(RNS) — The news is official.
Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football League, has left the building — or, more properly, the mall and visitor’s center that surrounds Gillette Stadium, where the New England Patriots play in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Brady, who won six Super Bowls in his 20 years with the Patriots, signed a two-year, $50 million contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’m starting a new football journey and thankful for the @buccaneers for giving me an opportunity to do what I love to do,” he wrote on Instagram this week.
Brady’s departure from Foxboro has caused wailing and gnashing of teeth among Boston sports fans, for whom Brady has long been an idol.
It has likely been a bit of a relief as well, giving folk something to talk about besides the coronavirus.
Among Boston sports heroes, Brady stands alone. He’s the GOAT – Greatest of All Time – for many fans, which makes his departure a kind of betrayal.
Over 20 years, he took the Patriots — a once woe-begotten franchise whose mark on football history had been withstanding a legendary 46-10 clobbering by the 1985 Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX — and made them a powerhouse.
Brady took his team to nine Super Bowls in all, and he played in more playoff games than any other footballer in history. His finest hour came in Super Bowl LI, when he led the Patriots back from a 28-3 deficit in the second half to an overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons that defied belief.
The Patriots took him in the sixth round of the 2000 draft — 199th overall — and built their team around him, their erstwhile backup quarterback who took over when the Patriots’ starter was injured in the second game of the season, and never looked back.
Local columnists and fans blamed the team’s owner, Robert Kraft, for Brady’s departure, as well as coach Bill Belichick, whose hooded wardrobe bears more than a passing resemblance to Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
One fan apparently even left a “Drop Dead Kraft” sign outside one of Brady’s TB12 stores in Boston.
But Brady’s departure was not unexpected. The relationship between Brady and Belichick began to show cracks in 2017, when the coach banned Alex Guerrero, Brady’s trainer, business partner and spiritual guide, from the team’s sidelines.
Brady and Belichick mended fences enough to win another Super Bowl, but things were never the same.
Belichick wanted to focus on football and the team’s long-term future.
Brady wanted to be Tim Tebow. But instead of selling Jesus, Brady was promoting what’s best called the gospel of TB12, his brand and company.
For the 43-year-old Brady, football is no longer a game but, rather, a spiritual quest, said his friend Gotham Chopra, a filmmaker who collaborated with the quarterback on a video series entitled “Tom vs. Time,” which tracked Brady through the 2017-2018 NFL season.
“What’s really at the epicenter of it is this devotional love for the game,” Chopra said in early 2018 when the series premiered. “It is his vocation — it’s what gives his life meaning and purpose.”
Football is a means for Brady to promote this new religion and his growing off-field business.
The company’s motto —; “Inspired by Tom Brady” — features a mix of physical training that focuses on what Brady calls “pliability” as well as his unique approach to nutrition.
Among the staples in his diet: avocado ice cream, which was featured in Brady’s bestselling book, “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.”
Brady credits the TB12 method with allowing him to play at a high level into his 40s.
Guerrero, has claimed Brady might be able to play at that high level until he reaches 45, far beyond the age at which most players retire.
But then, Guerrero has also been accused of defrauding investors and of fallaciously claiming to be an M.D. After he once sold a drink that was supposed to cure cancer and another to prevent concussion, Boston Magazine once called him a “glorified snake-oil salesman.”
He’s also a man of faith — a devout Latter-day Saint who studied traditional Chinese medicine and believes in finding “harmony and balance in life,” as he once told the Deseret News.
And he credits his own beliefs for his success as a trainer.
“Every day, since I graduated from college, I have always prayed that the healing power of the atonement will come through my hands,” he told the Deseret News.
That said, Brady’s decision to put his future in Guerrero’s hands has paid off so far, and Patriots fans — and full disclosure, I am a big one — have put their faith in the team, trusting Brady and Belichick to do the right thing.
There’s even a saying: In Bill We Trust. It paid off with six Super Bowls and 20 winning seasons in a row.
But somewhere on the way, Brady lost faith in Bill. He, like many Americans, began to doubt his faith and switched religions, putting his faith in Guerrero.
So Brady’s off to Tampa Bay on a quest to continue his football journey and embrace his new role as the Tim Tebow of pliability and avocado ice cream.
Belichick can get back to football.
And we fans can give thanks for the memories — And get back to gnashing our teeth.
(Bob Smietana is editor in chief of Religion News Service and a life-long Patriots fan. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)