In a sense, we’ve done this to ourselves. The amount of attention, emotion, and time we spend not just dissecting the NFL, but the specific position of quarterback in the NFL, would warp any person who plays the position and is on the receiving end of all that. It’s probably one of the big reasons the position is so hard to play, and why so few can do it well. No one can ignore the amount riding on it, and only a select few can carry it.
And now we have to do this dance with any QB that’s still playing, and still playing well, over 35. This limbo on whether they will retire or not.
Maybe it started with Brett Favre, who spent at least three offseasons seeing how people sniff his farts before deciding to return, until the Packers decided they’d had enough and replaced him with someone better. There’s little question Favre liked sitting around and seeing what everyone had to say about him, how vital he was, before getting repeated hero-receptions from the Packers press and fans when he deigned to just play again. Nothing had really changed, but Favre made it seem like something had when he would “decide” to come back. That is until he ran out of runway.
His successor, Aaron Rodgers, certainly has reveled in the same the past two offseasons, though his charade was spiced with a chase for more money and more say in what was going on with the team. Perhaps even a bid to deflect that the ultimate return for his career and time in Green Bay is actually underwhelming as fuck. But the major drive is attention, to see what everyone says, to feel or appear needed and important.
So it’s no shock that Tom Brady, the most accomplished and yet perhaps the most personally empty of all QBs, wanted to spend a month hearing all the tributes and reflections on his career. It’s certainly not the first offseason he’s spent doing so, but the most naked. Brady never meant to retire, because he hasn’t had a chance to miss anything yet. He wouldn’t have been doing anything this time of year other than what he’s been doing this time around, just appearing at various events and getting noticed for doing so.
Most of the time, to be fair to these guys, they’re subjected to the most intricate breakdowns of their games and performances, and have an entire organization’s (if not city’s) fortunes pinned on them. It must be exhausting. One can understand the urge to balance that out with uninterrupted adulation, even if it’s only for a few weeks, to remind anyone why they even bother in the first place.
Brady has always been the most in need of acceptance as a whole person. Rodgers just wants to be anointed the smartest guy in the room. It probably doesn’t matter if he’s liked, at least not that much. Favre needed to be worshiped.
Brady needs it all, otherwise the seven championships would have been enough to quench whatever thirst he still has. From his sketchy health products, to his clothes, to all the other things the cameras catch him doing, it’s pretty apparent Brady wouldn’t know what to do with himself out of the spotlight. He’s too vapid for pretty much everything. He’s not going into the broadcast booth. He probably doesn’t want to work hard enough to go into ownership or management when his playing days are over.
So this is what we get. He gets a month or six weeks hearing about what a difference he’s made in our cultural touchstone, the NFL. How great he’s been, no one better, and how no one will be able to do it again. And then he gets to come back on that high and add to it, so we can do it all again in a year. He gets to hear his name more and more.
At some point, we all want to know what everyone thinks of us, especially in the sheltered world these athletes live in where no one is going to say much bad about them. It’s a preview of a eulogy. And then they get to add more lines to the eulogy. It’s insufferable for us, but when you’re these guys, there’s only themselves.