Want to know a secret about Tom Brady? Ask his Dad.
“Tommy is a football player,” says Tom Brady Sr. “This is not a July-January or February endeavor for him. He has a countdown clock in his gym that is now ticking to next year’s Super Bowl.”
That’s what Brady Sr. told the CSN “Quick Slants” podcast about a countdown clock his son started roughly a year ago. The timepiece is a glimpse into the focus, drive and preparation that makes his son arguably the best quarterback ever.
For Tom Brady Jr., it’s all about winning Super Bowls. He will play for his fifth title this Sunday in Super Bowl 51.
Says Brady, “My favorite? Always the next one has been my favorite one.”
Tom Brady grew up in a tight-knit, athletic family. One that honed his competitiveness and drive.
Growing up, the quarterback remembers that his three older sisters were, he says, “the best athletes in my house.” And he lived in the shadow of their sports success. Before Tom Brady was Tom Brady, he was often called “The Little Brady” or “Maureen Brady’s Little Brother.”
During Super Bowl week, the family’s closeness has been evident. Brady teared up talking about his father. And it’s come out that his mother isn’t well.
“You just have different things that your family goes through in the course of your life,” says Brady. “It’s been a challenging year for my family for some personal reasons. It will be nice to have everyone here, watching us here this weekend.”
The family watched “The Little Brady” fight his way up quarterback depth charts in high school, then at the University of Michigan, then with the Patriots.
After 17 seasons, Brady is now the superstar with the supermodel wife. The sixth-round pick who — along with Patriots coach Bill Belichick — built an NFL dynasty. Along the way, Brady’s inspired both love and hate among fans and opponents.
“Success breeds jealousy,” says former Brady teammate Damien Woody. “Think about it. You’re talking about a player who’s been to the Super Bowl like 50 percent of his career. Think how crazy that is.”
Woody, an NFL analyst with ESPN, gives, perhaps, the most charitable explanation of why Brady’s not more universally adored.
But there’s more to it than that. Like Brady’s relationship with President Donald Trump.
It all started with a bright red “Make America Great Again” cap that Brady had in his locker. And it’s made for some awkward moments during the Patriots current playoff run. Even some Patriots fans took offense at Brady going red in the bluest of blue states.
Asked by sports radio WEEI if he congratulated the new president on his election win, Brady had this to say: “Ummm… I have called him. Yes, in the past. Sometimes he calls me. Sometimes I call him.
“I always try to keep it in context. Because for 16 years you know someone before maybe he was in the position that he was in. He’s been very supportive of me for a long time. So, it’s just a friendship and I got a lot of friends so I call a lot of people.”
And then there’s Deflategate.
Brady’s alleged deflating of footballs in a playoff game cost him a four-game suspension at the start of this season, and earned him a cheater label. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment and instantly became Public Enemy No. 1 among Patriots fans who considered the Deflategate affair a witch hunt.
When asked by reporters if the Defategate fallout provides extra motivation to win a fifth ring, Brady is as calm and composed as he is on the field.
“I’m motivated for my teammates,” says Brady. “I think they’re all the motivation that I need. It takes a lot of work to get to this point and nothing that has happened in the past is going to help us win this game.”
Woody says it’s all a long way from where Brady’s NFL career began in 2000.
“I saw this tall, lanky kid who didn’t really have a lot of muscle build,” says Woody. “And you really didn’t know what to expect at that time.”
But it didn’t take Brady long to win the respect and trust of teammates, like former linebacker Willie McGinest.
“When he’s on the field, he creates that zone and he pulls everyone into that,” says McGinest, now an analyst for the NFL Network. “You can’t play around. It’s all business. He’s having fun, but it’s a mission for him. It’s like every single play he’s trying to prove something, every single snap, everything that happens, it’s like it’s his last play.”
Recalling the game-winning drive in Super Bowl 36 against the St. Louis Rams, Woody remembers Brady’s demeanor most, especially since the quarterback had earned the starting job just a few months earlier.
“I just remember Brady coming into the huddle just so calm,” says Woody. “You’re on the biggest stage of your life and for him to be that calm. It just brought a calmness to the whole huddle and we just methodically went down the field. It was almost like he was born for that moment.”
Brady’s play in that game earned him the first of four Super Bowl rings and the first of three Super Bowl MVP awards. Brady also has two league MVP awards and has won more playoff games than any other quarterback.
Fans see it as testament to both Brady’s talent and longevity. The 39 year old follows a strict diet that bans sugar, white flour, MSG, dairy and caffeine.
Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden says Brady’s just as strict and disciplined with his training.
“He’s never taken his foot off the gas,” says Layden, who recently wrote about Brady’s connection with his receivers in a Sports Illustrated cover story. “Maybe he just likes winning. But I also think he likes continuing to prove to people that he’s better than some people thought he was at one time. Of course, now, in 2017, he has the windmill to tilt at of Roger Goodell, having taken four games away from him and Brady thinking that was unjust. And that’s given him another cause to battle.”
And given us another reason to wonder just what might happen if the Patriots win Super Bowl 51, and Goodell and Brady have to share the stage during the post-game trophy ceremonies.