Open letter to Tom Brady: Thank you for taking us on a magical ride

Darlington doesn't see Brady changing his mind about retirement (0:46)

Jeff Darlington says he doesn't see Tom Brady changing his mind and coming back for another season. (0:46)

Dear Tom,

Thank you. These were the first words that came to mind.

They aren't too profound. But when thinking about what covers the bases for all in the NFL community -- fans, reporters, rivals and the like -- it seems to do it in the clearest, most concise and compelling manner.

For those who followed you from the initial days with the New England Patriots as a longshot sixth-round draft choice -- when your agent told you it might be smarter for pick No. 199 to rent than buy -- thank you for taking us all on a magical, memorable 20-year ride. Many feel a connection to you because of that.

Those who connected with the greatness the past two years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers surely feel similarly. You helped restore the franchise, which hadn't been to the playoffs since 2007, to relevance and greatness once again.

And for those who view you a little differently, the "thank you" still applies. They're no doubt thankful you reportedly plan to call it a career. When you win as much as you did, it didn't always make you the most likable superstar.

Here's what this letter-writer would highlight to those curious about what stood out most from covering the first 20 years of your career: It always seemed like as committed as you were to being the best quarterback and teammate, it was equally as important to you being a good son, husband and father.

That's why, after prime-time games, you'd always sign off by saying hello to parents Tom Sr. and Galynn, and making sure to let your wife, Gisele Bündchen, and kids, Jack, Benny and Vivian, know you were thinking of them and couldn't wait to see them. You also made sure to point out all the sacrifices they made to allow you to do what you loved.

Soon you will have the opportunity to do the same for them, and whenever you decide to officially announce your plans, it won't be surprising to learn that's at the heart of any decision.

To some reporters who were allowed to get close to an arm's length from you, maybe filming a video of you walking through the tunnel at Gillette Stadium before a game or having the opportunity to sidle up at your locker for a brief chat, that was always most admirable.

People would sometimes ask, "Is he really that perfect?" Or, "What is he really like?"

Those who do what we do for a living can only get so close to knowing the real answer, so the response would usually be something like this: The way he looks you in the eye when talking to him makes you feel like the most important person; rare humbleness combined with the most lethal competitive drive and clutch gene.

We all have stories to share, like the time you drove by on the way into the stadium in December of 2019 and chatted up my kids. They still talk about it today. Their father does, too, reminding them that even though someone is at the top of their profession, it doesn't excuse them from showing common courtesy and respect.

Thanks for that, because as you might attest, kids don't always listen to dad enough. It helps to be able to pull out the Tom Brady card from time to time.

More stories? When you turned 40, connecting with some of those closest to you painted a picture of this journey -- from the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Rochester, New York, to the sixth hole at Pebble Beach.

A personal favorite: Super Bowl opening night Jan. 31, 2017 when Panini kid reporter Joseph Perez, who was 7 years old and on Trent Dilfer's shoulders to tower above the crowd, asked you who your hero was. You choked up as you talked about your dad. You're so polished in interviews that there weren't too many times when raw emotion bubbled to the surface. That one was real.

Another that forever stands out is the last Super Bowl you lost, to the Eagles, and how you remember seeing your kids right after. They were crushed. You told them it was a great lesson ... sometimes we try our best and it doesn't always go the way we want.

Then there was the time you were on sports radio WEEI in Boston for your weekly interview and talked about a book -- "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz -- helping you at a time of vulnerability. It was a struggle to keep it on the shelves in New England bookstores for a short while after that, and it seemed like you tried to live by those four agreements:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don't take anything personally.

3. Don't make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

There are countless stories like that, combining football and life, which created a powerful link between you and those who followed you closely.

We will look forward to hearing from you when the time is right. Until then, on behalf of many, let's leave it here for now: Thank you.