Tom Brady 'wouldn't change a thing.' I hope he always feels that about his NFL career | Opinion

The rings and the wins and the records, even the longevity. They were all a byproduct.

Tom Brady’s entire career was about the pursuit of perfection, and all the people who helped him do it. His teammates, his coaches, his friends and, most of all, his family. Now that it’s done and he – and we – take stock of his unparalleled career, you can’t help but wonder at what cost.

Too many athletes pay the physical toll when they hang around too long, their skills eroding to the point they bear more resemblance to mere mortals than the majestic beings they once were. That isn’t Brady, even if he no longer could conjure greatness and titles single-handedly.

But as you scroll through the dozens upon dozens of photos on his Instagram story Wednesday morning, many of his kids, you think about the other costs, from this season in particular, and hope he doesn’t someday decide he paid too high a price.

“Thank you, guys, for allowing me to live my absolute dream,” Brady said, his voice growing thick, as he closed his retirement video. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I hope that stays true. Much of that, however, might depend on what his second act will be, and whether whatever it is offers a similar fulfillment to what he found on the football field. Maybe not quite the same, but close enough so he doesn’t wind up lamenting what he gave up for what he no longer has.

Tom Brady said in a video posted on social media that he's walking away from the NFL for good this time.
Tom Brady said in a video posted on social media that he's walking away from the NFL for good this time.

It’s impossible to know just how big a factor Brady’s decision to keep playing football was in the breakup of his marriage. But his now ex-wife made no secret over the years of her wish that he would retire sooner rather than later, and his announcement in March that he was unretiring was followed seven months later by the announcement of their divorce.

Brady has hinted at the changes that’s brought to his life. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road Dec. 25 and his kids elsewhere, he said he was going to have to “learn how to deal with Christmas Eve in a hotel, and I’m gonna have to learn how to deal with Christmas and Christmas night.”

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As his kids get older, they’ll have their own lives and interests, and even less time for him. Without the rhythm of an NFL season, and the offseason work to prepare for it, those absences and missed moments are likely to be felt even more.

Peyton Manning has managed to make retirement look seamless. But the reality is many more great athletes find themselves adrift, uncertain of how to fill their “golden years” when they’re not even middle-aged and questioning who they are now that they’re no longer who they were.

Brady has a 10-year, $375 million contract with Fox Sports that he agreed to last year. But success on the field doesn’t guarantee success in the broadcast booth – see Drew Brees – and it’s hard to imagine Brady getting the same kind of joy and satisfaction out of watching someone else play his game.

Maybe he’ll surprise us and be a natural on TV, like Troy Aikman or Charles Barkley or Michael Strahan. Maybe, like Magic Johnson, he’ll reinvent himself so completely that his seven Super Bowl titles and three MVPs will only be a part of his biography someday.

Maybe simply knowing what he achieved in the past will be enough to carry him forward.

“I am truly grateful on this day,” Brady wrote on Instagram.

I hope he’ll still feel that way in the future, whether it’s five years or 50. Brady gave everything to the game, and by extension to those of us who love it, and my only wish for his retirement is that there never comes day when he wishes he’d given a little less.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tom Brady gave everything to NFL. I hope the price wasn't too much.