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How long will Tom Brady keep playing?

Posted Jan 30, 2017

There was a moment on Monday at the Super Bowl opening night when Tom Brady appeared to come to a comfortable realisation and acceptance of his surroundings.

With his 40th birthday looming in the summer, six Super Bowls under his belt and four winner’s rings keeping a bank vault warm, the sixth-round draft pick from Michigan in 2000 has survived the journey.

He has been through it all and now, on a record seventh trip to the big show, he is as relaxed as he has ever been, albeit in that slightly nervous manner of his, the one where he blushes at questions as a defence mechanism to give himself time to decide how he will answer, if at all.

There were certain lines of enquiry that were met with one-word responses, an indication of his reluctance to get into a discussion over things like President Trump.

Then there were personal and family questions, some of which he wasn’t going to address, answering simply with a smile and shrug of the shoulders while looking for a question he would answer.

As he was poked and prodded from all sides, the obvious question that wasn’t being asked seemed to be why he would want to go on allowing this dismantling of his life and thoughts. After all, at almost 40, he has come through 17 years of the violent world of the NFL in reasonably good physical shape. He has a child by Hollywood actress Bridget Moynihan and two more by his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen. He has an impressive array of award and trophies to show off. He has millions more in the bank than he could ever spend and when the time comes he will be afforded the ultimate football honour of being a unanimous, first ballot Hall of Famer.

But that is not how Brady’s mind works. He doesn’t view Sunday as a last hurrah before being carried from his career-field shoulder high and down the tunnel as the roar of the crowd and his football memories begin to fade simultaneously.

Brady sees this as nothing more than the next one, another chance not a final chance to show the world what he can do. He has already talked this season about playing for another five to ten years. He doesn’t understand why this should be the end.

As frightening a thought as that may be for the rest of the NFL, it is also a tremendous example of why this juggernaut of a team keeps on rolling down the road and it helps to explain why it is that the Patriots can catch lightning in a bottle year after year while others fail to replicate the formula.

The perfect illustration of their hunger came two years ago when they created a spontaneous moment that thumbed its nose at the notion that players play for the money first and titles second. When Malcolm Butler made that goalline interception against the Seahawks to seal another Super Bowl in the dying moments of that game, the camera flashed to Brady on the sideline. He was leaping up and down like a child on Christmas morning, unbridled joy in every moment.

That joy was not generated by another pay cheque or one more sponsorship deal. It was born in a moment of unexpected victory just when he thought the chance was gone. After all, Brady and all NFL players get to cash decent pay cheques. He will put a lot of money in the bank this year as he does every year but it is not every year he gets to put a Super Bowl ring on his finger and money can’t buy that achievement.

On Monday night in Minute Maid Park in Houston, Brady was holding court at podium No.6 of eleven, right in the middle of the madness. About a half-decent pass across the middle away from him was Chris Hogan, for whom this is all new. A few weeks ago, he was unknown to most of America, even football fans, but a nine-catch performance with two touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game changed all that and had fans in Buffalo demanding to know why their team had let him go a year ago while not getting out of him what the Patriots have.

Hogan was one of many Patriots players on Monday night who answered that question, and it helped to explain a lot of why Brady is still coming to events like that with the same enthusiasm as he had at his first Super Bowl 15 years ago.

When asked what it is that makes head coach Bill Belichick different from the rest, Hogan had no hesitation. “When you walk inside that building, you immediately buy into what that organisation, and what Bill, is teaching us. Coach Belichick is ‘Do your job,’ and everyone buys into that and into those words. They’re willing to go out there and do whatever is asked of us to win football games.

“I do whatever is asked of me. Whether it’s in the slot, outside, it doesn’t really matter. Every single week it can change, no matter what it is I’m willing to do it.

“I played against them for a couple years. It’s nice to be on the opposite side of the ball. The other side, playing against them, they’ve such a good team. I was fortunate enough for them to bring me in here. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve had a lot of fun playing with these guys this season.”

There is a willingness throughout the New England roster to place their trust in what Belichick wants them to do. One player after another repeated that like a mantra on Monday night, including Brady.

And if everyone from the man who will be in the ‘greatest of all time’ debate for years to come to a recently-anonymous receiver who was rescued from the scrapheap all accept Belichick’s way as the one way to go, is it really so much to imagine that this machine rolls on year after year despite having to recycle the playing staff?

Brady is mentally at the peak of his game. It would be tough to say he is physically better at 39 than he was at 29 but he is in tremendous shape and like the rest of the Patriots, he is having fun.

Perhaps on reflection the better question is not ‘why would you go on doing this into your forties’ but rather ‘why wouldn’t you?’

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