(I actually wrote this about a year ago when Tom Brady retired the first time. But, he left the door open at that time, and left himself a little wiggle room. So, I held off on posting the story til I was sure he was going to hang them up. Sure enough, Tom came back for another year, and this piece has been sitting in my computer files for over a year. When Tom retired this time, I dusted this post off, and to be honest was going to rewrite a new one. But, after I re-read it, I decided it was still exactly what I wanted to say this time around too. I’m pretty sure this time Tom is going to stay retired, so I’m shaking the moth balls off of this post, and passing my thoughts along on the career of one of the all time greats.
As you know, I covered Tom when he was at Michigan, and watched him throw every pass while he was a Wolverine. I can tell you that in his final game, the 2000 overtime win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl, Tom Brady played as perfect a game as I’ve ever seen a college quarterback play. He was “off the charts good” in that game, and he had to be, or Michigan doesn’t win it. That being said, when he went on to the pro’s I thought he could play in the NFL. If he got to a team in the right situation, I was sure he could play well enough and be a solid NFL quarterback. I never thought he would become what he became–the greatest of all time! That is a credit to Tom Brady. It is a reason why he became so great. Any expectation anyone had for him, he wanted to surpass. In his mind, he was going to prove to himself he was better than what was expected. And boy did he!
I’m not going to regurgitate all his stats and Super Bowl wins and the records he set in the NFL. You guys know all about that. What I want you to know about is Tom Brady the human being. Tom Brady the person. He achieved super star status as a player, but with that status can come pitfalls that can take a guy down. Brady never fell for any of it. He remained humble, a great teammate, and leader. He remained one of the guys. When Tom Brady didn’t have to, he remained Tom Brady the sixth round pick from Michigan, the son of Tom and Galynn Brady, and brother to Nancy, Julie and Maureen.
What do I mean by that…well, an example is that guys from Michigan who he hasn’t seen in maybe years, will text him, and he’ll text back with warm and engaged responses. I don’t have his number, but I know some who do, and they still feel comfortable reaching out to the GOAT, because he makes them comfortable. He’s a special guy for that reason alone.
In his rookie year, he played an exhibition game at the Pontiac Silverdome against the Lions. I was broadcasting the Lions at the time, and late in the game when the scrubs were in the game, there was Brady, the New England 3rd string quarterback orchestrating a last minute comeback for a Patriots win. It was pre-season, it didn’t matter, but Brady was proving himself every chance he got. After the game I was on the field to interview the Lions coach, and after I got my job done on the interview, I caught up with Brady before he got to the Patriots locker room. He was smiling ear to ear. He was genuinely glad to see me, just 8 months ago I had interviewed him after he beat Alabama. We laughed, I told him how proud we were of him, and I reiterated…”keep it up, you can play in this league. Just do what you do.” He smiled and thanked me. I was trying to give him confidence…I mean after all, he was, at the time, a 6th round pick who some thought might not make the team. Well, he sure could play in the league, for 23 years, and became the best of all time.
Fast forward now to years down the road. It’s Ford Field, I’m still broadcasting Lions games, and Brady just got done ripping the heart out of the Lions with another late game comeback for a Patriots win. In the bowels of Ford Field I get done with my post game radio responsibilities, and wander over to the Patriots interview room to see if I can catch up with Tom. I just want to say hello and congratulate him. When I get to the interview room, I ask someone if Brady has been there and gone, and they say, no, he hasn’t been in yet. So, I wait. It’s about 5 minutes, and I know if he comes by it will be a hurried meeting, I mean he’s got to catch the team plane and get going, so I head on out to go home. Halfway down the hallway, I hear my name shouted out. It’s Brady. He waved me back to the entry of the interview room, the media cooling their heels inside waiting for him, and we had a nice talk. He asked about Michigan and the quarterback situation. I asked about his Mom who at the time was fighting cancer, and he told me she was battling and winning the battle.
It struck me then that he was always in touch with his family and fighting the battle step by step with his Mom, while maintaining his status as the best of the best in the NFL. Amazing focus and yet amazing humanity all at the same time. He has always been a family focused guy. I saw him choke up during a Super Bowl media day when a youngster, who couldn’t have been more than 10 or 12 and designated as a media regular by the NFL, asked him about his hero’s. Tom said his Dad was his hero in an emotional answer. That speaks volumes about Tom Brady.
Lastly, the most memorable image I have of Brady is not holding up a Super Bowl trophy. Rather, it’s a video I saw posted either on twitter or facebook. During his suspension by the League, he came to Ann Arbor for a Michigan game early in the season. The Friday before the game, he came to watch the Wolverines during a walk through practice at Michigan Stadium. He had his son with him for the week-end, and when everyone had gone, and the Stadium was virtually empty, he and his son were throwing the football around on the field at the Big House. At some point, Tom’s son ran a corner route into the end zone. Tom hit him perfectly with a pass. Touchdown Brady’s! They both reveled in the play, raising their arms like they’d just scored a touchdown. It was a throw and catch that won a game in the final seconds. It was a private moment between a father and a son. For my money, it was the best pass Tom Brady has ever completed. That’s what I’ll remember of TB-12.