The first time I met Tom Brady was in November of 2001 and I immediately loved the guy.
He was the new and still unproven starting quarterback of the New England Patriots because fate had intervened in Bill Belichick’s best plans and knocked Drew Bledsoe from the lineup in the second game of the season against the New York Jets.
Enter Brady — with no resume or draft pedigree and a body that still resembled that unimpressive one infamously photographed during the 2000 Indianapolis Combine.
Except none of that mattered to Brady or anyone else anymore.
The 24-year-old was in the driver’s seat of a New England franchise that had been, well, uninspiring for a few years after losing a Super Bowl to Green Bay years earlier.
And so it was kind of surprising that with Brady starting, the Patriots were rallying from an 0-2 start. He had won his first start against Indianapolis, and then three of the next four after that.
So ESPN, my employer at the time, sent me to Foxborough to have one of those “sitdown interviews” with Brady and Troy Brown and several other players on that fateful team.
When Brady came into the interview room he was engaging.
He was friendly.
He was genuinely excited to be given a chance to play and even to talk about it.
The kid was a blast to talk with.
I don’t recall exactly what he said while the cameras were rolling but what he said when the interview was over never left me.
Once we were done, we both stood up and shook hands and I wished him luck and he said, “Thanks, we’ll be good.”
And then he added: “Trust me, I’m just getting started.”
The Patriots won seven of their final eight games that regular season with Brady at quarterback. And sometimes he was good and sometimes it was the running game or the defense that led the Patriots to victories.
But the thing is the Patriots just kept winning.
And the Patriots basically didn’t stop winning, and usually in a very big way, until 2020 when Brady left as a free agent.
With Boston in his rear view mirror, Brady didn’t stop winning as he lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy a seventh time in Tampa Bay and even tossed it about during the team’s championship boat parade (very Florida) days later.
All those rings and celebrations proved Brady was right. He was just getting started that winter of 2001.
Since that time I’ve followed Brady from afar, often seeing him play below his high standards against the Dolphins — the team I covered for the Miami Herald for 30 years.
But I also covered him in postseasons and Super Bowl after Super Bowl. And the same confidence and passion he showed in that interview and in those seasons since never left.
Then last Sunday happened.
That was different and it was an omen of a retirement that became public Saturday when ESPN reported it’s coming.
To be clear, Brady was Brady on the field last week. His final game will be remembered for the comeback he authored as his team clawed back from a 27-3 hole to tie the game, only to lose in the final seconds.
Brady passed for 329 yards in his final game.
But afterward he seemed resigned to the idea that no matter what he did, no matter how well he played, it guaranteed nothing in the end because football is a team sport and he’s only one man.
He seemed to understand that he sacrificed family and time for a chance at something that was fleeting because seasons come and go and what happened last year never seems to matter.
So Brady is done chasing championships — probably.
(I say probably because he was not happy with the reports of his retirement and wanted to make the announcement himself. So he’s gone but not officially. And I say probably because we know that 44-year-old Brady wants to step away, but who knows what 45-year-old Brady might do a year from now).
His career will go down as the one quarterbacks generations from now will revere. His records will be the ones future quarterbacks will chase.
And this: His confidence and passion and love of the game and dedication to success will be the standards future greats will aim to equal. If they can.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero