- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This fall, the people of Boston are collectively going to feel the same mix of pain, dread and confusion that citizens of Chicago, San Francisco and Indianapolis once felt.

When Tom Brady dons the red, black and orange of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his departure from the New England Patriots will finally sink in. Sure, it already became real when Brady finalized an agreement late Tuesday to join Tampa Bay next season. But it’ll be different when the icon of a city actually puts on a different jersey.

Just ask Bulls fans how it felt to watch Michael Jordan play for the Wizards. Or talk to 49ers fans about Joe Montana in a Kansas City Chiefs’ jersey.

Brady isn’t the first superstar to leave his team, but he is part of a special class of Hall of Famers who spent decades in one town — only to end up somewhere else.

Brady finds himself in good company. Besides Jordan and Montana, there was Peyton Manning, topping off his incredible career with a Super Bowl win with the Denver Broncos.

In baseball, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron both left their longtime teams — the Braves and Giants, respectively — to enjoy swan songs elsewhere. Washington Nationals fans felt the pain last year as favorite son Bryce Harper left town.

The fact it’s happened before won’t make it easier for New England fans who have rooted for “Captain America” over 20 years and six championships.

Brady himself saw it coming a few years ago.

“There comes a time for a lot of people. Michael Jordan played for the Wizards,” Brady told The NFL Network in 2014. “Who would have ever imagined that? Joe Montana played for the Chiefs and Randy Moss, one of the greatest players ever, played for four teams.”

There are exceptions — Manning, for example — but late-career switches often end in more futility than glory.

Brady hopes he can still compete for a championship in Tampa Bay — the Buccaneers have a good offensive line, two talented tight ends and elite wideouts. Brady is even talking about adding the troubled but indisputably talented Antonio Brown to the mix.

But the final years of a athlete’s career on a new team can serve as a sad reminder of the inevitable toll of age.

Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, for instance, averaged just 2.8 and 3.5 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Arizona Cardinals after being released from the Dallas Cowboys. A 42-year-old Mays hit just .211 in his final season with the New York Mets.

After a three-year hiatus and a stint as an executive, Jordan returned to the court in Washington lacking the speed and burst that once defined his game. There were highlights — a 51-point night against the Hornets in 2001, a 45-point performance against the Hornets in 2003 — but the nightly dominance was gone.

At age 40, Jordan finally retired for good after two playoff-less seasons.

“We should have never ever let Michael Jordan play for the Wizards,” rapper and Chicago native Kanye West once rapped in 2013.

There are players, though, who defy convention.

After 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins, defenseman Ray Boruque was traded in 2000 to the Colorado Avalanche and won the Stanley Cup the following year, the last of his career.

Manning, too, walked off with a Super Bowl victory to cap the 2015 season.

And Tampa isn’t necessarily the last stop for Brady. Legends like Wayne Gretzky and Brett Favre played for multiple teams in the later stage of their career. Brady, who turns 43 in August, has said he wants to play at least until he’s 45 — and the length of Brady’s contract with the Buccaneers has yet to be reported.

Regardless, Brady won’t play next year with the Patriots. And for most, that will take some getting used to.

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