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Capturing the Emotion of Tom Brady, SI’s Sportsperson of the Year

Simon Bruty explains how he tries to photograph the all-time-great QB.

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2021 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year: Tom Brady

During Tom Brady’s 22 NFL seasons (so far), he’s thrown for an NFL-record 82,975 yards, tossed 615 passing touchdowns and has been “photographed a gazillion times,” photographer Simon Bruty estimates.

The 44-year-old was named SI’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2021, making the quarterback the recipient of the 68th-annual SPOTY. He also received the honor in 2005. For this year’s cover image, Bruty captured Brady with that trademarked look of steeled focus. It’s a look he’s worn over the decades both in New England and now in Tampa Bay.

But, behind the facemask, Bruty says, you’ll get moments of unbridled emotion.

“He has this emotion,” Bruty says, “you don’t know when it’s coming. But when it does come, you have to be on it.”

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That’s when Brady appears to break from his process, one that Jon Wertheim describes in his story on Brady.

“And as aging does its thing,” Wertheim writes, “as mitochondria begin to deteriorate, as the mortal coil unwinds, Tom Brady comes bearing lessons for us all about contorting and distorting time, if not stopping it altogether. Balance routine with new adventure.”

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Those breaks are essential for Brady’s longevity, Wertheim explains in the piece. And it’s those moments when Bruty changes from his more conventional process that lead to some of his favorite images of Brady.

“You are looking for that emotion that he has because he’s highly charged,” Bruty says. “I’ve found myself not really trying to figure out where the ball’s going, I’ve just been concentrating a lot on him and his reaction.”

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One of his favorite images of Brady wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his assistant during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, in which Brady’s Pats lost to the Giants. The assistant helped Bruty carry his Canon 400mm f/2.8L and 600mm f/4L lenses and during a key play yelled in Bruty’s ear that Brady was on the ground.

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Bruty pivoted from the downfield action back to Brady, who looked away, somewhat despondently, as a referee offered his hand to the QB.

“As a photographer, you want to come away with a special image of the best of the best. You’re hoping that something will happen and that you’re in the right spot,” Bruty says.

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Bruty, who joined SI’s staff in 1998, has covered some of the greatest athletes of all time. And with that comes an added pressure.

“You’re always looking for something special,” he says. “When you photograph these special athletes, you never know when something crazy or wild will happen because they have the ability to pull something off that is totally out of the norm.”

Maybe like winning a Super Bowl as a 43-year-old?