Tom Brady's post-career flowers started to blossom in New England on Sunday.
The Patriots held a special ceremony honoring the longtime quarterback during halftime of the team's season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and there wasn't an empty seat as Brady addressed the packed crowd at Gillette Stadium.
"This is an incredible celebration for me, for our family, for my teammates, for all of us to come back and thank you guys, for what you've done for us," Brady said. "I was so fortunate to be drafted here two decades ago -- 23 years, to be exact -- not even knowing where New England was on the map. And not that we put it on the map, but I think a lot more people in the U.S. know where the New England Patriots play."
A surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, Brady will enter the Patriots Hall of Fame first, owner Robert Kraft announced on Sunday. Kraft said he's waiving the four-year waiting period for the team's Hall of Fame, allowing Brady to get inducted next year. Brady's induction is set for June 12, 2024, inside Gillette Stadium.
The two-decade long dynasty Brady led in New England featured six Super Bowl championships, 17 division titles and 219 regular-season wins. Donning his legendary No. 12 Patriots jersey, the former sixth-round pick ran out onto the field before addressing the crowd, bellowing to the New England crowd once crossing the end zone as he did for 20 glorious seasons.
"We had a culture of teammates and cared about two things," Brady said. "They cared about each other and they cared about winning. And if you didn't care about those two things, you did not last here very long. And we were very happy to play against you. So I think we proved to America what teamwork's all about. We prove that believing in each other, believing in playing for this community, and believing in playing for a common mission, we were able to pull down six of those banners and celebrate them in this stadium."
It was the first time Brady made an appearance in New England since announcing his retirement in February. Brady concluded a 23-season long career following his third campaign in Tampa Bay, where he added a seventh Super Bowl ring and became the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
Brady concluded his speech with a perfect summation of his legendary career and a proclamation that earned a big roar from the crowd.
"All our lives take us on different journeys," Brady said. "They take us to different places, they bring different people into our lives, but one thing that I am sure of -- and that will never change -- is that I am a Patriot for life."