Goodbye Tom, and thanks for the memories

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady’s first appearance in the National Football League came on Thursday, November 23, 2000 – Thanksgiving Day against the Detroit Lions. The president was Bill Clinton, the top song on the Billboard Hot 100 was Independent Woman Part I by Destiny’s Child, and the highest-grossing movie at the box office was How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

In a 34-9 drubbing by Detroit, the then-23-year-old got his first opportunity in a league he would come to redefine. His day began with just over four minutes remaining in the contest and ended with one completion on three attempts and six yards gained in total. The receiver that caught Brady’s lone pass of the 2000 season was Patriots’ TE Rod Rutledge.

On Saturday, January 4, 2020 – 19 years, one month and 12 days after his first snap as an NFL quarterback – Brady played his last game as a Patriot, a 20-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs.

The now 42-year-old quarterback announced on social media that he will be leaving New England when free agency begins on Wednesday, March 18.

There has been no official word on what team he will be joining.

In the nearly two decades Brady was under center for the Patriots, football in New England has profoundly changed. The easiest sign of that era are the six Super Bowl championship banners that adorn the space below the stadium’s sign in Foxborough.

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In the 2001, 2003, 2004, 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons, Brady quarterbacked championship teams that vaulted the New England franchise to new heights.

At the time of his arrival in Foxborough, the Patriots were a former meandering AFL team trying to capitalize on a decade of minor success that came from a Super Bowl appearance and a franchise-best four playoff appearances in the 1990s.

In the time since, Brady-led squads have missed the postseason just one time, in 2002. All 17 times the Patriots have qualified for the playoffs since Brady’s arrival in New England, they have done so as the AFC East Champions, including in each of the last 11 seasons – an NFL record.

Brady and the Patriots have racked up a seemingly unquantifiable amount of NFL records during the last two decades in Foxborough. Starting at the top, his six Super Bowl titles are the most by any player in league history, while the Patriots as a team are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl wins in NFL history (6).

On top of that, Brady has racked up more Super Bowl MVPs (4), division titles (17), playoff wins (30), playoff starts (41), regular-season wins (219) and Super Bowl appearances (9) than any other player in the 100-year history of the NFL.

His 541 regular-season touchdown passes are second to only Drew Brees (547), as are Brady’s regular-season completions (6,377) and regular-season passing yards (74,571). His 14 Pro Bowl selections are tied for the most in NFL history with four other players.

Brady threw touchdown passes to 77 different players during the course of his Patriots career – another NFL record – with his last going to RB James White in Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski (78) hauled in more Brady touchdown passes than anyone during the quarterback’s regular-season career in New England. The Buffalo Bills, who Brady beat more than any other team in the NFL (32-3), have allowed the most touchdown passes (70) from the quarterback.

Drafted in the 6th round and 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft, Brady played in New England for two decades and started every game he played in since Week 2 of the 2001 season.

That game came against the New York Jets after a punishing hit on Bledsoe thrust Brady into a starting role he would never give up – with a few exceptions.

The quarterback missed all but one quarter of the 2008 season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee following a hit from Bernard Pollard of the Kansas City Chiefs. Brady was also forced to sit out four games at the beginning of the 2016 regular season after being suspended by the NFL in connection to the Deflategate scandal.

Both times, the quarterback returned to the Patriots starting lineup with great success. In 2009, Brady won the Associated Press’ Comeback Player of the Year as the Patriots captured the division title with a 10-6 record. He then followed that season up with his second of three MVP seasons as New England roared to a 14-2 campaign in 2010.

In 2016, Brady returned in Week 5, leading the team to 14 wins in 15 games, culminating in New England’s 34-28 comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. In overtime of that win, Brady led his team on his fifth of six game-winning drives in the Super Bowl.

Brady also recorded an MVP season following his team’s win in Super Bowl LI. In 2017, at the age of 40, Brady captured his third MVP 10 years after winning his first in 2007.

Following his promotion after Bledsoe’s injury in 2001, Brady helped lead the Patriots to championships in three of his first four seasons as a starter.

In each of those wins, Brady led the team on a game-winning drive, all three of which set up field goals from Adam Vinatieri against the St. Louis Rams, the Carolina Panthers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Brady was awarded MVP honors for his performances against the Rams and Panthers.

Beginning his career with three Super Bowl wins in four seasons, Brady and the Patriots were twice denied championships near the middle of the quarterback’s career. In the 2007 and 2011 seasons, the Patriots were defeated in the final game by the New York Giants.

Despite the heartbreak in the years following the birth of the Patriots dynasty, Brady and company were able to return to the top three more times in the quarterback’s career with New England.

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In 2014 and 2016, Brady led the Patriots on late fourth-quarter comebacks in the Super Bowl.

Against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, Brady threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns as the Patriots rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter – what was then the largest rally in Super Bowl history.

Two years later, the Patriots destroyed that record with a 25-point comeback in the second half against the Atlanta Falcons.

On four consecutive drives in the second half, Brady led New England down the field, where they were able to score enough points to tie the game at 28-28 going into overtime. In the only extra frame in the 53-year history of the Super Bowl, Brady went 5-for-6 on pass attempts before White ran in the winning score from the 2-yard-line.

Brady was also awarded Super Bowl MVP honors against Seattle and Atlanta.

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And while Brady and the Patriots were denied a second chance at back-to-back titles when they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, they quickly made it back to the final game of the season.

In Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams, Brady was able to piece together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter despite facing a defense that had held New England to just three points in the game at that point.

On that drive, Brady went 4-for-4 in pass attempts, with his final one a 29-yard strike to Gronkowski, which set up the two-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel. It was the quarterback’s 13th game-winning drive in the postseason and his last as a Patriot.

Today’s college freshmen have known nothing but Tom Brady as the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots. And while his career as a Patriot has ended, the memories from nearly two decades at the helm of the NFL’s most successful dynasty will stay with us all until we are well past Brady’s age of 42.

So after all these years, we send a final goodbye message to Tom Brady, TB12, Tom Terrific, the Comeback Kid and the GOAT: Thank you, old friend, and enjoy your next step – you’ve earned it.