Tom Brady has a secret weapon. His friend Jay Flannelly washes dishes for a living in Michigan. He also provides weekly scouting reports for the New England Patriots’ quarterback.
Every week, Tom Brady receives an emailed scouting report from a guy who washes dishes for a living.
Jay Flannelly jokes that his title is “vice president of cleaning surfaces,” but he doesn’t kid himself. His job description at two Ann Arbor, Mich. restaurants is straightforward: “I’m a dish-washer.”
He is also a friend of Brady’s, going back to when Brady was a frustrated backup quarterback at Michigan and Flannelly was a student assistant with the football program. Flannelly was in Brady’s corner back when that corner had plenty of elbow room. When fans ignored Brady at Michigan’s media day in 1998, Flannelly stood next to him the whole time. When Brady was drafted in 2000, an afterthought in the sixth round, Flannelly called him that day and shared his excitement. He believed in Brady, and Brady knew it.
And so now Flannelly, a native New Englander, watches video of the Patriots’ upcoming opponent—the All-22 version, or coach’s cut—every week. Then he sends Brady a scouting report. The dish-washer tells the four-time Super Bowl champion which cornerback is vulnerable to double-moves, what kind of blitzes the coordinator prefers, or how a team’s defensive front is usually aligned. He advises Brady that the defense’s “concepts are pretty consistent” and that a hobbling defensive player “is not right and can be handled.”
The emails are only a couple of paragraphs. Brady does not respond at length, but he usually replies, using Flannelly’s childhood nickname, a reference to Leave It To Beaver: “You’ve got it, Beav,” or “Thanks, Beav.”
Flannelly is not dumb. He knows his football. He also knows Brady would be just fine without his scouting report. Brady has played in the NFL for 16 years. He plays for the best coach of this generation, maybe ever. His offensive coordinator was a head coach once and will be again. Still, Flannelly keeps watching video and sending these scouting reports, for one basic reason:
“If I didn’t send it to him, he would get mad.”
The content of the emails is not what matters to Brady. What matters is that Flannelly sends one every week. If he skipped a week, he would be letting up, and in Tom Brady’s world, nobody lets up. Flannelly understands that every Sunday is a challenge, every practice is a grind, and Brady loves that. The rest of us assume the Patriots will be great every year. Brady knows how much work goes into it.
Some NFL players resent Brady’s pretty-boy image and constant carping to the referees. But he has established himself as arguably the best player in history because he is the opposite of entitled. Brady plays a trick on his own mind: If he doesn’t complete this pass, concentrate on that film clip, eat this vegetable, skip that little piece of cake or get in that teammate’s face, he will lose his job. He knows that’s not true. But he can make himself believe it is true. Flannelly understands.
“My relationship with Tom goes back 20 years,” Flannelly said. “I know how to get him going.”
This week, Flannelly reminded Brady that of the four starting quarterbacks this weekend, three (Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer) were No. 1 overall picks. Brady, of course, was the 199th pick. In that context, the quarterback with four rings still has something to prove.
As a kid, Flannelly loved Patriots games. Now he endures them. The dish-washer worries the multimillionaire will lose a game, or worse, get hurt: “I’m playing, but I’m not playing.” When Brady suffers, so does Flannelly. After one playoff loss, Flannelly watched the game tape eight times.
Flannelly says “what’s great about Tom” is that “he doesn’t need to talk to me. I’m a freaking dish-washer.” But need has multiple definitions.
Brady doesn’t need the scouting reports, but he needs to receive them. He doesn’t need to talk to a dish-washer, but he needs to talk to somebody who was with him 20 years ago and understands how Brady got here. Jay Flannelly washes dishes, Tom Brady throws passes. Work is work, and it needs to be done right.