The New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of the NFL's 2001 campaign, which was also Tom Brady's first season as the team's starting quarterback. A year later, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII. That was the first Super Bowl championship for both franchises.
Brady's Patriots also won the next two Super Bowls at the end of the 2003 and 2004 seasons, then repeated the feat after the 2014, 2017 and 2019 seasons. During that same time, the Buccaneers did not win another playoff game and did not get back to the postseason after two more trips in 2005 and 2007. That meant several generations of core Buccaneer players never got a ring. Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott did, but Gerald McCoy didn't. Joey Galloway didn't, nor did Davin Joseph, Cadillac Williams, Vincent Jackson, Donald Penn, Doug Martin or Barrett Ruud.
For a long time, that ring was also missing on the resumes of Lavonte David, Mike Evans and other star players on Tampa Bay's current roster. And then Tom Brady left New England and came to Tampa.
David, Evans, Chris Godwin, Will Gholston, Ali Marpet and so many others have their rings now because the 2020 Buccaneers followed Brady's lead all the way to the Super Bowl XL title last February. Brady didn't really need to cement his legacy as the G.O.A.T but it certainly burnished his legend to not only win a record seventh Super Bowl ring but to do it with a whole new group of teammates. And while that new ring surely feels good on his seventh finger, Brady is more pleased that the likes of David and Evans got their first.
"I think for me, I want to see people succeed," said Brady. "I'm kind of at the end of my football journey, you know? There's not a lot of football I have left, however long it goes, but certainly close to the end. But those guys are at the beginning, or just the middle part, so they've got a lot to achieve in their career and I want to see everyone maximize their potential."
Take a wild guess as to which part of that somewhat wistful musing caused ears to prick up around the interview table. Brady is already doing unprecedented things at the age of 44 – you know, like leading the league in touchdown passes – and the mystery of how long he can keep it up, and how long he wants to keep it up, is an evergreen story. At the moment, Brady is under contract with the Buccaneers through next season, when he will presumably doing things no 45-year-old has ever done before, either.
But Brady wasn't trying to stir up any talk about his eventual and inevitable, but perhaps not imminent, retirement. Rather, he was trying to explain how his perspective on his relationships with teammates has evolved through the years and changed as he's neared the end of his incredible run. Even with guys like Brady and Aaron Rodgers doing things longer into their 30s and 40s than we're used to, the NFL is still a young man's game. Most of Brady's teammates every season are necessarily going to be quite a bit younger than him, sometimes by a couple of decades. He has continued to find ways to make connections with those younger teammates, and those relationships have benefited both the young and the old(er).
"Like I said before, I think people think they learn from me, I think I'm learning from them," he said. "I think they're teaching me things I didn't know and teaching me about what's going on in their life or what's going on on the field or what's going on with our team. Different things, and I think just being here and being available and listening…there's a problem when you stop learning. There's a problem in life when you stop learning and I think you have to have the humility to understand you don't know much of anything."
There are a few players on this year's team who were not around last year and thus don't have their own Super Bowl rings yet. No one on the roster, with the possible exception of Rob Gronkowski, has anywhere close to the level of playoff success that Brady has enjoyed through the years. A lot of the team's brightest stars have seen no Pro Bowl or All-Pro recognition, or at least not to the level they probably deserve. Those accolades tend to come with sustained postseason success. All of these things are still on the table for a Buccaneers team that is trying to follow Brady's 2003-04 Patriots team as the last to win consecutive titles. That's a motivating factor for the 40-something NFL lifer.
"For me, that's the best part about football at this point, is watching other guys win," said Brady. "I've done a lot of winning. I've won a Super Bowl, I've taken care of family vacations. It's nice to see other people do those things, too. Watching them be successful is what I think is the best connection you can make."