Tom Brady Says Return to NFL After Brief Retirement Will Be His 'Greatest Challenge Yet'

Tom Brady has his sights set on an eighth Super Bowl ring after announcing his return to the NFL in March

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looks to pass during the third quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Raymond James Stadium on October 10, 2021 in Tampa, Florida.
Tom Brady. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty

Tom Brady says he knows he is writing what will be the closing chapters of his career.

"I know I'm at the end," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers captain tells PEOPLE. "But I put myself in this position, and I want to finish strong and at the highest level."

Just a few short months ago, Brady — the most successful quarterback of all time — announced his decision to retire after 22 seasons in the NFL, only to have a change of heart less than two months later.

Retirement for athletes can often be a delicate balance between waiting for a moment that feels right, or simply having it thrust upon them. As in the cases of former Portland Trailblazers star Brandon Roy and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, the toll of injuries can lead to early retirement.

Even for those fortunate enough to escape significant injury and enjoy lengthy careers, their bodies eventually reach a tipping point. Then, it becomes a matter of accepting the fact.

"I think for most athletes, what happens is their body says no, but their brain says yes," Brady, who has fought through his share of injuries, says of the struggle athletes face when deciding about retirement. "And then ultimately their brain says no because their body says no."

At 44, Brady is just over a year out from his last Super Bowl title, the seventh of his career. Since that championship run, several notable quarterbacks, including Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger (both 39 at the time) and Drew Brees (then 42), have all retired from the NFL.

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Tom Brady and Alex Guerrero. TB12

Brady often credits the work of Alex Guerrero, his longtime body coach and TB12 co-founder, with his longevity and his ability to defy expectations as an athlete.

"I've been very fortunate to have met the best person in my life, Alex, who's taught me about my body and how to take care of it so I could walk away on my terms," says Brady, who was chatting with PEOPLE about his recently launched new lenses for his sunglasses line with Christopher Cloos.

This isn't the first time a Hall of Fame-caliber athlete has hit the do-over button on retirement plans. Michael Jordan famously came out of retirement twice to make his way back to the NBA, and NFL great Brett Favre retired, then unretired, in 2008 before officially walking away from the sport for good in 2010.

Sometimes, as Brady alludes to, walking away from a sport isn't solely about finding the right time or achieving a storybook ending, but about fighting every inch of the way there.

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Tom Brady. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

"I think it's just wanting to achieve the ultimate goal and the pursuit of that, of winning a Super Bowl," Brady says of what fueled his return. "And that's a thing that motivates me every day. And I have a really great group of teammates and coaches to do that with."

"I want to go out there and have my best year yet," he adds. "It requires a lot of time and focus and energy, just like everything, every detail matters. Everything's important. There are zero compromises to getting the result that we want. And it's got to be 100 percent effort by everybody to accomplish our goal."

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Now entering his 23rd year in the league, Brady is relishing every last ounce of what his mind and body will give him — a determined star not ready to burn out.

"Two months ago, I didn't feel like I'd be in this place, but I feel motivated," he explains. "I feel inspired to go out there and do my best this year, and I'm going to give everything I got to my teammates, just like I always have."

"They know that once I said yes, there's no turning back, and I've got to commit every bit of mental toughness I have to be in this with them until the end of the season, and I'm excited for it," Brady says. "It'll be my greatest challenge yet."

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