One morning in March, a man who had recently moved from Foxborough to the Tampa area took a leap of faith. This was before Tom Brady decided to sign with the Buccaneers.
“In anticipation of Brady signing with Tampa Bay,” Jack Clagg wrote in an e-mail in March, “I purchased 6 seats!!!”
The news was met with some skepticism among Jack’s four children. Would Brady really end up in Tampa, or would they find themselves watching Jameis Winston from the seats near the 22-yard line on the Bucs sideline? It wouldn’t take long, though, for Jack’s impulse to prove prescient.
The Claggs wouldn’t end up getting to watch anyone from those seats this season—during the COVID-19 pandemic, Raymond James Stadium admitted a limited-capacity crowd of tenured season-ticket holders. But Brady’s move south began another chapter in their family’s unique tie to the greatest QB of all time. Mark Clagg, Jack’s youngest son, was once the real-life Johnny Foxborough.
Such was the motivational tactic invoked by Bill Belichick with his quarterback during their 20-year marriage, one that became well-known among Brady’s teammates: During film reviews, the coach would pull up an errant throw Brady had made and crack, “I can get Johnny Foxborough from down the street to make a better throw than this.” The year that Brady and Belichick won their fifth Super Bowl together—and when SI wrote a story chronicling this coaching device—Mark was that QB down the street, the captain and starter for Foxborough High.
The Claggs lived practically in the shadow of Gillette Stadium, and the twists and turns of the neighborhood NFL franchise served as something of a marker for their own life events. In January 2002, the Patriots won the Tuck Rule Game, putting them on the path for the first Super Bowl win of their dynasty. That game was also the last one Jack attended with his wife, Nancy, who died in November of that year after a recurrence of the breast cancer she’d fought several years earlier. The seats Nancy’s family had at the old Foxboro Stadium moved to Gillette that fall, and her husband and their kids would continue to practice the Patriots fandom she’d so fervently shared with them.
For Mark, who was born in 1998, Brady was the quarterback of the Patriots for almost his entire life. His sports role model worked just down the street. You can imagine his surprise when he learned that he, the QB of Foxborough High, was being used to motivate Brady.
It made for a great story that Mark would later tell his girlfriend’s parents when he met them—and at many subsequent dinner tables with them since—but there was a lesson in humility, and a willingness to be coached hard, that stuck with him. He began playing for Salve Regina’s Division III football team in 2017, which was a big difference from his experience as a standout athlete and son of the community in Foxborough. “It wasn't nearly as easy to gain the respect of the coach,” Mark recalls. “You had to be real humble, and keep that edge in your head so you didn’t lose confidence.”
After Mark went off to college, Jack decided to relocate. He was tired of the New England winters, and the auto group he was the general manager of had just started an operation in Florida. A year later, Mark joined him. He was buried on the depth chart and decided to move on from football to focus on academics. He transferred to the University of South Florida, where he’s studying finance, and he and his dad now live about as close to Raymond James as they once did to Gillette. It was the perfect time for a fresh start—for them, and for Brady.
Mark has gotten used to the reply from people he meets in the Tampa area when he tells them he’s from Foxborough: “Oh, that’s where the Patriots play.” If they really get to talking, sometimes he’ll tell the story of Johnny Foxborough, or how a week before Super Bowl LI in Houston, Robert Kraft invited him to Gillette Stadium. Kraft showed Mark the trophy room, which then had four Lombardis, and Mark told the team owner that he was going to need a bigger table. Kraft laughed and replied, “I didn’t think of that. The team was still out on the practice field during his visit—no doubt trying to exceed the Johnny Foxborough standard—but Clagg ran into Rob Gronkowski, who was then on injured reserve, in the locker room. “Wait until Tom hears Johnny Foxborough is here!” Gronkowski chortled.
Much has changed since then. The Patriots added two more trophies. Brady and Gronkowski are now both in Tampa, heading to a Super Bowl with a different team. And Bruce Arians, who told NBC Sports that he allows Brady to coach, unlike New England, likely isn’t invoking Johnny Foxborough. It has occurred to Clagg that he was one of the last Johnny Foxboroughs—he thinks Foxborough High had only two other starting QBs before Brady left.
“Brady was all I knew growing up,” he says. “Seeing him leave was kind of like the Patriots spirit leaving.”
The Claggs still pull for the Patriots—and have held onto the seats that Nancy’s family has had since the 1970s—but “Tom has been such a constant for our family,” Jack explains. So, now they’re Bucs fans, and have watched him bring that spirit to their new city. A few friends reported back to Jack that after Brady signed, the Bucs phone lines were jammed up for hours as they tried to call for tickets. His hunch paid off. Over the years there was good-natured sibling squabbling over who would get to use the family’s two Patriots tickets, so Jack made sure to buy six Bucs seats. They’re hoping the stadium will be able to safely return to full capacity this fall, so they can all go together to watch Brady next season, and maybe the season after that, and maybe another one…
Mark is 22 now, and while he once sought to model himself after Brady as an athlete, he’s now focused on the lessons he can apply to his future business career.
“Since I've been out of sports now for three years, I haven't really been competing,” Mark says. “So now I've been looking at Brady more to see how he leads and trying to implement that into my life and take that forward into whatever I choose to do in my career. He is just such a charismatic leader and leads by example, and you can tell that everybody on that team looked up to him and knew that one guy's energy could change the entire outcome of a whole season. The Buccaneers had been a losing franchise for a while now. To see them do a complete 180 just because he joins the team is a factor of his leadership.”
Mark recently bought a red No. 12 Bucs jersey that he will wear on Super Bowl Sunday, but he is planning to buy a Super Bowl jersey, too. “Just to have it,” he says—but it means something more than that. Johnny Foxborough was once a benchmark for Brady, and Brady’s NFL career continues to be a benchmark for the real-life Johnny Foxborough.