Tom Brady returns to hero's welcome in New England and declares himself a 'Patriot for life'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady made one more run out of the tunnel, just like he did for two decades before dashing out of New England to continue his legend in Tampa Bay.

Taking the field with his celebrated sideline sprint – and leaving to Bon Jovi’s “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” – Brady returned to New England on Sunday to be honored by the team he quarterbacked to the greatest dynasty of the NFL’s Super Bowl era.

Staring at the six championship banners he helped hang — with no mention of the one he won for the Buccaneers — Brady thanked the adoring fans for “another day in this stadium that I will never forget.”

“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 before announcing his retirement last winter. “But one thing I am sure of, and that will never change, is that I am a Patriot for life.”

With the Patriots' six Super Bowl trophies behind him, Brady took the stage set up on the field at halftime of the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles and thanked the fans who remained in their seats during a downpour — many of them wearing plastic ponchos over their Brady jerseys.

“We had a lot of countless memories in this stadium, celebrating wins against great teams in Foxborough weather like today,” he said. “I think we proved to America what teamwork was all about. We proved that believing in each other, believing in playing for this community and believing in playing for a common mission, we were able to put out six of those banners, and celebrate them.”

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 and led the Patriots to a Super Bowl championship that year. He won 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 team's success. 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 25-27, losing 25-20 their season opener to the Eagles on Sunday, and have not won a playoff game since he left.

“Got a lot of memories with Tom, and he means a lot to me. Taught me a lot about this league, and I credit a lot of my success to him,” said center David Andrews, who won two Super Bowls after joining Brady and the Patriots in 2015. “Taught me a lot about the game, a lot about what it looks like to be a champion. So I’ll always appreciate that.”

Brady retired after last season as the NFL record holder in dozens of categories that include most wins, yards passing, and passing touchdowns — for both the regular season and playoffs.

“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 in a ceremony that will be held inside the 65,000-seat stadium to accommodate the large crowd expected.

“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.

Despite the rain, few fans sought shelter at halftime, when Brady emerged from the home tunnel, unzipped a jacket to reveal a blue Patriots jersey and then sprinted down the sideline. 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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