On February 1, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady retired. As more and more time goes by, it’s becoming more and more clear that he quite possibly has retired only from the Buccaneers.
Brady started all of it. Six days after retiring (or whatever that was), Brady said — on his own podcast — “you never say never” and “I don’t know how I’ll feel six months from now.” He has addressed the situation on multiple occasions since then, most recently adding more ambiguity and something other than finality when speaking to Fred Couples.
Along the way, I’ve developed a theory that Brady still wants to play for the 49ers, the team that didn’t want him two years ago. He grew up in the area. He attended The Catch game. He grew up rooting for the San Francisco dynasty, a connection that ignited his passion for football and laid the foundation for his unprecedented run of success in the NFL. For a guy who has nothing else to accomplish, winning a Super Bowl with his boyhood favorite team would be the dash of whipped cream atop the cherry atop the icing atop the cake.
Then came Saturday. We posted something last last night/early this morning about Brady attending a Manchester United soccer match. The significance to his football career comes from the fact that the Glazer family owns both Manchester United and the Buccaneers, and that the Glazers ultimately will decide whether Brady will be permitted to leave the Buccaneers despite being under contract for one more year, and under what terms. Some (particularly Buccaneers fans who don’t want to see him playing for any other team) scoffed.
Then came Sunday.
On Twitter, Brady posted four photos from the Saturday excursion and thanked the Glazers for hosting Brady and his two sons. Taken in isolation, it doesn’t mean he eventually may be thanking them for his football freedom.
On Instagram, it’s a different story. Literally. His Instagram story — a reel of photos and videos posted by the user of the account — contains images from the day at Old Trafford. Near the end, there’s a video of Brady and Cristiano Ronaldo interacting on the pitch after the match. Brady’s son, Benny, gets Ronaldo’s jersey. Then, Brady gets a very mild third degree from Ronaldo.
“All good?” Ronaldo says. “You’re finished, right?”
Brady’s reaction is telling. What he says can’t be heard. How he says it can’t be ignored.
It wasn’t a clear yes. It wasn’t a vague yes. It wasn’t a yes at all. He had a chance to say, “Yeah, I done” and he didn’t.
Then, he selected that specific interaction to be posted on an Instagram account that has 11.5 million followers.
Is he finished? The ultimate question, I continue to believe, is whether Brady gets to begin again with another team. And the one team he undoubtedly has in mind is the team that is Super Bowl ready, especially if it were to add Tom Brady.