Tom Brady always stood alone, even in his retirement choice

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

HE'S NOT GOING anywhere.

That's the thing to remember about Tom Brady, now that he's retired for good, one year to the day after he retired for six weeks. And it should come as no surprise. He's never gone anywhere, except back to the game. He's retiring to the booth, retiring from football by staying in football. His presence will loom over the game, as it has for a generation, thanks to the 10-year contract he signed with Fox to broadcast games and to be a company "ambassador." In the booth he has pledged to be a different Brady than the one we've known, which is to say that he'll be brutally honest about what he sees below. As an ambassador, he'll be the exact Tom Brady that we've known, which is to say that he'll be an icon with ultimate leverage, a man who after 22 years of professional football answers to nobody but himself.

And that might be among his greatest feats: He could have played for nearly any team of his choice, dictating the terms of employment. He did his best to not answer to time. Whenever he appeared to be brought down to earth, he found a way to push the limits, one unremarkable statement and one unremarkable pass at a time that added up to something nobody had ever seen before. Even this past year, when he was 45 and gaunt, looking exhausted for good reason, and commanding a team with a losing record, he figured it out much of the time, regardless of personnel or deficit or logic. He never lost the magic and he never lost stature, even in a year when he lost so much else.

WE'VE KNOWN HIM for a long time now. We've known him as a single young man, as a married man and as a single middle-aged man. We've known him with his hands on his head under confetti at age 24, in disbelief at what he had done, and we have known him win so many championships that he seems more relieved than surprised when he holds the trophy. We've known him so long that it seems like we've known him since he walked into campus at Michigan, as if we all knew what was to come, as if all of us could see what nobody but he saw. And the entire time we've known him, we've known a man who has not only lived a life of upward trajectory but has been accustomed to life on an upward trajectory. Only twice has that trajectory nearly gone off course: