By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
Some of the most noteworthy comebacks in sports take place after months, years or, sometimes, even decades.
In Tom Brady’s case, retirement lasted all of 40 days.
In a social media post that dropped just after the sports world had finished wrapping its collective head around the selections for the men’s NCAA Tournament, Brady announced that he would be returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the 23rd season of his brilliant NFL career.
“These past two months I’ve realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands,” the 44-year-old quarterback said on Twitter and Instagram. “That time will come. But it’s not now.
“I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I’m coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa.”
Wow. Just wow. When it comes to Brady, what can you say? Not much, except that nothing should surprise us, not anymore. Yet somehow it still does.
There were hints of this, let’s be honest. The retirement decision didn’t exactly seem like it was unreserved and without a backward glance when it dropped Feb. 1, less than two weeks after the Bucs lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams in the NFC divisional round.
There were snippets in his language, words here and there, that made it seem like perhaps he wasn’t finished, not necessarily. Then there was the speculation from various media outlets that he could come back, either now or after a year out, with most predictions glancing toward the San Francisco 49ers as a possible fresh destination.
It is the Bucs again, coach Bruce Arians again, the old (new?) gang back together to give it another shot. If Brady, as was suggested, had fallen out of love with only the second place he has called home in the NFL, it didn’t sound like it in his post.
The last, simple comment — “Unfinished business” — offers a peek into how Brady operates on a different level of self-expectation than anyone else who has ever played the game. For him, going 13-4 with Tampa Bay and getting edged by the Rams on a late field goal was an abject failure, and he just couldn’t sit easy with it.
So, back he is.
In truth, every single time we see Brady step onto a football field in uniform we should be shaking our heads and wondering how all this is possible.
You could split his time in the NFL into four separate windows of time, and each of them would constitute an exceptionally outstanding career.
At an age when most of us creak and groan at the effort of getting out of bed in the morning, he is making the willful choice to stand where enormous men with painful intent will try to crush him into the ground.
He has tens of millions in the bank, a supermodel wife and a family he dotes on, but he is a football guy, and it’s an addiction he can’t kick. It warms the heart in some ways when you hear elite athletes say there are more important things in life than whatever sport they play, but it’s just not quite like that for Brady. Not really.
He wants to win, needs to win, loves to win and has remained so ridiculously good at doing so that he just can’t bring himself to stop trying.
And just like that, the entire NFL loses its collective mind all over again. Did you think Aaron Rodgers’ return to Green Bay or Denver’s trade for Russell Wilson was going to be the biggest story of the still-young offseason? Doesn’t seem like it anymore, does it?
The Bucs, from being in a position in which a partial rebuild couldn’t have been too far from their thought process, instantly get catapulted to near the top of the list of favorites once more.
Rob Gronkowski, much coveted by both the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals as a possible missing piece to a title, is still headed to free agency — but anything other than a reunion with Brady would be a major shock now.
More than anything, the NFL gets its biggest name and most iconic figure back on the field. Defying the odds, confounding the limits of aging in sports, shaking up the entire league and turbocharging the news cycle a full six months before the new campaign even gets started.
Don’t worry, it’s not the end of the story arc. It’s just a new beginning.
So many questions persist. Did he ever really plan to leave? Were there other options in play before he settled on another run with the Bucs? Will his performances ever start to drop off? Is it just one more year?
And this, just for fun: Can you win Comeback Player of the Year if you never really went away?
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.