I spent some time last week trying to reconcile Tom Brady’s “sooner rather than later” statement to Oprah and the ensuing Instagram comment where he re-asserted -- in Spanish -- that 45 was his target retirement date, Brady said a lot last offseason. In more aggressively marketing the TB12 Sports Therapy, he did more national interviews that I recall him ever doing
One was with ESPN’s Ian O’Connor last May.
Their conversation was stuffed with interesting quotes, but one that stuck out to me was his open pining for a sixth Lombardi.
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"The great part is the next one for me is No. 6," Brady told O’Connor. "And I'm not on No. 1. I'm trying to reach No. 6 and I'm on No. 5. If I got to No. 6, that would have great meaning to me.
“It's not trying to keep up with my idols,” he added. “It's not Magic, Jeter, Mariano [Rivera], Kobe, Duncan, guys more my age who I always admired. I just want to win because I owe it to my teammates. I'm working this year like I have none, and hopefully it results in a magical season."
While behind-the-scenes friction may have sapped enjoyment from 2017, the chance to get No. 6 was right there in Minnesota. Brady opened up his life in an unprecedented way in 2017 with the Tom vs. Time documentary and myriad interviews like the one with O’Connor in which he seemed to take more stock of what he was in the midst of accomplishing. It was all building to a climax.
And the Patriots didn’t win. And Brady -- despite throwing for 505 yards and three touchdowns -- was stripped with 2:16 left and the Patriots trailing 38-33.
That might be his first lament if he spoke candidly about how crushing it is to get so close and fall short. He had the ball with a chance to go down and score and the Eagles stopped his offense. Stopped him. But at some point, you have to believe he’d get to the absurdity of having to put up 40 on the Eagles to even have a chance at winning. That the Patriots couldn’t get off the field defensively, yet they still left Malcolm Butler holstered all night.
As angry as Patriots fans remain about that game and the lack of explanation for Butler’s benching, imagine Brady’s bitterness. It meant everything to all of them, but Brady -- in his comment to O’Connor -- indicated that No. 6 would have held special meaning for him.
Brady bristled when O’Connor suggested he was the greatest player the league’s ever seen, saying, "I don't agree with that. I know myself as a player. I'm really a product of what I've been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I've been very fortunate.”
Still, his resume with No. 6 and a 6-2 record in Super Bowls would have been unassailable and, quite likely, an unbreakable record. Think about it. As brilliant as Aaron Rodgers is, he’s played in one Super Bowl. John Elway, Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre combined for six Lombardis. Six Super Bowl wins would have looked like Cy Young’s 511 wins and Wilt’s 50.4 points per game.
Another quote from the O’Connor interview that caught my eye was this one. “I don't like conflict,” Brady said. “It's just inherent in who I am."
That was May. He had no way of knowing what the next 10 months would bring. Or that he’d ultimately come tantalizingly close to No. 6, fall short and then realize he’d have to start all over again and play just as well at 41 to even get in position for another shot at a half-dozen.