- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Tom Brady was far from the first. 

When Brady agreed to leave the New England Patriots for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March, the quarterback joined a long line of surefire Hall of Famers who spend the twilight of their careers in strange uniforms and unfamiliar surroundings.

For most, the change of scenery just delayed the inevitable. Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan’s two years in Washington were full of frustration and futility. Career rushing leader Emmitt Smith was an afterthought in Arizona with the Cardinals. Joe Montana came close in a second act in Kansas City, while Peyton Manning went all the way, finishing on top in 2016 with a win in the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.

That memory of Manning’s last season, though, was of a quarterback well past his prime.

Meanwhile, Brady, who has defied conventional wisdom since coming into the league as a late-round pick in 2000, is putting up some of the best numbers of his career.

The 43-year-old, who has propelled the Buccaneers into the Super Bowl with clutch play and savvy leadership, hasn’t slowed down and he isn’t just along for the ride.

On Feb. 7 he has a shot at winning a seventh championship when Tampa Bay faces the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium, the home of the Buccaneers

“He knocked us out, he’s been knocking people out for a long time,” Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said in a recent radio interview, referencing the team’s playoff loss to Brady. “There’s no shame in that. … Just watching him warm up, he’s still throwing the ball as well as just about anybody.

“That’s amazing, really, to have a guy with that much juice left.”

Brady and Manning have been compared throughout their careers — both racked up individual honors and won consistently with their original teams. But if Brady, in his first year in Tampa Bay can steer the Buccaneers to a title on Feb. 7, he’ll have another leg up on Manning, who won his title with the Broncos after four seasons in Denver.

Another ring is within Brady’s reach because of his play. He wasn’t perfect in the NFC Championship, throwing three interceptions, but his three touchdowns helped Tampa Bay jump out to a big enough lead that the team held on against the Green Bay Packers. 

The process wasn’t always smooth, either. The Buccaneers sat at 7-5 at their bye week and there were questions whether Brady had made a mistake leaving New England. Brady, though, quieted doubters by rattling off seven straight wins.

Brady finished the regular season with 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns. He’s only thrown for more touchdowns once, in 2007 when he set the then-record for passing touchdowns in a season with 50. 

Along the way, it became evident why Brady left the Patriots. The Buccaneers offered weapons that New England didn’t have. A supporting cast of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski have helped extend Brady’s career. Tampa Bay’s defense, too, allowed the fewest yards in the league. 

“I just knew how close we were,” Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said. “We were getting better and better and closer and closer. After the bye week, a lot of things fell into place. Even heading into that we were getting better. I saw the gradual process — it was just going to be a matter of time.”

Even now, there’s something not quite right about seeing Brady don Tampa Bay’s red, black and white color scheme.  

And as if that’s not jarring enough, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht revealed that Brady almost didn’t wear his signature No. 12 in Tampa Bay, worn at the time by a teammate. 

Licht told NBC’s Peter King that Brady mulled wearing No. 7 to “go after that seventh Super Bowl.” 

But in the end, Brady chose 12 after Godwin, the previous holder, switched to No. 14. Brady went with familiarity, even when so much about his situation is unfamiliar. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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