Tom Brady opens up: ‘I’m not going to give away my power’
On Monday, I wrote about the Patriots’ Super Bowl comeback through the eyes of Tom Brady as part one of a two-part Brady story. It’s heavy on the play-by-play of the comeback, a rare peek into how Brady thinks on the field. In part two from Brady’s remote getaway in Montana (he asked that the location not be named), we talked his future, his lifestyle, his family and his refusal to show much emotion about his four-game suspension by the NFL this season in the Deflategate scandal. Much of the discussion in this story will be heard as part two of my podcast with Brady. That will be posted Thursday at The MMQB and iTunes.
SOMEWHERE IN MONTANA — During our conversation Sunday, in the shadow of a breathtaking mountain with fresh powder on a pristine winter afternoon, 39-year-old Tom Brady drank two 20-ounce bottles of Vitamin Water Zero. When he opened each one, he squirted the contents of a small plastic container labeled TB12 Electrolytes, maybe two or three ounces into each bottle. And over 90 minutes, he drank those 45 ounces or so of Vitamin Water plus the electrolyte solution.
The sports media often marvel at the staying power of Brady as he heads into his forties. Super Bowl 51 was the last game in his thirties. Brady played 141 of the 145 New England games between the 2009 and 2016 seasons; the only four he missed were because of the non-injury-related Deflategate suspension this season. And despite his advanced age — Joe Montana and Dan Marino were retired by 39 — Brady believes he can maintain his level of play long past the age of any everyday quarterback in NFL history.
“I’d like to play until my mid-forties,” he told me. “Then I’ll make a decision. If I’m still feeling like I’m feeling today, who knows? Now those things can always change. You do need long-term goals too. I know next year is not going to be my last year.”
His non-dairy, no-vices diet is one thing. The other is a simple devotion to the game and to his body. His physical guru, Alex Guerrero, has been with him for 10 years, refining workouts, pushing his physical and mental self. There’s nothing else Brady wants to do as much as play football, and so he’ll investigate every option and every physical-education regimen to keep going.
For Brady, this isn’t work. It’s a lifestyle choice.
“Other than playing football,” Brady said, “the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football. I’ve worked hard to get a system in place that really works for me and I know could work for everybody else if they just did it. That enables me to play 99 plays [in Super Bowl 51, the most of his career in one game] as a 39-year-old in the last game of the season … Football to me is more than just a sport. It has become my life. Every choice that I make … what I have for breakfast, how I work out, all of those things. I love the game. I love playing.”
But the sacrifices, I wonder … the avocado ice cream instead of the real sugary thing … and the sleep, the long periods of sleep that he won’t sacrifice.
“Taking out some things in your lifestyle—[like] going out with your friends until 1 a.m. I don’t do that anymore,” Brady said.
“Do you miss it?” I said.
“Not really,” Brady said, “because I know what I’m getting on the other end. I know I can enjoy other experiences with my friends that don’t have to happen at 1 a.m. I can have my friends at a Super Bowl game as a 39-year-old. That’s a pretty amazing feeling. So it doesn’t ever feel like a sacrifice to me … That’s making lifestyle choices that support dreams and goals that I have. Football is a job, but it’s never felt like a job for me.”
* * *
Even here, on a glorious day perfect for skiing, there aren’t many people around. It’s a good getaway spot because of the beauty and the remoteness and the fact that, when I arrived and was asked what I was doing here, and I said I was here to see Tom Brady, no one had the reaction like, Holy crap, Brady’s here? It’s the kind of place, way up here, that Brady can bring Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to throw with, which he has done, and it goes unnoticed.
It’s the kind of place where the mayhem of 24/7 football and Deflategate and the Super Bowl seems far, far away.
That’s why Brady brings his family here. They can just be.
Brady needs that. He likes a quiet mind. The one thing I said to Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, after the 34-28 Super Bowl victory over Atlanta was how calm Brady was during the game; there was one play on the final drive of the game, when seconds were diamonds, that Brady took 33 seconds between plays, with the clock running. “The two words we use around the offense a lot,” McDaniels said, “are ‘precision’ and ‘detail.’ Guys get worn out, I say it so much. But if we’re not precise, we don’t make plays. If we don’t make plays, we don’t win. Tom knows the time we need to take to get everybody in the right position, to look over the defense, to get ready to make the best possible play at that moment. So nobody worries too much when he takes all that time. He’s processing.”
But in this game particularly, did you notice something else? Did you notice the calm Brady had, even on the three third-down conversions in the fourth quarter, when a failure on any one of them could have cost New England a chance at victory? He was nearly placid. Especially in the wake of the four-game suspension this year, and the months and months Brady fought it before finally giving up last summer, I wondered why he was such a flat-liner in this game, with so many emotions coursing through him. The vengeance against the NFL in particular. Where were the bulging veins in the neck in the fourth quarter and overtime? We never saw them.
Said his friend and coach and confidant McDaniels after the game: “Holding grudges doesn’t do anyone any good. Focus on the positive in life. That’s what Tom always does.”
That’s what he was doing the morning after the game. When Brady met commissioner Roger Goodell, who imposed the four-game ban, Brady smiled a lot. On the Monday after winning the MVP, at the MVP press conference, Brady defused the story by standing with Goodell, smiling for 20 seconds while holding the silver football given to Super Bowl MVPs.
This was either passive-aggressive, never-let’-em-see-you-sweat Brady, or zen Brady. After reading Greg Bishop in this week’s Sports Illustrated, writing floridly about the game, I’m thinking it’s zen Brady. Bishop wrote that Brady loves a mind-fixing book called “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. In it, Ruiz writes that people adopt storylines that others create for them, and people are just supposed to fall into line and accept them as truths, whether they feel that way or not. In this case: Brady gets whacked by Goodell, so Brady must hate Goodell, and when he triumphs, that hatred will surface.
I ran it by Brady. His answer was complicated.
“When you play professional sports,” Brady said, “there’s a choice that you’re going to be … you subject yourself to a lot of criticism. After 17 years in the NFL, there’s a lot of criticism. I started experiencing that in college. College wasn’t an easy go for me … But I guess the point is, when you subject yourself to a lot of criticism, what I’ve learned from myself is, I don’t want to give my power away to other people by letting my own emotions be subjected to what their thoughts or opinions are. So if someone calls me something, that’s their problem. It’s not my problem. I’m not going to give away my power.
“You can call me an (expletive) and I am going to smile at you probably. I’m not going to say, ‘No, you’re an (expletive).’ Because that person is controlling me with what their thoughts and actions are. How can you go through life, now at this point, 17 years, being affected by everybody all the time with what someone says?”
But, I countered, this wasn’t someone calling you a name. This was someone taking you off the field for a month. And you responded in a placid way, not a fighting way.
“Well,” he said, “what’s the best way to fight? There’s only one fight I can win and that is how well I play. That’s the only one I can control, because I tried to play for 18 months and it didn’t work. So finally I said … ‘My team is going to go out and play great, I know they are going to, and when I come back, I am just going to do what I’ve always done.’
“Why let anything get in the way of that? You start giving your power away to other people, it’s a tough life. There are a lot of people who say something every day at this point. I am a very positive person. Most people who know me, I’d say I am very much an introvert, more like my mom, than my dad. If it is up to me, it would just be dinner with my family and let’s go to bed. I’m not a partier; those things probably take away more of my energy and I am trying to store my energy up. So, I try to just be a positive influence and role model and impact on the people that I have when I am in those situations. When you are faced with things that are negative, those are challenging for me, because the positivity … I just want this to be a positive, why is this a negative? Why are all these things negative now? What I’ve learned is this is other people’s attitudes towards me as well. These aren’t necessarily my attitudes. So why don’t I just compartmentalize, still deal with my own emotion, which is challenging at times. But me not giving away my power to anybody has been something that I’ve had to learn and I’ve learned it the hard way.”
* * *
If there’s another reason why you wouldn’t have expected Brady to be a flatliner in the Super Bowl, it’s the bit about the illness of his mother, Galynn, who is being treated for cancer. The Super Bowl was the first game she attended all season. Brady told Jim Gray in their weekly radio show before the game that he was dedicating the game to his mother.
Brady got emotional once in our conversation, and it was about his mother. He misted up, and his mouth quivered a bit as he said:
“It’s been a very challenging year for our family. You have parents that are going through what they are going through, and my mom is not the only one going through it. My dad is going through it at the same time, taking such good care of my mom. And my dad needing the support of my sisters, that I couldn’t give when I’m in Boston. So my sisters are the ones that are taking care of my mom and my dad is there taking care of my mom. And we are so used to these football seasons where my sisters will come back for games with my nieces, and my parents will come back for almost every game and they get to see my kids, and this year it was all FaceTime. I kept saying, ‘Mom, don’t you worry, we are going to be in Houston, we are going to make sure you come to that one.’
“I am happy that it ended up being a happy, happy experience because we won, But she’s a tough woman and every family who has gone through these battles, it’s really hard. It puts a lot of things in perspective. Life puts a lot of things in perspective, and kids put a lot of things in perspective. I think all those things are factors in a 39-year-old Tom Brady versus 25-year-old Tom Brady. And that’s a good perspective to have because it’s a week after the season and I’m so happy we won the Super Bowl but you also realize that life goes on too. You are going to wake up the next day and life is still going to be going, so you better enjoy that too because all those things are taking up different parts of your life.”
* * *
The MMQB: Think it’s likely you’ll play every year with the Patriots for your career?
Brady: “That’s an impossible question because I don’t make those choices.”
The MMQB: Would you like to?
Brady: “Of course. I don’t ever want to play for another coach. I don’t want to play for another owner. But this is professional sports. I’ve seen some of the best players I’ve ever played with on other teams. I’ve seen Jerry Rice play for the Raiders, Joe Montana play for the Chiefs, Brett Favre play for a lot of teams. You never know. That’s why I want to keep taking care of what I need to take care of. That’s what it comes down to. I want to take care of Tom Brady. I want to make sure Tom is available to the team, Tom is playing at a high level, so the team wants to keep him.”
* * *
So … aside from wife Gisele Bündchen getting a photo credit for her work — the international supermodel shot a photo of me and Brady in Montana on Sunday afternoon, which we used in my Monday column — she does play a part in this story.
“I was joking with my wife earlier this week,” Brady said. “She said, ‘Oh great, babe. Now you can retire because I know you always wanted to win another Super Bowl.’ I said, ‘You know, this is actually when it’s really fun.’”
It’s fun now, Brady said, because he knows what’s coming. He feels great, and you can’t fool him.
“I have the answers to the test now,” Brady said.
“You can’t surprise me on defense. I’ve seen it all. I’ve processed 261 games, I’ve played them all. It’s an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience in their job, it’s not as hard as it used to be. There was a time when quarterbacking was really hard for me because you didn’t know what to do. Now I really know what to do, I don’t want to stop now. This is when it’s really enjoyable to go out.”
One of the things that can get overlooked in the Brady run is the relationship he has with his head coach, Bill Belichick. Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB wrote an insightful story about their relationship that explains a lot about the Patriots greatness: namely, that Belichick likes to coach his players hard, and the best player of them all, Brady, likes to be coached the hardest. It’s a remarkable tale that Vrentas wove.
And the Belichick angle here cannot be minimized. “I can only speak from my standpoint as a quarterback dealing with the head coach whose sole focus is winning games,” Brady said. “It’s not about public relations, it’s not about selling PSLs, it’s not about being a leader at the pep rally. I have so much respect for Coach Belichick because I think there are two things that he wants in his players because there are two things that he gives us as a coach, and that is consistency and dependability. He is the most consistent coach that I could ever imagine playing for. Every day is the same. … He comes in and says, ‘We are going to put you guys in the position to win and you guys gotta go do it. Don’t count on the crowd, don’t count on the refs. Don’t make excuses, just do it. Just get the job done … And when you come to the team you buy in because it works and it is the truth.”
The truth. We didn’t discuss it much, but there’s no question Brady knows the ultimate reality: If he slips, even a bit, here comes Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett. Belichick didn’t draft Garoppolo in the second round in 2014 or Brissett in the third round in 2016 for nothing.
Belichick knows an old quarterback is a risky quarterback. Brady knows an unsentimental coach is his boss. We are going to put you guys in the position to win and you guys just gotta do it.
No question Brady will be ticked off, and feeling like he’s been jobbed, if Belichick ever replaces him. But the bottom-line-ness of it all will be the best thing for the team. Brady knows Belichick will be forever grateful to him for evenings like Feb. 5. He also knows that night won’t mean much when Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree are rushing the passer, and the Patriots are not responding because their quarterback isn’t playing well.
* * *
At the top of this story, I emphasized Brady’s health and physical conditioning. I did that because — as you may have heard — he’s become a fanatic about taking care of his body.
This is not going to be a scientific story; that’s not why I came here. But Brady is convinced that the longevity of his career is due in part to going counter to the NFL norm. Flexibility and stretching and diet are important, more important than the hours spent doing deadlifts.
“Feel my arm,” he said, when we walked outside of his cabin.
He held his arm out, flexed, and I felt the underside of his forearm, and it was not a rock. It was pliable. That’s the way he wants it. He doesn’t want to have solid muscles; he wants them to be flexible and malleable, but strong.
“Strength is very important to your job,” Brady said. “But how much strength do you need? You only need the strength to withstand the hits and throw the ball and make your movements of being a quarterback. You need conditioning because you need to be able to do that over a period of time, certainly a season. You need muscle pliability — long, soft muscles in order to be durable.
“If you’re a receiver, and you have a great game, say you have eight catches. And you play eight games a season and you’re hurt the other eight. Eight catches times eight games is 64. That’s a below average season for any receiver. If you play 16 games with an average of eight catches you’re an all-pro. The difference is durability. How do you work on durability? That’s what I’ve figured out. I know how to be durable. It’s hard for me to get hurt, knock on wood. Anything can happen in football. But I want to put myself in a position to be able to withstand the car crash before I get in the car crash. I don’t want to go in there and say, ‘Oh God, I know this muscle is really tight and ready to go, let’s see if it can hold up to someone falling on me who is 300 pounds.’ Then someone lands on you, and a rotator cuff tears. I could have told you that was probably going to happen. It’s going to be really hard for me to have a muscle injury, based off the health of my muscle tissue and the way that I try to take care of it. Your muscle and your body allow you to play this great sport.”
Brady gets enthusiastic talking about the fitness regimen he’ll use for the rest of his career, and the rest of his life. Now he talks, and it’s like he’s on a mission.
“I know Joe Montana has had a lot of back surgeries,” Brady said. “A friend of mine who is friends with Joe says he had a horrible back surgery. Like, those things resonate with me. Those are my heroes. I know being in a position that I’m in, there’s a lot of kids that look up to me. I want to be able to show them a different way, the way I learned. I can be an ambassador to play this great sport of football, a contact sport, but also how to take care of yourself so you don’t feel like you’re 60 years old when you’re in your mid-thirties.
“It’s about making the right choices. It’s not more effort. Everyone puts in effort. Everyone wants to do the right thing, they just don’t know what it is. I want to be the person that proves to other people: this is the right thing. Just do it. And you’ll see all the benefits that I’ve seen. This is going to be the norm in 10 years. I actually think it’s going to make for a more competitive game, when you have so many players that are so healthy for long periods of times. I think the caliber of talent is going to be so much better.
“How sad is it to see Tiger Woods withdraw from a golf tournament? You’re watching the greatest golfer I’ve ever seen not be able to play a sport. In an age, to me, that’s hard to imagine. It’s kind of sad in a way. I want to be someone who is known to do the right things. We’re out here, a week after the Super Bowl. I spent five days in Boston to make sure my body was 100 percent before I left town. I know that if it’s not, those muscle memory patterns set in. If you’re sore for a week, you’re going to be sore for two, three, four weeks. Then you’ll get back to working out and your body is going to go, ‘Ahh, God, you haven’t done anything for four weeks.’”
* * *
A postscript: There’s a photo of Brady and his mom at Candlestick Park. It’s Galynn Brady holding her little boy in the stands at a 49ers game. Brady loved the Niners. He loved Joe Montana. Still does.
When Brady won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award 11-plus years ago, he was blown away. His dad, too, because young Tom loved reading about the exploits of Montana in the magazine when he was a kid. And now, young Tom is 39-year-old Tom, and he’s on his idol’s level. And maybe even a step above.
I asked him what he would have said to someone who told him a long time ago he’d win more Super Bowls than the great Montana.
“I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ Because that is impossible,” Brady said.
“I feel like the last 17 years have been a washing machine, and it’s been a great washing machine because I have had so many great moments, but they have gone so fast, and I feel like they have gone faster as the years have gone on, and maybe that is because there are a lot of other things that have happened in my life like marriage, kids. … If you have a little pie chart of your day, there is so much of your pie chart that is already taken up by the time you wake up. You don’t have any choices, you are on autopilot. I still carve out time for things I need to do, but it has gone so fast and I’m just so blessed.”
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