GLENDALE, Ariz. — Tom Brady was christened in the same desert where doubt first crept into the New England Patriots dynasty and where the greatest season of all time died.
Weird things happen in the desert. Unspeakable things. Things disappear here, and rumors are born here. It’s where the David Tyree catch happened and where Jermaine Kearse tried to turn his last name into a verb. The headline was going to run from coast to coast.
But Brady overcame it all.
He ended the doubts and rumors and updated his résumé for being considered the greatest quarterback of all time by dropping the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX.
If you’re New England, it was perfect. Brady went 8-for-8 on the game-winning drive. He had his signature moment to erase the previous two Super Bowl failures. He won his fourth ring, tying Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for the most all-time by a quarterback.
The towel he hid under after his last Super Bowl loss while sitting at his locker, inconsolable and crestfallen, was gone. As the game ended, and the blue, white and red confetti rained down, he ran around the field, smiling, and grabbed owner Robert Kraft for a big hug.
By the time he took the podium after the game, he was subdued. This wasn’t the kid who placed both hands on the side of his head in a state of shock after winning his first Super Bowl.
That guy had his whole life ahead of him. Things felt easy back then.
He’s now nearing 38 and has been to battle. Lost some, won more. He knows life is hard. The guy at the lectern Sunday night was experiencing relief, not shock and awe.
The burden of recent failures was melting away. He was more interested in meeting his obligations and getting back to his family than sitting there and telling everyone about his great accomplishment.
“I’m tired,” Brady said, on one of the most understated scenes in recent memory.
No doubt he slept well Sunday night, though. Some of the decisions made during the game will bother Brady at a later date. He came dangerously close to being frozen at his locker, towel over head, seeking a way to escape the moment but frozen by his thoughts. But he overcame those errors.
He threw two bad interceptions and would have spent another year living in haunt if Kearse’s unbelievable catch wouldn’t have been followed up by undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler intercepting a Russell Wilson pass two plays later in what was one of the more curious coaching decisions of the season.
It seemed certain the Seahawks would go to Marshawn Lynch since there were more than 20 seconds to play, Seattle only needed 1 yard to win and it had a timeout to burn. Instead, the Seahawks dialed up a pass.
Running seemed the obvious choice, but that’s what happens in the desert. Not everything makes sense. And it certainly didn’t to Seattle cornerback Tharold Simon.
“How you throw the ball when you have Marshawn Lynch?” said the cornerback, a former LSU standout.
The towel has been passed to Carroll. He defended his decision, but he’ll want to spend the next few weeks in hiding, trying to figure out how and why it went wrong. He’ll spend the next few weeks being dissected. His impeccable recent coaching record is stained.
That feeling is something Brady is familiar with. The same doubts emerged around him the previous two times he played in this game. He squandered a perfect season and another great one against weaker Giants teams in his previous two Super Bowl appearances.
But none of that matters anymore. It has been erased. He’s now the best of this era — if not of all time.
No one can take that from him. You can bring up Spygate and Deflategate and whatever other “Gate” might arise before his career ends, but these are his titles. All four of them. His career has reached a definitive, unimpeachable level.
Brady now has as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana — and his life’s work isn’t complete. But four? Four means something. This was one of Brady’s goals when he used to toss the ball with his father, Tom Sr., in the Candlestick Park parking lot as a kid before going inside to watch his idol, Montana, shred defenses.
Four means he can no longer be compared to Peyton Manning. The Denver quarterback has had great seasons, but it’s no longer even a race.
There’s also a strong case to be made that he has unseated Montana as the best of all time. The former 49ers great might have won all four of his trips to the Super Bowl, but he also went one-and-done in the playoffs four times. It seems unfair to hold Brady’s two Super Bowl losses against him since he managed to win enough games to have a shot at a title in two other seasons.
Brady didn’t have much to say about himself after the game. His teammates did.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks on the planet,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “He’s won four Super Bowls in the salary-cap era. He’s been in six, played with a bunch of different guys. I don’t know how you can argue that. You can’t just go out and buy Super Bowls these days.”
Brady was asked to compare his feats from Sunday’s game with those in his other Super Bowl triumphs. He didn’t bite.
“Hard to remember that far back,” he said. “I’m a little bit older now.”
It would be foolish to characterize this as the end or a defining moment. Brady still has plenty to offer. He could still win his fifth ring, maybe even a sixth if everything goes right. Like the kid with the hands on the side of his head, anything seems possible.
But this older, wiser Tom Brady has nothing left to prove. His legacy is cemented. He can win two more or lose two more.
It doesn’t matter. If he’s not the best of all time, he’s now the best of his time.
He can finally sleep easy for a night.