Tom Brady on the Making of the Comeback, His Future, and Why He Doesn't Have A Grudge Against Roger Goodell
- As the NFL’s 97th season begins Thursday with Kansas City opening at five-time world champion New England, The MMQB takes you back to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s most revealing interview of the year. On the epic comeback and his last game as a thirty-something, his future with the Patriots, and why he has no anger towards Roger Goodell.
As the NFL’s 97th season begins Thursday with Kansas City opening at five-time world champion New England, The MMQB takes you back to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s most revealing interview of the year. A week after the season, he sat for nearly two hours with me at his vacation hideaway in Montana and discussed his future, his health, his approach to football and to life, and, of course, the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, when New England overcome a 28-3 Atlanta to win Super Bowl LI 34-28 in overtime in Houston.
An abridged transcript of the best of Brady, entering his 18th season—and his first as a 40-year-old quarterback, follows. I started at the start of the comeback in the Super Bowl:
KING: I want to start with you guys down 28-3 midway through the third quarter.
BRADY: Good, that’s a good place. Hahahaha.
KING: Eight minutes left in the third quarter. NFL Films captures you walking up and down the sidelines, saying, ‘We need you to play harder!’ What were you feeling?
BRADY: It was similar to what I had felt at halftime. We came out of halftime saying, “Look we’ve had 20 minutes time of possession, we’ve run 45 or 46 plays, we’ve done a good job moving the ball up and down the field, we just have nothing to show for it because of a missed third and one, a fumble in their territory, an interception return for a touchdown in their territory, because of poor execution in the red area, that’s why [the Falcons] have 30 points.” [Actually 28.] We had over 200 yards passing in the first half, so it wasn’t like we were in there at halftime saying, ‘Hey, how are we going to move the ball? These guys are just- we have nothing open, we have no scheme, we have nothing.’ But it wasn’t like that. It was like, ‘Listen, we’re doing a good job up until a point and we need to start elevating those situational moments, those third downs, those red area plays, where we can actually put points on the board. So we come out for the second half, defense does a great job getting a stop, which was exactly what we needed, we’re down 21-3. And we come out there on offense and throw an incompletion on the first pass of the second half, which was close to being caught but we didn’t come up with it, then a third down to Julian [Edelman], I hit him running across the middle and who knows if we would have gotten the first down, but we didn’t come up with it and it was just more of the same. It was like, okay, we’re open, we have the protection, we make the throw, we just don’t come up with the ball. SO we come off again and I’m like, ‘Guys, at some point we gotta, we all gotta just start making the plays.’ If they are open, I gotta hit ‘em, if the ball is there, we gotta catch it. Like, this is not going to turn around for us, no one is going to come make these plays for us. We gotta go do it. So that’s when [the Falcons] went down the field and scored to put us down 28-3. And at that point, you can say a lot of things, but ultimately it comes down to what we do, which is what matters and it just started happening. We started making the throws and we started making the catches. We made a lot of tight catches against good, tight coverage and that was a great last quarter-and-a-half of football…
The Super Bowl is a strange game. I’ve been in a lot of them and it may go one way and then it may go the other way, and I know at the end of all those games that I’ve played in the Super Bowls, the defense have a hard time stopping the offense at the end, in every game. And it’s the last game of the season, it’s a four-and-half hour game, it’s a lot of energy spent at the end of the week. I know our defense has had a hard time stopping people at the end of games, and I know their defense has had a hard time stopping us. We just had to get it to that point, and we had to get ourselves back in the game. And finally at the start of the fourth quarter, I felt like, man we’re back in the game.
KING: In your first six Super Bowls, you completed zero passes to rookies. In the fourth quarter you completed five passes to Malcolm Mitchell, one a play he slips and falls.
BRADY: It's actually a route Malcolm runs really well, that he had run over the course of the whole season. He really sells that go route really hard. He gets the DB [cornerback Jalen Collins] running… Every corner is different in the game because there's a scoreboard behind him. In practice you can be pretty brave with jumping routes because nobody cares if you get beat for a touchdown. In the game it's different. They always have to be fearful of you throwing the ball behind the defense. Especially with the speed of our receivers, if they're behind them, they're not going to catch us. It's a higher percentage throw when you can really burst on that stop route. Malcolm has done a great job all season of driving off the ball and creating separation when he plants. Now I threw the ball early because I knew it was tight coverage all game, and I thought I saw Malcolm start to slip, then he went behind the left tackle or left guard so I really couldn't see the completion. I just heard the crowd go, ‘Ohhhhhhhhh [dejected sounding] … then Ohhhhhhhhhhh! [happy sounding]. Then I saw our sideline. I knew I threw it where I wanted to, and I knew Malcolm would get the separation.
KING: [Tying drive, late fourth quarter] Everyone on the field except Nate Solder drafted third round or later, or a free agent.
BRADY: I guess there'd be a lot of late bloomers. Julian, Danny, Hogan, Malcolm, James White, Andrews, Shaq ... if you look at all of their stories, they were perfect timing for the Patriots. They were all late bloomers.
KING: Maybe there will be a Shaq Mason 6 Documentary.
BRADY: There could be, because Shaq is a hell of a player. But look, Marcus Cannon, what a player he is for us. We got him on Day 2, Day 3 of the draft. Everybody has a story. We seem to find a lot of those guys. I think there's a lot to be said for the guys picked in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth round. Things certainly aren't easy. Not easy for the first-round picks, either. All of those guys are mentally tough guys, physically tough. They work their butts off.’’
KING: Overtime. At their 41, you need to trust Chris Hogan to get separation. He runs to the 37, turns around [comes back four yards]. You must have had 900 of those throws with your receivers. To be so certain and to have trust that he'll be exactly there…
BRADY: It's such a Peyton Manning type throw. I watched him for so many years make those throws. I used to be in amazement. Marvin [Harrison] and Reggie [Wayne], they'd cut their route off, turn around, ball was in the air, in stride, 15-, 18-yard gain. How the heck did they do that? There's so much trust from the quarterback to the receiver. The DB can't get to the ball faster than the receiver can. You got to believe your receiver is going to get to the ball faster than their guy. That's what that play came down to. When I'm holding the ball and evaluating the defense, I know the coverage, I know I have a perimeter throw out there one on one, I have to think he's going to beat their DB.
KING: But if you throw it 25 yards in the air [instead of 21] it’ll be an interception or incomplete.
BRADY: And that's a lot of throws. That's a lot of throws. That's 111 practices that we had. That's however many games. Films, meetings. It's got to be like clockwork. You're throwing it to a spot, he's turning. Those are the ones the DBs have been covering all year too. It ended up being a really tight play. But it took great execution.’
KING: Your last game as a 30-something. You played 99 snaps. seven more snaps then you've ever played in your 271-game career. How do you do it?
BRADY: That's for a whole other podcast.
I feel like I talk about it a lot. There's a lot that goes into it. There's support from a lot of people, to be 39, play professional football and to still have more dreams ahead. Other than playing football, the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football. I've worked hard to get a system in place that really works for me and I know could work for everybody else if they just did it. That enables me to play 99 plays as a 39-year-old in the last game of the season. It's such a lifestyle choice. Football to me is more than just a sport. It has become my life. Every choice that I make is about … what I have for breakfast, how I work out, all of those things. I love the game. I love playing.
KING: Everyone laughs that your vice is avocado ice cream.
BRADY: The more you do to feel good, the more it is you want to do. It's not that you start at avocado ice cream, you start with … what you eat. Taking out some things in your lifestyle—going out with your friends until 1 am. I don't do that anymore.
KING: Do you miss that?
BRADY: Not really because I know what I'm getting on the other end. I know I can enjoy other experiences with my friends that don't have to happen at 1 am. I can have my friends at a Super Bowl game as a 39-year-old. That's a pretty amazing feeling. So it doesn't ever feel like a sacrifice to me. Whether that's making lifestyle choices that support dreams and goals that I have. Football is a job, but it never felt like a job for me. Going to study film never felt like a burden.
KING: Were you sore earlier in your career?
BRADY: I was sore every day when I was 25. I was sore every day when I was 16 and playing baseball. My knees would hurt every day, my elbows would hurt and I didn't know what to do. I did what every high school and college said: Put ice on it and rest. You know what? Sports are no fun when you’re hurting. I've been playing for 17 years. Guys don't like playing when they're hurt. It takes the fun out of the game. You don't want to go out to practice if you're in pain. You're a professional football player. You have all of this information that guys are coming back and saying. What about your head injuries? I know Joe Montana has had a lot of back surgeries. A friend of mine who is friends with Joe says he had a horrible back surgery. Like, those things resonate with me. Those are my heroes. I know being in a position that I'm in, there's a lot of kids that look up to me. I want to be able to show them a different way, the way I learned.
I can be an ambassador to play this great sport of football, a contact sport, but also how to take care of yourself so you don't feel like you're 60 years old when you're in your mid thirties. It's about making the right choices. It's not more effort. Everyone puts effort. Everyone wants to do the right thing; they just don't know what it is. I want to be the person that proves to other people, This is the right thing; just do it. And you'll see all the benefits that I've seen. This is going to be the norm in 10 years. Everybody is going to do it. I actually think it's going to make for a more competitive game, when you have so many players that are so healthy for long periods of times, I think the caliber of talent is going to be so much better.
How sad is it to see Tiger Woods withdraw from a golf tournament? You're watching the greatest golfer I've ever seen not be able to play a sport, in an age, to me, that's hard to imagine. It's kind of sad in a way. I want to be someone who is known to do the right things. We're out here, a week after the Super Bowl. I spent five days in Boston to make sure my body was 100 percent before I left town. I know that if it's not, those muscle memory patterns set in. If you're sore for a week, you're going to be sore for two, three, four weeks. Then you'll get back to working out and your body is going to go, Ahhh God, you haven't done anything for four weeks.
KING: How do you feel right now, seven days after the Super Bowl?
BRADY: I feel great, I feel 100 percent. I have zero pain… It's just, was I sore after the game? Absolutely you're sore for a day or two days or three. Normally on days where I take more hits than others, maybe that lasts four or five days. But I get the right type of treatment, the right type of work. Nutrition, hydration, the ways I condition myself — but I get a lot of pliability work, from Alex Guerrero, who I've worked with for 10 years now. That's changed my whole outlook on professional sports. Certainly all of my teammates know.
KING: Eli Manning is religious about stretching.
BRADY: I think there's three ways I see it. Strength is very important to your job. You have to have strength in order to do your job, especially as a professional quarterback. But how much strength do you need? You only need the strength to withstand the hits and throw the ball and make your movements of being a quarterback. You need conditioning because you need to be able to do that over a period of time—certainly a season. You need muscle pliability, long, soft, muscles in order to be durable. If you're a receiver, and you have a great game, say you have eight catches, and you play eight games a season and you're hurt the other eight. Eight catches times eight games is 64. That's a below-average season for any receiver. If you play 16 games with an average of eight catches you're an All-Pro. The difference is durability. How do you work on durability? That's what I've figured out. I know how to be durable. It's hard for me to get hurt, knock on wood. Anything can happen in football…
But I want to put myself in a position to be able to withstand the car crash before I get the car crash. I don't want to go in there and say, ‘Oh God, I know this muscle is really tight and ready to go, let's see if it can hold up to someone falling on me who is 300 pounds.’ Then someone lands on you, and a rotator cuff tears. I could have told you that was probably going to happen. It's going to be really hard for me to have a muscle injury, based off the health of my muscle tissue and the way that I try to take care of it. Your muscle and your body allow you to play this great sport. That's what I've been able to focus on, that's how over the years I get to this certain point…
I was joking with my wife earlier this week she said, 'Oh great babe now you can retire because I know you always wanted to win another Super Bowl.' I said, 'You know, this is actually when it's really fun.'
KING: You mean when you’re doing it when nobody expects you to?
BRADY: No, I think doing it when you have the mental experience to be able to play for as long as I have, and my body still feels like I'm in my twenties. I have the answers to the test now. You can't surprise me on defense. I've seen it all. I've processed 261 games, I've played them all. It's an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience `in their job, it's not as hard as it used to be. There was a time when quarterbacking was really hard for me because you didn't know what to do. Now I really know what to do, I don't want to stop now. This is when it's really enjoyable to go out.
KING: Do you have goals now?
BRADY: Football is a contact sport. A lot of things need to go your way. I'd like to play until my mid-forties. Then I'll make a decision. If I'm still feeling like I'm feeling today, who knows? Now those things can always change. You do need long-term goals too. I know next year is not going to be my last year. I take care of myself for a reason. So I can do that and accomplish that. If I want to accomplish that, those are the choices I'm going to make.
KING: Think it’s likely you play for the Patriots the rest of your career?
BRADY: That's an impossible question because I don't make those choices.
KING: Would you like to?
BRADY: Of course. I don't ever want to play for another coach. I don't want to play for another owner. But this is professional sports. I've seen some of the best players I've ever played with on other teams—I've seen Jerry Rice play for the Raiders, Joe Montana play for the Chiefs, Brett Favre play for a lot of teams. You never know. That's why I want to keep taking care of what I need to take care of. That's what it comes down to. I want to take care of Tom Brady. I want to make sure Tom is available to the team, Tom is playing at a high level, so the team wants to keep him.
KING: When Roger Goodell shook hands with you post-game, you never seems annoyed or showed vengeance. Why are you such a flat-liner?
BRADY: When you play professional sports there's a choice that you're going to be… you subject yourself to a lot of criticism. After 17 years in the NFL, there's a lot of criticism. I started experiencing that in college. College wasn't an easy go for me. Lots of challenging experiences in college. But I guess the point is, when you subject yourself to a lot of criticism, what I've learned from myself is, I don't want to give my power away to other people by letting my own emotions be subjected to what their thoughts or opinions are. So if someone calls me something, that’s their problem. It’s not my problem. I’m not going to give away my power. You can call me an asshole and I am going to smile at you probably. I’m not going to say, ‘No you’re an asshole.’ Because that person is controlling me with what their thoughts and actions are. How can you go through life, now at this point, 17 years, being affected by everybody all the time with what someone says?
KING: The difference is this case is it wasn’t somebody calling you something, it was somebody taking you off the field. Why have you not shown any sort of [anger] about this?
BRADY: Well, what’s the best way to fight? There’s only one fight I can win and that is how well I play. That’s the only one I can control, because I tried to play for 18 months and it didn’t work. So finally I said, ‘It’s taken a lot. It’s a lot of energy. My team is going to go out and play great … and when I come back, I am just going to do what I’ve always done.’ Why let anything get in the way of that? You start giving your power away to other people, it’s a tough life. There are a lot of people who say something every day at this point. I am a very positive person. Most people who know me, I’d say I am very much an introvert, like more like my mom, than my dad. If it is up to me, it would just be dinner with my family and let’s go to bed. I’m not a partier, those things probably take away more of my energy and I am trying to store my energy up. So, I try to just be a positive influence and role model and impact on the people that I have when I am in those situations. When you are faced with things that are negative, those are challenging for me, because the positivity … I just want this to be a positive, why is this a negative? Why are all these things negative now? What I’ve learned is this is other people’s attitudes towards me as well. These aren’t necessarily my attitudes … But me not giving away my power to anybody has been something that I’ve had to learn and I’ve learned it the hard way.
KING: Why do you think you and Belichick will go down in history as a coach-QB combination?
BRADY: I can only speak from my standpoint as a quarterback dealing with the head coach whose sole focus is winning games. It’s not about public relations, it’s not about selling PSLs, it’s not about being a leader at the pep rally. I have so much respect for coach Belichick because I think there are two things that he wants in his players because there are two things that he gives us as a coach, and that is consistency and dependability. He is the most consistent coach that I could ever imagine playing for. Every day is the same … He’s not going to come in there and start saying look, we are going to change the color of our jerseys because it is going to help us win, or let’s tell the crowd we are going to need them this weekend because that is going to help us win. He comes in and says, ‘We are going to put you guys in the position to win and you guys gotta go do it. Don’t count on the crowd, don’t count on the refs don’t count on this. Don’t make excuses, just do it. Just get the job done. And you as a player, he says do your job, because no one else can do it for you. And when you come to the team you buy in because it works and it is the truth.
KING: When you were a huge 49ers fan as a kid, if someone told you you were going to win more Super Bowls than Joe Montana, what would you have said?
BRADY: I would have said, you’re crazy, because that is impossible.