The Super Bowl without Tom Brady is like the Olympics without Usain Bolt – and 2020 will bring about both those era-ending, almost unthinkable, events.
The Jamaican sprinter’s absence in Japan this coming summer has been long-trailed since his retirement, but Brady’s quest to win his seventh Super Bowl was surprisingly derailed when the Tennessee Titans eliminated the defending champions New England Patriots from the NFL play-offs.
The shock defeat meant that all eyes turn to the future of Brady, who will be 43 before the start of the 2020 season and will become a free agent at the end of the NFL league year on March 18.
Few quarterbacks have played in the NFL at Brady’s age and even fewer have played effectively.
Asked about possible retirement, Brady says: “I don’t know what the future looks like and I’m not going to predict it, but I would say retirement is hopefully unlikely.”
Even so, most NFL pundits believe that the greatest quarterback of all time has played his last Super Bowl.
Brady has played in nine of them in total, the most of any player in NFL history, and all of the last five.
His first was way back in 2001 when he was just 23 and he and the Patriots went on to win it three years out of four.
He was on the losing side in 2007 and 2011, but since 2014 has dominated the event, reaching five Super Bowls on the trot and winning four of them.
The last was against the Los Angeles Rams this time last year at the age of 41.
In the US, Brady is a sporting institution. He’s the all-American college quarterback made good – the best in the business at his sport, a national hero, a multimillionaire, married to a supermodel, seven million Instagram followers, even his own patented diet.
He earned $23 million from his Patriots contract last year and has commercial contracts with blue chip companies such as Aston Martin and Tag Heuer.
Brady married Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen – who had previously had a five-year relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio – in 2009 and the couple have a son named Benjamin (10) and a daughter, Vivian (seven).
Brady has another son from a previous relationship with Sex And The City star Bridget Moynahan.
Brady and Bunchen are reportedly the world’s second highest-paid celebrity couple, behind Beyonce and Jay Z, and have a combined net worth of around $540 million.
The family home has been a $34m mansion in Brookline, Massachusetts, close to the Patriots’ training facility.
They moved there in 2014, after selling their Brentwood estate in Los Angeles to rapper and music entrepreneur Dr Dre for $40 million.
Brady and Bundchen also own a luxury condo in New York’s Tribeca district.
Along with Bill and Melinda Gates and Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Brady and Bundchen are members of the ultra-exclusive Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana.
Recently, though, the Brookline property has been on the market and the family have been looking to move to an English-style manor house set in 10 acres of land in Greenwich, Connecticut.
It all adds up to the “American Dream” for Brady, who was born in San Mateo, California, on August 3 1977, the youngest child with three older sisters.
In the 1980s, Brady regularly attended San Francisco 49ers games at Candlestick Park, where he was a fan of quarterback Joe Montana, whom he has described as his idol and inspiration.
After playing college football for the University of Michigan, Brady was an unheralded sixth-round pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, but became New England’s starting quarterback in his second season after an injury to Drew Bledsoe.
As a result, Brady is considered the biggest “steal” in the history of the NFL Draft.
He earned just $298,000 in 2001, a season that culminated in him becoming one of only two quarterbacks to win a Super Bowl in their first season as a starter.
Brady has been with the Patriots for 20 seasons, the NFL record for a quarterback for one team.
He has won four Super Bowl MVP awards, the most ever by a player, as well as three NFL MVP awards, and is the oldest player to have won each award.
Brady has led his team to more division titles (16) than any other quarterback in NFL history and is the only quarterback to reach 200 regular-season wins.
In 2014, he was the key figure in a ball-tampering controversy that became universally known as “Deflategate”.
It started following the Patriots’ 45-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts in an AFC Championship Game.
The Colts notified the NFL that they suspected New England had been under-inflating footballs and Brady was accused of being the man who ordered the deliberate deflation.
According to reports, 11 of the 12 game balls they provided for the rain-affected match were under-inflated by about two pounds per square inch (psi), consequently giving Brady more grip in the cold and wet conditions.
The pressure in footballs used in NFL games is supposed to be between 12.5 and 13.5psi. At the time, the NFL allowed teams to use their own balls on offence.
The controversy resulted in Brady being suspended for four games and the team was fined $1m.
The matter moved to federal court, where a judge overruled Brady’s suspension.
However, following the conclusion of the season, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Brady’s four-game ban, which Brady announced he would accept.
Four months after the investigation started, the 243-page Wells Report was released in May 2015.
The report found that it was “more probable than not” that the equipment staff for the Patriots purposely tried to avoid NFL rules.
Though Brady was never formally accused of blatant cheating, the incident could have left a cloud over what had been an impeccable career.
However, the mud never did really stick – no doubt helped by the fact that “Deflategate” heralded to most successful period of Brady’s career.
That career has been inextricably entwined with that of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who took over as the team’s head tactician the year Brady was drafted.
The pair are considered responsible for creating one of the sport’s longest and most dominant dynasties.