Brady's unquestioned greatness helped Jimmy G, Shanahan rise


The greatest football player of all time announced his retirement Tuesday as Tom Brady, 44 years young and still arguably at the top of his game, announced he was calling it a career after 22 years.

Brady no longer will be a fixture on NFL Sundays. The last time the seven-time Super Bowl winner wasn't prevalent in our lives, the iPod had yet to be released, Mac Jones was one year old and Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at the University of Texas.

But Brady's impact on the NFL will be felt long after the GOAT strides off into the sunset.

You can't tell the story of the NFL without telling the story of Tom Brady. Brady's rise from pick No. 199 to game manager to superstar to football immortal has touched countless NFL careers and helped those responsible for the 49ers' rebirth rise to the heights they have enjoyed in San Francisco.

"It's as big of a retirement as there's ever been," Shanahan told Bay Area media Tuesday. "I thought this probably 10 years ago, but he’s the best quarterback to ever play. The best football player to ever play. To me, one of probably the best athletes. I grew up with Michael Jordan as that guy, and now I see Tom Brady as that guy. And it's been so cool for me because when I got into the league and really started studying. All I remember when I was younger, didn't have kids, and I'd get like that itch to go just study football, I'd go up to One Buc when I was working in Tampa late at night. We weren't in the playoffs, and I would just go up there and watch all late-night games of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and the battles they always had with the Colts and Patriots.

"And really, I was so obsessed with the receiver play growing up because that's what I always tried to play. And basically, I credit Tom in just how I view quarterbacks. Just the style he played with watching him. How he played in the pocket, how he played with his base, how he threw, the mechanics of how he threw, kind of just developed on how I started coaching guys. And then you realize everyone's wired differently, and you have to have lots of different ways to coach people. But that was kind of my first, that was how I saw a quarterback. It was because of the timing of when I started studying football at my age. And I think I was pretty fortunate to be watching something like that, because he was great early.

"But man, to be studying that and to end up knowing that that's something I was going to get to see for 20 years or whatever, it's made me such a better coach, and it's made so many people better players and he's had as big an effect on this game as anyone.”

There was a time when Brady's greatness was questioned. His credentials rebuked. He, along with Bill Belichick, were the face of the NFL's evil empire, a dynasty that lorded over the league for an unprecedented 20 years. Brady won three Super Bowls. Then, there was a decade-long drought. His critics got louder. Then, he won three more titles, including erasing a 28-3 deficit against the Atlanta Falcons and Shanahan, their offensive coordinator.

It was at that moment that the debate around Brady's greatness died. Only respect remained.

When Brady's career looked like it was trending in the wrong direction, Belichick engineered a succession plan, drafting Jimmy Garoppolo as the heir to the throne. All that did was relight Brady's inner fire. A man who made a career out of turning the smallest slight, real or perceived, into motivation, now had a real challenger.

At age 37 and with Garoppolo lurking, Brady kept getting better. Kept setting records. Kept winning. Brady's continued elite-level play forced the Patriots to trade Garoppolo to the 49ers in October of 2017 for a second-round pick. Garoppolo, armed with three-plus years of being Brady's understudy, helped take the 49ers out of the mud and back to NFL prominence.

Garoppolo has leaned on Brady's lessons throughout his career, especially this past season when he followed the Brady model and kept rookie Trey Lance, the man drafted to take his job, on the sideline by doing what Brady did -- win.

“Well, first of all, congratulations to Tom," Garoppolo said Tuesday. "I mean, absolutely incredible career, best to ever do it. Just so happy for him, man, all that he's accomplished. But yeah, I mean, I'm grateful for everything I've learned from Tom. You know, it started back to my rookie year. There's been moments where with me and Trey, it felt like me and Tom at times. And I would like, think to myself, I'm like, I used to be the young guy in this relationship here. And it's just crazy how things come full circle like that.

"But just so happy for Tom. I think he's going to really enjoy retirement. He's always on to the next thing, and he always has things happening, but very grateful for what he taught me as a player, as a person, really just helped me grow as a man. I really appreciate him for that and wish him nothing but the best.”

Brady was a San Mateo kid who grew up idolizing Joe Montana and loving the 49ers. He never forgave them, or anyone else, for passing on him countless times in the 2000 NFL Draft. According to numerous reports, Brady wanted to finish his career in the Bay, bringing a Super Bowl title to the team he cheered as a young boy.

Shanahan and general manager John Lynch chose to stick with Garoppolo, and Brady went to Tampa to start his final chapter.

In Tampa, Brady showed the NFL world a different side of himself. No longer living at One Patriots Place, Brady let his personality shine through. He became a Florida Man and just kept winning, capturing a seventh Super Bowl title to quiet the few remaining doubters who were convinced he couldn't do it without Belichick.

There were many reasons Brady rose from NFL draft afterthought to all-time great. His ability to process time and space in the pocket is something NFL teams are still chasing. Something it's unlikely we'll see again.

But it was Brady's work ethic combined with his alien-like processing that allowed him to keep getting better. He never took a day off. Never cheated himself or the process. Even at the point when his only competition was himself, Brady just kept pushing the limits of what we thought was possible.

"You always wonder with a guy like that, what makes him so great?" Lynch told reporters Tuesday. "And then at the end of my career, I got to spend three weeks with the Patriots as I kind of was trying to decide whether I wanted to keep playing. I got an inside lens there, but probably all came just crystallized when I was watching something special he did. I was doing some brain training that we do here, you can throw on a show and watch it. And he like looks in the camera and he says, ‘If you're going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life because I've been doing that for 20 years,’ and the focus and that's exactly what he did.

"He committed anything and everything, and it was reflected in the way he just kind of separated and distanced himself and then his flare in big moments, being able to make the plays and make his team better. It's why they call him the GOAT, and he earned that.”

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Brady's career started at Michigan as a third-string quarterback buried on the depth chart. He was prepared to transfer before then-coach Lloyd Carr asked him to think about this pivotal moment in his football life before doing so.

“It’ll be something you’ll regret for the rest of your life,” Carr said. “You came here to be the best. You came here because of the great competition. If you walk away now, you’ll always wish you had stayed … you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you stayed.”

Brady came back the next day and told Carr he was staying to prove how good of a quarterback he could be. For the next 25 years, he never stopped working to prove people wrong. Prove that he would outwork and outcompete everyone, including Father Time.

In 2014, shortly after Garoppolo arrived, Brady went on a local Boston radio show and was asked when he planned to retire.

"When I suck, I'll retire," Brady said. "I don't plan on sucking for a long time."

Brady's greatness made sure that prediction never came true.

At age 44, Brady still was among the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He threw for 5,316 yards, 43 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. In his final game, with a banged-up offensive line and a relatively empty cupboard of weapons, Brady marched the Bucs back from a 24-point second-half deficit to tie the Los Angeles Rams, only to see Tampa's defense surrender a last-second field goal.

The cliff never came for Brady. There is no sign it would have.

Twenty-two seasons, 365 games, seven Super Bowl titles, 97,569 yards and 710 touchdowns later, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady bid adieu to a league his greatness helped shape.

A league that will feel his impact long after he's gone.

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