Tom Brady raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy after the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in overtime of Super Bowl LI in 2017. AP

Johnny Unitas ended his career wearing the bolts of the San Diego Chargers.

Joe Namath wore the blue-and-gold of the Los Angeles Rams in his final game.

Joe Montana finished up with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Brett Favre ended in the purple-and-white of the Minnesota Vikings.

What uniform will Tom Brady be wearing when he finally decides to end his playing days?

We now know it won’t be that of the New England Patriots.

On Tuesday, Brady took to social media, of course, to announce he would not be returning for a 21st season with the Patriots.

“I cherished every opportunity I had to be part of our team, and I love you all for that,” he wrote on Instagram. “Our team has always set a great standard in pro sports and I know it will continue to do just that. Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for our incredible TEAM accomplishments.”

And now Patriots Nation, which extends far beyond New England’s borders, cries.

In these dark days of the coronavirus, with sports seasons being suspended or delayed, or maybe eventually canceled, this wasn’t the news fans were hoping to hear.

But it couldn’t have been completely unexpected. The signs have been there for a couple of months that the impossible – Tom Brady leaving New England – was possible. The announcement, as anguishing as it is for Patriots fans, simply verified it.

And where does that leave that Patriots? Does Bill Belichick go with a second-year quarterback  (Jarrett Stidham), just as he did in 2001 when Brady replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and never lost the job? Or is there a veteran out there that he likes, such as  Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton? Do the Patriots go all in and draft their next franchise quarterback?

Whatever happens, life will never be the same in Foxborough. Brady isn’t called the GOAT by accident. He raised the standard at his position by never forgetting who he was: the 199th pick of the 2000 draft.

He became the greatest quarterback you or I will ever see by always, always, always working to get better. He watched film, he lifted weights, he watched more film. He worked on his form. He worked on his footwork. He watched film. He knew opposing team’s defenses better than they did.

Through it all – the passing records, the six Super Bowl championships, the three Super Bowl losses, the fame, the endless adoration by Patriots fans – he always remained himself, a guy who loved his family and teammates and would do anything for them. He was often uncomfortable talking about himself, especially early in his career, but always had time to talk about one of his teammates.

He was Tom Brady and everyone knew who he was. But when someone joined the Patriots, he was among the first to greet them, saying, “Hi, I’m Tom Brady.”

He wanted you to know you were as important to New England’s success as he was.

And of course, that’s the Patriot Way, isn’t it? No one player is greater than the other. At some point, the team’s needs are greater than the player’s needs. Brady turns 43 on Aug. 3. Time to move on? Others have. Ty Law is a Hall of Fame cornerback, but he didn’t end his career with the Patriots. Richard Seymour should be a Hall of Fame defensive lineman, but he didn’t end his career as a Patriot.

Brady was different, of course, because he was the guy throwing all those last-minute game-winning touchdown passes (59), he was the guy winning those four Super Bowl MVP awards, he was the guy winning three NFL MVP awards (the last in 2017, at the age of 40), he was the guy leading New England to eight consecutive conference championship games, he was the guy leading the Patriots to 17 AFC East titles, including the last 11.

He was supposed to stay forever, right?

Instead he’s gone. And New England weeps.

But always remember what he brought to the Patriots. They went from a struggling franchise to the greatest dynasty in NFL history. He left you with memories you can always cherish. Not every season ended with a championship. But every season began with the prospects of one.

I covered the Patriots and Brady for 20 years. I was asked early Tuesday if there was a particular game I remember from his career.

Nothing will ever compare with Super Bowl LI.

Down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons with 8:36 left in the third quarter, the Patriots looked tired, slow and done. Toast.

Then it was as if Brady flicked a switch. Over the rest of the game, he completed 26 of 32 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns. Every pass he threw was perfect, a rainbow drop on the sidelines, a threaded needle down the seam.

The Patriots, of course, won the game 34-28 in overtime, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the greatest performance by the greatest quarterback we’ll ever see.

Tom Brady’s gone from New England. But he will never be forgotten.

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