FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady ran out of the tunnel in front of a screaming New England crowd one more time Sunday, returning to the place where he established himself as the most decorated player in NFL history to thank Patriots fans for “another day in this stadium that I will never forget.”
With the six Super Bowl trophies he won for New England behind him, Brady took the stage set up on the field at halftime of the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles and declared himself “a Patriot for life.” After his remarks, the stadium sound system let loose with the Bon Jovi song, “Who Says You Can't Go Home.”
“Nobody 23 years ago would imagine that this journey would bring us here today,” said Brady, an unheralded, sixth-round draft pick who went on to win three NFL MVP awards and five Super Bowl MVPs while leading New England to 17 division titles in 19 seasons.
“All our lives take us on different journeys. They take us to different places, they bring different people into our lives,” said Brady, who played his last three seasons in Tampa Bay. “But one thing I am sure of and that will never change is that I am a Patriot for life.”
The No. 199 pick in the 2000 draft, Brady inherited the starting job in his second season when former No. 1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe was injured. Brady led the Patriots to a Super Bowl championship that year and to five more titles over the next two decades, with three more AFC championships.
But his relationship with coach Bill Belichick soured as the two fought behind the scenes over who deserved credit for the most successful dynasty of the NFL's Super Bowl era. Brady left for Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2020 and led the Buccaneers to an NFL title that season — an unprecedented seventh for Brady; the Patriots are 25-26 and have not won a playoff game since he left.
Brady retired after last season as the NFL record holder in dozens of categories that include — in both the regular season and playoffs — most wins, passing yards, and passing touchdowns.
“Patriots fans didn’t get an opportunity to appropriately thank Tom when he left," owner Robert Kraft said, announcing that he will waive the four-year waiting period and induct Brady into the team's hall of fame next summer.
The ceremony will be held inside the 65,000-seat stadium for the first time, to accommodate all of the fans expected to want to attend.
“I wanted to give them that opportunity,” Kraft said. "Unfortunately, a halftime ceremony just doesn’t provide enough time to honor Tommy the way he deserves.”
Brady made his first appearance Sunday from atop the stadium's new lighthouse, where he rang a bell to the cheers of the rain-soaked fans to signal the start of the festivities. But things really got started at halftime, when a new video board showed highlights of Brady's career, starting with the comeback from a 28-3 deficit in the 2017 Super Bowl.
Few fans sought shelter from the rain at halftime, when Brady emerged from the home tunnel, unzipped a jacket to reveal a blue Patriots jersey and then sprinted down the sideline – just as he did at the start of games during his career. He finished in front of a sign marking “Brady’s Corner” – a cheering section that had been relabeled “Mac Attack Corner” for successor Mac Jones.
He hugged his children, who were wearing Brady No. 12 jerseys — there was no sign of his ex-wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen — and Kraft, thanked the fans for supporting him through his career.
“That runout was a little longer today than it used to be. I’m not quite in game shape,” Brady said. “But it’s impossible for me to be in this stadium ... and not run out, like I did for 20 years.”
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Jimmy Golen, The Associated Press