ONE OF THE GREATEST QUARTERBACKS IN THE HISTORY OF FOOTBALL TALKS FAMILY, LEADERSHIP, AND FINDING PEACE ON THE FIELD.
photography by RANDALL MESDON
fashion by DEBORAH WATSON
illustration by RYAN MCMENAMY
written by GEOFFREY GRAY
“I f I want to be excited, I can be excited. If I want to be pissed, I can be pissed. I’m more myself in front of 70,000 people.”
It’s the dead of summer before preseason drilling for the New England Patriots begins, and while his supermodel wife and kids and small circle of old friends continue their vacation, Tom Brady is back in Room 103 at the Residence Inn in Foxborough, Massachusetts. With its pale fluorescent up-lighting and anonymous decor, Room 103 has been his refuge, the place he checked into many years ago as a sixth-round draft pick before morphing into a superhero.
It isn’t just the record-breaking stats that have cemented Brady’s legend (eighteen career playoff wins, eleven division titles, nine Pro Bowls, two Super Bowl MVP awards); it’s his playing style. Like a general at war, the job of any quarter - back is to command an army to fight in unison and break through enemy lines (while a violent swarm of 300-pound linemen is trying to snap you in half).
“I’m shy. I don’t like to talk a lot. If I had a choice, I would probably fade off into the background.”
A quarterback can be an athlete, but a star quarterback must be a thinker, a motivator, a magician. Tom Brady’s singular talent has been to display all of these qualities, with an eerie look of tranquility. Brady is so serene in stressful situations on the field that his psyche is something of a mystery. Down by two. Down by twelve. Two minutes to go. Third and fifteen. Brady at the line. Hut one! Hut two! Wait. Why does he look so calm? “I’m kind of an introvert,” Brady says. “I’m shy. I don’t like to talk a lot. If I had a choice, I would probably fade off into the background.” Huh? With the clock ticking down, in front of 70,000 people, and those snarling linemen on the chase, not even Zeus could throw a spiral forty five yards and hit a receiver running a wide out pattern like Thomas Edward Patrick Brady.
With his boyish, all-American humility and blue-eyed charm, Brady emerges as the ultimate idol, a sporty Horatio Alger who first-downed his way to stardom, fabulous riches, and into the arms of the gorgeous Gisele Bundchen, Brazilian stunner, entrepreneur, and living goddess.
In New England, he’s on par in popularity with Jesus, and yet the idol himself is so shy he prefers the company of none. “I like to be mindless,” he says. “I just like to settle down and turn on the television and hear noise but not really watch what’s going on.” Mindlessness is not about relaxation for him. The meditative state Brady tries to achieve is part of his spiritual quest to become a better quarterback. “You have these different parts of your being,” he explains. “Everything needs to be headed in the right direction.”
“I know my wife speaks five languages, so I always tell her I speak two: English and football.”
Some clues to the Brady enigma might be embedded in his backstory. Football is a game of systems, of rules upon rules, with a right and a wrong way of doing things. A correct way to tackle; a proper way to cradle the ball. It wasn’t a particularly popular sport in the Brady home, but another institution was.
“My dad was going to be a priest,” he says. “He went to the seminary and then ended up leaving.” Growing up in San Mateo, outside of San Francisco, Brady served as an altar boy. He was the youngest of four, with three older sisters fawning over him. The Brady girls were all into sports. “They were great athletes,” Tom says. “I just remember so many nights being up at the softball field, watching them play, and then going out after the game with my parents, the girls, and the team.”
“I was very lucky to have maybe a little bit of insight into how women work, which I still don’t do a great job of understanding.”
The Round Table restaurant had the best pizza; Pudley’s, the best burgers. “Man, it was good,” he says. Back at home, Brady’s sisters had fun with their baby brother, treating him like a doll. “Like most girls, they probably dressed me up a little bit in their clothes,” he says. “That didn’t last very long. They may have done that two times. I was too young to really know what they were doing.”
Having three sisters was an early crash course. “You learn all about women — I don’t think anyone fully understands their emotions and what’s going on,” he says, jokingly. “I was very lucky to have maybe a little bit of insight into how women work, which I still don’t do a great job of understanding.”
Brady has tried to apply those insights in his marriage, but after having two children with Goddess Bundchen, he often feels like a lot of new dads: left out. “You say, Wait a minute, what happened to the honeymoon phase? What happened to that?” he laughs. He describes his union with Bundchen as typical husband-wife. “I’m a guy,” he says. “What doesn’t she get on me for? That’s just what wives do.” But he does his best. “I like attention from her, so when I’m not getting it I let her know in immature ways, like a young, immature child would,” he says. “You throw fits and you pout and you whine until you get what you want.”
Is there a tactic that always works? “She’s on to me,” Brady says. “She knows all of my tricks. So now I have to learn new tricks.”
Back in Room 103 at the Residence, Brady is reviewing his other tricks. He doesn’t reread his favorite novels for inspiration. There’s no highlighted copy of The Art of War . “I’m not much of a reader,” he says. “That’s probably why I was a C student through high school and college. I never read anything.” Now that preseason has started, he carries another kind of book with him. It’s a blue binder, about three inches thick: “2014 Training Camp Brady,” the cover says. “I have my playbook on my bed,” he says. “That’s what I’ve got. Even though I should know it like the back of my hand, which I do, I’m just going through it on the first day to make sure I’ve got everything.”
The sport has its own dialect. “I know my wife speaks five languages, so I always tell her I speak two: English and football. You say one word and it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. You know, one word, like ‘cougar.’ You say something like that and it means a formation, a cadence, everything.”
Football has its own internal logic, too. “The strategy part is like chess, and then you play it on the field like checkers,” he says. Brady is also prepping mentally, getting back into that meditative state so he can summon the emotional strength to inspire and motivate his teammates. “You have to bring every bit of yourself to practice every day, because if you don’t, who else will?” he says. “If you’re the guy leading the team, you’ve got to be able to positively impact everybody, and that happens through your enthusiasm. You need to do it every day. Leadership is about earning it... You can’t charm your way through a season. It’s not about charisma. It’s about what you’re really willing to put into it. You either pay the price or you don’t. That’s what separates guys.”
As one of the oldest quarterbacks in the league, Brady, who turned thirty-eight in August, still has something to prove. The last three seasons have been great ones for him and the Patriots, but they’ve come up short in big games. In the 2011 season, they lost the Super Bowl to the Giants by three points. The next year, they didn’t make it that far, falling to the Ravens in the AFC Championship. Last year, Brady was impressive as ever, leading the Patriots to another crack at the Super Bowl, but once again lost the league championship, this time to the Broncos.
Each season is its own campaign, with intense physical training, constant travel, and younger and faster (but still heavy and snarling) linemen looking to sack their way into the limelight with a monster hit on Brady. He can’t wait to get back to work. And the reason has less to do with winning or revenge or adrenalin. The frenzy of the football field may be the only place on planet Earth where Tom Brady can find peace. “In a weird way, even though it’s hyper - intense, I really am my true self out there,” he says. “I can be who I am without having to be polite or having to be on. If someone messes up, I can let them know. If I want to be excited, I can be excited. If I want to be pissed, I can be pissed. I’m more myself in front of 70,000 people.”
Waiting for the season to start, he reviews his playbook again, the same way he did when he first checked into the Residence Inn as a stringer over a decade ago. In Room 103, at least, little has changed. “I bring my own pillow from home,” he says of his life on the road now. “There’s just something about sleeping on your own pillow.”