Tom Brady sacrificed personal monetary gains to win Super Bowls

Feb 1, 2022, 5:05 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2022, 4:51 pm

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl...

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium on February 07, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 31-9. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Three classes of athletes inhabit the NFL: quarterbacks, football players and kickers. Tom Brady retires as the greatest quarterback of all-time.

That is not an insult, even though I am sorely tempted. He is the best that has ever been at the most important position in the sport. His seven Super Bowl rings might be the most unbreakable record for career achievement in professional sports.

Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers have one apiece, and the disparity seems to have internally crushed both of them, a pair of elite quarterbacks who know they can never be the G.O.A.T.

I haven’t always appreciated Brady’s 22-year reign atop the NFL:  how he berated teammates on camera; how physical contact made him whiny; how he preferred deflated footballs for an advantage he did not need, exposing low-level team employees to very serious consequences; how hard he tried to become a supermodel like his wife, and how and dorky/elitist he looked at all those Met Galas; how his passive-aggressive way of manipulating the media shaped his final years in New England; and, of course, the preferential treatment he received from referees.

But Brady’s official retirement on Tuesday commands respect. And I will write about him today in the same glowing manner I did while covering his first Super Bowl victory in New Orleans, when I watched Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning kick from a press box doorway, and then sprinted down endless flights of Superdome stairs because you just couldn’t trust the elevators in that building.

In the end, here is what I admire most about Brady:

He routinely took less money or reworked deals to make sure the Patriots had enough raw materials to field a championship team. He was deeply aware and deeply committed to the pieces he needed to win a championship. He did so at his own personal expense.

A Business Insider analysis once estimated that Brady left between $60-100 million on the table by not insisting on maxing out his salary in New England.

Granted, he still earned $235.2 million in 20 years with the Patriots, and that’s before endorsements. His wife, Gisele Bundchen, has reportedly earned over $500 million in her career. In sum, they are a billionaire couple. Which should make it easier for Brady to sacrifice his own monetary gains and take less than he deserved from his NFL employer, right?

Wrong. Most high-end achievers don’t think like that. Most equate salary to worth. Annual wage becomes a pivotal measuring stick, like any other major statistic. Athletes are triggered by the notion of disrespect, and money often becomes a minefield of hurt feelings. It’s why Alabama head coach Nick Saban has a clause in contract guaranteeing him the average salary of the top three highest-paid SEC coaches. It’s not that he needs the money. It’s because money matters most at the very top.

Also, because the richest among us never seem to have enough. Because money has become competition, mistaken for victory.

Brady was smart enough to see through that vanity trap. He chased what really mattered. He built relationships with everyone who could help him, mastering every technique and detail in pursuit of Super Bowl rings. He knew that real wealth and true riches came after the trophies, and not before. He knew that nobody in the NFL can make more than a championship is worth.

That is rare. And right on the money.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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