It’s so perfect. It’s the kind of perfection Tom Brady represents that makes people hate him all the more.
On January 31, he attends the L.A. premiere of the film that stands as a monument to himself, Paramount’s “80 for Brady.” The next morning, he releases a video from a Florida beach announcing his retirement — a video that he must have filmed earlier and saved for release, so every outlet could use the glamorous red carpet photos in their stories. (Scoops of sand from the beach spot where Brady recorded his video were listed on ebay for $100,000.)
It didn’t end with a Super Bowl (with seven, did Brady really need another?), but this 23-season run of NFL megastardom has a hit film as its capper and a cathartic one at that.
At an “80 for Brady” public screening in St. Petersburg Saturday night, the theater looked like it was about to open a Marvel movie. Grey-haireds packed the place (49 percent of ticket buyers on opening weekend were 55+), but there were young people, too. The area’s demographics have long been split between the elderly who embrace Florida as a retirement oasis and also the young and sun-kissed depicted in local productions like “Spring Breakers,” “Magic Mike,” and “Zola.”
The older crowd laughed hardest, with Sally Field calling her fanny pack “a strap-on” getting the biggest reaction. One trio of women in their 70s attended as part of a “girl’s night out.” A younger guy seeing it with an older woman, probably his mom, said “Aw, that was cute.” I saw it with my 75-year-old mom, who said the film brought a tear to her eye.
Clearly, we weren’t alone — “80 for Brady” grossed $13 million, for #2 at the box office — but it’s hard to overstate the Brady effect in Tampa Bay. The national media may believe Ron DeSantis is universally beloved in Florida; he’s not. (Check out the proliferation of “We Say Gay!” signs at Tampa Bay businesses.) Many Tampa residents self-enforce their own Covid safety protocols, which means local business suffers. Brady was a beacon in a time of hardship: He boosted the area’s growth through the sheer number of primetime games showcasing the area that his presence here made the networks want to air.
When I moved back here in the the early days of the COVID pandemic after 12 years in New York City, thinking of my own health and the need to help my mom, Brady’s announcement that he would move to Tampa Bay and joining the Bucs came just days later. It felt like a kind of cosmic endorsement.
All that Brady intensity might read as a bit much to the outside (Tampa Bay) observer, but “80 for Brady” proved otherwise. As he demonstrated in Super Bowl LI (depicted in “80 for Brady”), he has an extraordinary ability to summon something from deep within and make the impossible possible. The Patriots were down 28-3 against the Atlanta Falcons and, improbably, came back to win. Making a movie about Brady almost seems redundant.
It’s no coincidence that Brady’s cinematic career capstone focuses on women aged 75 to 91. Age has been at the center of the Brady story for a very long time. Being 45 is almost unheard of in the NFL; The New York Times even published an article about other employment outliers, “The Tom Brady of Other Jobs,” that include a 70-year-old EMT and an 82-year-old logger. Even 10 years ago, he could have retired with a legendary, Hall of Fame-worthy career.
The moment I’ll remember the most came from his final NFL game, when the Bucs played the Dallas Cowboys in Tampa: Not finding an open receiver, he rushed for about 12 yards to get the first down himself with a slide. It was a bad loss, Brady looked his age, and even that moment of triumph was rolled back on a penalty, but it was one last eruption of glory.
We knew this man can’t run: He couldn’t really before and certainly couldn’t at 45. His is a career of desire, practice, hard work, and discipline being more important than physical gifts. And he did it.
That Brady “somehow did it” on so many levels, winning three of his Super Bowls after the age of 39, meant he became the defining evangelist for the idea that age is only a number. It makes him a natural fit for Fonda, Moreno, Tomlin, and Field. The crowd of retirees at our “80 for Brady” screening cheered for the film’s coda, when the ladies gather once again to watch Brady, now suiting up for the Bucs for the first time.
About 10 audience members, a couple of them wearing facemasks, stayed in their seats after the credits had finished and the lights went up, talking about how it made them feel. They agreed it was a bittersweet feeling that Brady’s time with the Bucs was now over, but the sense of happiness and hopefulness from that time will endure. And it was great seeing an “old guy” could do what he did.
Ever since Brady joined the Buccaneers three years ago at the remarkable age of 43, we knew all good things must come to an end. In the movie, like his career, Brady showed that time catches up with all of us; he also proved there are few things that give more hope than showing you can outrun it for a while.
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