FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At 41 years old, Michael Jordan was more than content to play golf, smoke cigars and bet on anything that moved.

At 41, Alex Rodriguez wrapped up his star-crossed baseball career largely as a pinch hitter for the New York Yankees. Now he juggles life as a fine TV analyst and Jennifer Lopez’s running mate.

Many of the same perks of retirement – and more – await Tom Brady whenever he decides to enjoy his summers with his wife, children, the beach and a set of golf clubs.

Yet Brady has decided that his days of making double bogeys can wait. On Friday, the New England Patriots’ quarterback will celebrate his 41st birthday. It’s not likely to be a day off in what is his 19th NFL training camp.

“It’s amazing but he’s a great guy to look up to and try to emulate,” said receiver Chris Hogan. “His work ethic and how he comes out here every day, you wouldn’t know that it’s his 19th training camp.”

Hogan is correct. From the first day of training camp, Brady has showed no signs of slowing down. Anyone who bought into the theory that he skipped optional workouts this spring because his competitive fire is dimming is a fool. Brady looks as sharp, as dialed-in as ever, whether he’s throwing to Rob Gronkowski in red-zone drills or watching intently as backup Brian Hoyer takes a few snaps.


“Every single year it’s just amazing what he’s doing. It’s just like he was out here when I first got here,” said Gronkowski. “He’s full go, always ready to roll and it’s just an inspiration, basically, just how fast he’s always playing. He’s ready to roll.”

If you didn’t know any better, this could be the summer of 2007, 2010 or 2014 all over again. The Patriots are the pick to waltz through the over-matched AFC East, the choice to advance to a third straight Super Bowl and a mild favorite (over the Eagles, Rams, Steelers and Vikings) to win a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The main reason is the same reason, the quarterback. One unnamed AFC scout was quoted in a Bleacher Report story as saying “take Tom Brady off (New England’s) roster and they don’t beat the Browns. I’m not joking. That’s one of the worst rosters in the entire NFL but you never hear about it because Brady is so good.”

While wildly overstated, there is a lot of truth to this shot across Bill Belichick’s bow. Brady remains the show, the lynchpin, the one irreplaceable part in the Patriots’ machine. It’s easy to like Hoyer’s chances of beating the Browns but he’s not taking down the Steelers or the Jaguars on one of those cold, high-stakes January Sundays with all the money on the line.

That remains Brady’s job. As the reigning MVP of the NFL, he’s the man the Patriots will count on again when the biggest games arrive.

That’s the funny thing about all the noise that surrounded this offseason. Sure, Brady turned the spotlight on himself when he skipped the optional workouts, even if he’s more than earned that right. He also left us shaking our heads in May when he answered Jim Gray’s question about if he feels appreciated and has received the “appropriate gratitude” in Foxborough with an emphatic “I plead the fifth!”


What? Really? Guess a $20 million contract and everlasting praise as maybe the most popular athlete in New England sports history isn’t enough.

It’s been easy to get distracted by all this hot air. Tom vs. Bill, Tom pushing Jimmy G out of town, Gisele wanting Tom to walk away, Tom hoping Alex Guerrero can get back under the tent.

What’s true? Who knows. What’s clear is more obvious. This is a guy who somehow remains healthy playing one of the most dangerous positions in sports. In the last two seasons Brady has tossed 75 TDs and just 13 interceptions. The Pats are 29-5 with him under center and played in two Super Bowls.

When will Brady string together a few average, or even bad, games? Maybe this fall. Maybe never.

It wasn’t too long ago when New England sports fans watched another sports legend excel in his 40s. David Ortiz walked into retirement at the end of the 2016 season just a month away from his 41st birthday. Ortiz hit 38 home runs and had 127 RBI while batting .315 in his final season, winning the Hank Aaron Award as the outstanding offensive player in the American League.

Ortiz is the exception, however. So is Tom Brady. Lazy days at the Cape and rounds at The Country Club can wait.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.