosaically in the 2008 hit film ‘The Dark Knight’: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
In what is presumed to be Brady’s final season in the NFL, many – including no doubt the quarterback – would have been hoping for a fairytale ending to arguably the greatest career in the sport’s history.
The caveat is that we’ve seen Brady perform miracles before so it’s not out of the realms of possibility that he could turn it around.
But with his changing personal life and problems on the field piling up, it’s looking a tough task, even for the G.O.A.T.