ARTICLE DAVID AMSDEN
PHOTOGRAPHY INEZ & VINOODH
TOM BRADY IS THE BEST QUARTERBACK PLAYING THE GAME TODAY. BUT MVP STATUS, ON AND OFF THE FIELD, DOESN'T COME EASY
Spend time talking with Tom Brady and quickly you notice something strange. He’s is a nice guy—friendly, exceedingly humble, confident but not cocky. This is not supposed to be the case. Not for someone who is (a) the star quarterback for the New England Patriots, without question the best football team of the decade. And (b) a man who has had the enviable fortune, presumably due to being a star quarterback, to date the sort of women (actress Bridget Moynahan, model Gisele Bundchen) who to the rest of us appear as mere mirages. Indeed, it is something of rule—especially in this era of celebrity egocentrism gone wild, and especially among pro athletes, a subset of the population typically immune to modesty—that if you live such a life as Brady’s, you will not be a nice, friendly, or humble.
The thing to understand about Brady is this: he was not supposed to become a superstar. Even today, he’s spent more of his life as an obscure, underrated who’s that guy than as resident golden boy. He did not start in high school. He sat on the bench for his first two years at the University of Michigan. And when he finally got to play? He was good, remarkably so in pressure situations, but he was not considered great. When he entered the NFL, in 2000, he was the 199th pick in the draft, of 254 total, placing him far closer to the bottom than the top. Even in an age when the sports press is fueled by hyperbolic predictions—today seemingly every new player is prophesized as the Next Greatest Thing—no one was saying that Tom Brady would become one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game.
Today no one doubts that the 30 year old is among the best. Ever since he got his first start in 2001, his style of play has never been flashy, but consistent and efficient, almost freakishly so. Off the field he has carried himself with the stoic grace reminiscent of old-school athletes—granted one that has the tabloids in a frenzy over news of ex-girlfriend Moynahan carrying his child and his relationship with Gisele. But true to form, when speaking about his life, he remained a gentleman’s gentleman.
Last season ended for you when you lost to the Indianapolis Colts, your longtime rival. What’s your process for dealing with the reality that your season is actually over?
TOM BRADY I’ll tell you, it’s extremely difficult. We’ve been spoiled over the years—often I haven’t had to think about the off-season until after the Super Bowl. So something like last year? We’re ahead with a minute and a half left in the game and then suddenly we’re losing and it’s over. In less than a minute we go from preparing for the Super Bowl to figuring out what we’re gonna do tomorrow. We meet as a team, we figure out what went wrong, but really the only thing that makes it better is time.
Do you even watch the Super Bowl?
TB No. Not a minute.
You’re kidding me.
TB Honestly, I could really care less. I was in New York. I went to the movies. If I you watch it in my position, all you think is, that should’ve been us. I mean I have certain friends who are players on other teams, so I’m happy for them. I know how great the feeling is, and it’s good for people who you know really appreciate it—people like Peyton Manning [Colt’s quarterback] who I’m friendly with.
I didn’t realize you were friends. I always thought there was some kind of rivalry. You’re the guy who clawed his way up, and he’s the golden boy who’s been groomed and coddled since birth...
TB No, no. There’s a rivalry but we’re friendly. Thing about it is, Peyton knows what I’m going through on a daily basis.
So you guys go out and grab a beer and shoot the shit?
TB Yeah, that happens. Not often. But it happens. We see each other a few times a year. We end up hanging out in New York and Boston quite a bit.
What was your greatest extravagance during this off season?
TB I’m not much of an extravagant person. I’m not really a big spender. I like to travel, and this year I spent two and half weeks in Europe. Two of my best friends came. We went to Greece and Rome, and that was a just a ball.
Do you pay for them?
TB Oh yeah. I always say, if I ever come back in another life I want to come back as one of my friends. They don’t pay for shit. Dinners. Trips. You name it. I watch Entourage, and like that show I got a name for all these guys.
Ha. So what would you consider your greatest vice?
TB Oh shit...[laughs]
I can hear you editing out the real ones.
TB No, I mean, I’m thinking. I don’t drink a lot. I don’t do drugs. I’ll have a drink, but certainly no drugs. Probably massages. I love getting those. They don’t last as long as they used to.
Earlier this year I spent a few weeks with Tiki Barber [the New York Giants running back] when he was preparing to retire even though he was playing better than ever. One thing he made clear is how tired he was of playing a kid’s game as an adult. You’re 30 this year—ever have any of those feelings?
TB Sure, to a degree. You play football for so long that it becomes a huge part of who you are. People don’t want be defined by work, and yet it’s kind of impossible when you do what I do. My dad always says, “Tom, football is what you do, not who you are.” And I guess that’s true, but honestly, it’s something I really love to do. There is nothing I love to do more than get on the field with fifty-two teammates in front of 80,000 people. In other aspects of your life you try to duplicate that feeling, but it’s impossible. I can travel, I can go on a roller coaster, I can sky dive—none of it can measure up to football.
I know that growing up in California, your football hero was Joe Montana. How about away from the game. Who would you consider a hero?
TB It sounds cheesy, but I have to say my dad. I had three older sisters growing up. I was surrounded by women, so it was important having a partner in crime. I remember we used to figure out ways to sneak out of the house and go to the ballpark—moments like that were really important to me.
When talking about you, people invariably mention your confidence—that you’re cool under pressure, the ultimate playoff quarterback. But you didn’t start in high school, you weren’t a high draft pick, and at one point you hired a sports psychologist to deal with your frustration issues.
TB That was at Michigan, a great a guy named Greg Harden. He reached out to me. He reached out to a lot of guys, but most players were like, “I’m not gonna waste an hour hearing some guy tell me that the decisions we make carry consequences.” But it was more that that for me. Decisions hold consequences. For some reason until that point I wasn’t realizing my opportunities.
What were you like at 18, 19? Sullen and pissed off?
TB Not exactly. Early on in college career I didn’t feel like I was really wanted at Michigan. There were very, very good players on that team, and I didn’t always think I was one of them. I certainly didn’t think I’d play in the NFL, at least not until about midway though my senior year, when it started to become a reality.
You’ve won three Super Bowls making you arguably the most accomplished quarterback playing today. Do you find that you still need to prove yourself?
TB I know what you’re talking about. There’s that saying, “A satisfied need no longer motivates.” But I guess my needs haven’t been met. I’m not comfortable with my life—I mean, don’t get me wrong. I like it. But I know how quickly it can be taken away. My feeling is, I’m still competing just to play. I’m trying to earn a job every year.
The other day I noticed you made the front page of the Boston tabloids for walking down the street wearing a Yankees’s cap—the ultimate sin in Boston, apparently. Has it been hard to live under that kind of scrutiny?
TB It’s just part of being a player—today more so than ever. I get it. People are competing for stories, so things get blown up. It’s exciting to play, but along with that comes a lot of things you wish you didn’t have to deal with, things more difficult than throwing a pass to your tight end. So I’m aware of it, but I try not to let it effect me too much.
Do you wake up and put on a Yankee’s cap and think, “Shit, the paper’s are gonna have a field day with this one?”
TB I don’t think that way. I’ve been wearing a baseball cap for years. I love sports, I love baseball. I guess you can’t root for both teams, but what can I say? I like them both. Besides, my true affiliation is for the San Francisco Giants.
You’ve become a media favorite since you started dating Gisele. I’m curious how two people from such different worlds meet?
TB Well, I...[pauses, laughs] How do we meet? I’m gonna have to go no comment on that one. I hate to be boring for you, but I’ve gotta go no comment on that one. It’s just easier for me, you know?
Now people are going to think you’re secretive and mysterious.
TB Believe me, I’m not either of those things. But I’ll just look like an asshole if I start going on about that.
Fair enough. I’ll take that to mean you’re dying to talk to me about becoming a father?
TB I’m going to laugh awkwardly until you ask the next question. I’m excited, but it’s just too personal.
You’re going to turn 30 just before the start of the 2007 season. A lot of men drift into some kind of existential funk at 30. Are you worried?
TB Not at all, man. I still feel like I’m young—like I’m 20. I try to stay in pretty good shape. Young at mind, young at heart, that whole thing. Honestly, if it were up to me, I’d start the season right now.
But you must be more cognizant that the end is coming? The majority of players retire in the early and mid thirties.
TB Yeah, it’s true.
So life after football—any idea what it looks like?
TB I used to say politics, but now it seems too ugly. I was always the guy running for student counsel, always someone wanting to stand up for things I didn’t think was right. But I tell you, politicians are scrutinized more than anyone. I was watching 60 Minutes the other day with Mitt Romney. The interviewer was holding him accountable for a decision he made, like, 10 years ago. I couldn’t deal with that.
What politicians have you admired? '
TB I think there have been some great presidents since I’ve been alive.
Come on. That’s the most political answer in the book. What would you like to see happen in the next election?
TB I think everyone wants a change. I think it would be great if the Democratic Party could put together a unified campaign. They haven’t been able to do that in the past. Hopefully this year will be different.
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