GREEN BAY: In this file photo Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers warms up prior to their NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on January 24, 2021 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. – AFP

LOS ANGELES: If it is true that there are no second acts in American lives, Tom Brady clearly didn’t get the memo. The greatest quarterback in NFL history is poised to add another improbable chapter to his two-decade career on Sunday when he leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.

When Brady sets foot on the field at Raymond James Stadium, he will be setting a slew of new records — most of which already belong to him — that in all likelihood will never be beaten. At 43 years and 188 days old, he will be the oldest player ever to play in a Super Bowl. His 10th appearance in the NFL showpiece is also a new record, four more than his nearest rivals.

A win on Sunday would give Brady a seventh championship, another remarkable milestone that is hard to imagine being surpassed any time soon. “I could never have imagined it would be like this. I don’t think anybody could have,” Brady reflected this week during a video call with reporters.

“The only reason I’ve got to the point that I’ve gotten is because of the people I’ve had in my life. My coaches, my team-mates, family, friends, all the people that have supported me. It’s been an incredible team effort throughout my life on and off the field. I’ve tried to play my ass off every week — and I’m still trying to do it.”

Lowly draft pick
By now the plot points of Brady’s career have become the stuff of NFL folklore. He entered the NFL to little fanfare, chosen by the New England Patriots with the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. Upon arrival in New England, he was ranked way down the Patriots’ quarterback pecking order, a gangly freshman with everything to prove. Yet Brady slowly but surely began thrusting himself into the reckoning as a starting option, driven by a relentless work ethic and competitive spirit that have become the hallmarks of his career.

Team officials would get calls late at night to inform them that Brady had arrived at the team’s training facility, to practice by himself. When an injury to Drew Bledsoe in September 2001 saw Brady elevated into the starter’s jersey, he seized his chance. He kept his place for the Patriots for the remainder of the season and led the team to a first ever Super Bowl win in February 2002.

That win marked the start of a two-decade reign that would see Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s Patriots emerge as the dominant force in the NFL, encompassing eight more trips to the Super Bowl, five of them victorious. While the personnel on those championship-winning teams evolved over time, the one ever-present remained Brady, who year after year, season after season would confound predictions that his career was in decline. “Guys come, guys go. Everything changes. Except one thing – Tom,” is how former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann puts it.

Brady’s collection of Super Bowl wins included the 2017 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons, when he led the Patriots to the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, overturning a 28-3 third quarter deficit for a 34-28 overtime win. Another Super Bowl appearance followed in 2018, when he finished with 505 passing yards in a losing effort to the Philadelphia Eagles, before his most recent victory, a dour 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.

Ranking greatness
That 2019 win over the Rams, at the age of 41, seemed like a logical place to call time on his career. Instead, after a difficult 2019-2020 season with the Patriots, Brady stunned the NFL by opting to leave New England for his swansong in Tampa Bay. With COVID-19 torpedoing most of the pre-season, denying Brady the chance to properly acclimatize to his new surroundings, the odds on a Super Bowl run were stacked against the quarterback.

However, the Bucs recovered from a shaky-looking 7-5 record to reach the playoffs, where Brady’s poise once again helped deliver wins over Washington, New Orleans and the Green Bay Packers. All at the age of 43. The question for armchair fans is where Brady ranks in the pantheon of North American sporting greats. For many, he occupies the same sort of rarefied air as the likes of Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth. Brady pays little attention to those kind of debates, insisting he has never been interested in “personal legacy.”

“Sporting success for me has never been about passing yards or touchdowns or Super Bowls,” he said this week. “It was always about trying to maximize my potential. Being the best I could be. When I showed up as a freshman in high school, I didn’t know how to put pads in my pants. I was just hoping to play high school football because I wanted to be like Joe Montana and Steve Young. Then when I got a chance in college, I just wanted to play for Michigan. Then when I got drafted by the Patriots, I just wanted to play in the NFL. It’s been a series of steps like that — try to get a little bit better every year, try to grow a little bit every year.” – AFP