Tom Brady sidesteps questions about Wells Report in first appearance
SALEM, Mass. — Tom Brady delivered his first public comments on the Wells Report, speaking on Thursday evening at Salem State University in front of a decidedly partisan crowd of 4,000 supporters.
"I haven't had much time to digest it fully," said Brady of the 143-page document. "But when I do, I'll be sure to let you know how I feel about it."
Brady entered to a standing ovation and a thundering MVP chant, the crowd lavishing the four-time Super Bowl champion with praise the entire evening.
"I've dealt with a lot of adversity over my life," said Brady. "But I'm fortunate to have a lot of people who love and support me. I accept my role as a public figure, and you take the good with the bad."
Moderator Jim Gray was met with a chorus of boos when he asked Brady if the allegations now taint the Patriots' championship.
"Absolutely not," replied Brady. "We earned and achieved everything we got this year as a team, and I'm very proud of that. And our fans should be too.
"It's hard to win a game in the NFL, and that game was hard to win," he said of the victory in Super Bowl XLIX. "But I'm glad we did."
Brady would not address whether his own legacy will suffer as a result of the report.
"As a human, you care what people think ... but you learn, as a public figure, not everyone is going to like you."
In eluding the questions about his role in Deflategate, Brady did what he's done his whole career: deftly maneuver just enough to find a window.
Brady and Gray then transitioned away from the Wells Report and into a 45-minute discussion. Brady touched upon a variety of topics, including the Super Bowl victory over Seattle, his controversial absence at the White House and his plans after he retires from the National Football League.
While admitting the statement was cliche, Brady stood by his familiar adage that there are no easy games in pro football.
Sweat dripped neatly off Brady's brow during the conversation, but nerves were not the culprit. The oven-like auditorium was jam-packed, although Brady did seem uncomfortable with the obsequious flattery of the fans in attendance.
"It's easier for me to take criticisms than compliments," he explained. "That acts as motivation for me. I don't believe it when people say [I'm the greatest] because I don't ever want it to take away from my motivation. And I still want to prove it."
While some in the media have called for a harsh response from the NFL to punish Brady for his alleged role with the deflated footballs, the New England faithful have stood by their man. Despite criticisms of blatant homerism, the New England fans displayed their passion, loyalty, and devotion to a man who has provided a once downtrodden franchise with one of the greatest runs in NFL history.
"I love looking at those championship rings," said Brady. "But it's good to experience the good and the bad, it makes you appreciate it that much more.
"I thought those Giants losses were bad dreams. But I learned from them. It's all an evolution. When I was a younger player, I spent a lot of time studying my playbook. Now I know the playbook better than anyone, so I work on relationships with my teammates, who are now 16 years younger than me. They've still got to trust me when we get on the field."
No conversation of Brady is ever compete without a mention of Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, also inextricably linked to the deflated football scandal and the SpyGate scandal.
"The person who most people know is not the coach we know," he explained. "The coach we know is very tough and disciplined. He has high expectations for everybody. He treats me as tough as he treats anybody else. I think that's a great leadership style. There's sometimes where I say, 'God, doesn't he know how long I've been here? Or how many games I've won?' But it's great to have someone to hold me accountable. If he thinks I should complete a pass, and I don't, he lets me know it. I'm fortunate enough to play for who I think is the greatest coach of all time."
Brady closed out the night by offering advice to his legion of supporters.
"When I was in college and wanted to become a professional football player—and this may contradict some of the advice you may get—I never had a Plan B," said Brady. "Find something you love to do and go after it."
For his supporters, it was advice well-taken from a player who'd always excelled at being an underdog. A cynic might say it's evidence of a win-at-all-costs player who isn't above bending the rules in his favor to achieve greatness. It was obvious Thursday night which camp the audience in Salem fell into. But Brady, inarguably one of the greatest ever, has always been just as comfortable playing in a hostile environment as he is in front of his home fans.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso