As he leaves the NFL: Looking back at Tom Brady's visit to Israel

Tom Brady announced his retirement after a sterling career as the game’s premier quarterback.

 TOM BRADY (right) with Robert Kraft (center) and the author in Jerusalem in 2006. (photo credit: David Tuttle Cohen)
TOM BRADY (right) with Robert Kraft (center) and the author in Jerusalem in 2006.
(photo credit: David Tuttle Cohen)

Will you remember where you were when Tom Brady announced his retirement? It happened Tuesday and was a moment of pause and reflection for football fans the world over. Only once can the undisputed GOAT, the greatest quarterback of all time, decide to hang up his cleats.

For fans of the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Brady’s former team, and those of reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady’s departure was marked by reflection on the great victories and championships that he helped win for his teams.

Football fans the world over no doubt thought back to one of the seven Super Bowl championship seasons, the five Super Bowl MVPs, or the three NFL league MVP awards won by Brady, who is widely regarded as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.

The more than two decades of unprecedented success for Tom Brady is that much more surprising and impressive when one considers that coming out of college he was not even expected to succeed as an NFL player.

Most college players who become stars are selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Brady was the 199th pick in the sixth round in 2000.

 Tom Brady celebrates winning the Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. February 3, 2019. (credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS) Tom Brady celebrates winning the Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. February 3, 2019. (credit: MIKE SEGAR / REUTERS)

He started on the New England Patriots team that until that time had never won a Super Bowl. Robert Kraft became the team owner in 1994. Determined to turn the club into a championship team, Kraft hired Bill Belichick as head coach.

The quarterback the Patriots hoped would lead them to glory was veteran Drew Bledsoe, who was seriously injured early in the 2001 season. That led to backup Tom Brady becoming the team’s starter.

Brady stayed in the starting lineup for the next 19 seasons, until spending his final two with the Bucs. He called it quits only months ahead of his 45th birthday.

When I heard the news of Brady’s retirement, my first thought went back to the evening of March 9, 2006. That was the night Kraft brought Brady to Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.

As The Jerusalem Post wrote, “There was a palpable air of excitement at the Kraft Family Stadium as two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady made a special visit to see what American Football in Israel was all about. Fans of all ages surrounded Brady as he signed autographs and threw passes to some of the AFI athletes.”

Before the visit, Kraft said he brought Brady to Israel to introduce him to the country.

“It was spectacular that Brady made the journey to Israel,” Kraft said. “He is very inquisitive and very intelligent.”

The first place Kraft took Brady after landing in Israel was the Western Wall.

Brady told the Post, “Israel has always been a place I’ve been intrigued by. It’s the one place in the world where there’s so much to learn about, and there are so many things that make this country great... its history and the future.”

In that same article, I was quoted saying, “It’s an honor to have one of the best players in Super Bowl history visiting Israel. It is truly commendable that such a sports superstar would take time out of his busy schedule to show his support for the people of Israel.”

On the field, Brady told the Post he was “very impressed by the AFI, and sports is a great way to bring people from different backgrounds together.”

I have several great memories from that evening. Standing in the middle of the field next to Brady and Kraft, with the now legendary quarterback throwing and completing 30-yard passes to Israeli players, is certainly at the top of the list. A photo of the moment hangs on my wall as a reminder.

Another very special moment came toward the end of the visit. As Brady was always mobbed by excited fans, a young girl tried to approach him but couldn’t get very close. Tom noticed her, walked over, and asked what her name was. After telling him, the girl asked, “Mr. Brady can I please have your autograph.” Brady responded, “Well sure you can sweetheart, but only if you give me your autograph as well.” She did, and so did he.

According to Pro Football Hall of Fame rules, five years from now, Brady will be eligible for induction and a gold jacket. He will become a “Gold Jacket” like Joe Montana, Roger Staubach, Jimmy Brown and dozens of other HoF legends who visited Israel on missions organized by Robert Kraft. They played in a different era, and it would be unfair to compare their accomplishments to those of Brady.

There are young, great quarterbacks in the NFL who are future Hall of Famers, starting with the Chiefs Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes and future greats will find it nearly impossible to approach Brady’s records and accomplishments over his 22-year career: seven Super Bowl rings, five-time Super Bowl MVP, 15-time pro-bowler, most passing touchdowns, most passing yards and most career wins. There is only one GOAT.