Reports of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady’s imminent retirement and subsequent conflicting reports surfaced Saturday, shaking the city, football fans and USF students alike.
An initial report from ESPN claimed the 44-year-old was calling it a career after 22 seasons. He played his final two in Tampa Bay, winning the franchise its second Super Bowl in 2021.
For students like freshman Joshua Holecek, the news broke on a sleepy weekend afternoon.
“I was in my bed because I saw it on my phone,” he said. “I didn’t really believe it. I thought that dude is going to be playing until he’s like 60.”
Playing into his 50’s is something Brady has teased in the past. Considering he set a career-high in passing yards and completions in the 2021-22 season, the reports of a retirement surprised Holecek.
“It was a little surprising that all of a sudden they thought he was going to retire,” he said. “Because he’s still playing at the top of his game, even at his age. So I don’t see why he’d have to retire now. It’s not like he had some big injury. I feel like he’s still got plenty of good seasons in him.”
Within minutes, the retirement report was retweeted tens of thousands of times, spreading across not just the digital sports world, but the mainstream news media in a flash.
For other students and the Tampa Bay community as a whole, it seemed a cruel coincidence that such breaking news would surface on a day Tampa was celebrating its annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival.
One enthusiast in the crowd alerted the rest to the story and the rumors quickly got around, according to junior Patrick Esposito.
“Someone just started screaming it,” he said. “I thought it was going to be a little bit of a bigger deal, but it was just like five minutes of everyone going a little quiet. Everyone was just like ‘What the hell is going on?’”
Esposito is not a Bucs fan himself, but as a Tampa native with a father who holds season tickets, the team’s recent success and uncertain future hit close to home.
“I haven’t heard from [my dad]. I texted him, I was like ‘I can’t believe Brady’s retiring’ and he just didn’t respond to me,” Esposito said. “He can’t be too upset, he got a Super Bowl ring out of it.”
Amid all the tribute messages on social media from former teammates, media outlets and sports fans around the country was a since-deleted tweet from TB12, Brady’s media company. It was the first entity with direct affiliation to the quarterback to seemingly confirm the news.
Brady’s agent quickly released a note to dispel the rumors, saying the quarterback has yet to make a decision on his future, but would address the situation in time.
A further report from Bally Sports detailed a phone call from Brady to Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht to declare he had neither decided to retire nor confirm he would return to the field. This is in line with previous reports that Brady was “noncommittal” to playing in 2022.
“I don’t see why [Brady would walk away], he’s still got a great team with the Bucs,” Holecek said. “I don’t see why he’d leave now. But maybe he’s seen another team that he wants to try and get to the Super Bowl with because he’s built like that and he can just choose.”
Even in the event that Brady does decide to call it a career, the Bucs’ roster boasts enough depth for the team to remain competitive, according to Esposito.
“It’ll be really interesting to see who comes in at quarterback, because the roster is so good,” he said. “They’ll still be playoff contenders, but I don’t know that they’ll be Super Bowl contenders.”
Ultimately though, Esposito thinks Brady would only return to Tampa Bay, rather than jumping ship to another team so late in his career.
“I think he’s either retiring or staying in Tampa,” he said. “Maybe he’ll sign a one-day contract with New England and retire as a Patriot, but I doubt he goes anywhere else. He seems to love it here, everyone embraces him here.”