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Tom Brady, In His Own Words

As reports of the quarterback’s retirement surface, his takes on the grind of perfectionism, longevity, technology, leaving New England and much more.

It’s not that we missed Tom Brady all these years. It’s just that the assessments were incomplete. Earlier in his career, he was thumbnailed as the GQ pretty boy who cavorted with actresses and models. Meanwhile, he was also working his ass off, rehearsing drills until they cemented into muscle memory, and developing good habits. Then, in the latter part of his career, he was cast as the football robot with the maniacally-strict diet, who went to bed around the time of Final Jeopardy. In reality, he has a lot more heart and soul and unpredictability.

Tom Brady contradicts himself. He contains multitudes. This, of course, is at odds with the times. We live in an era defined by binaries—liberal/conservative; you suck/you rock; Netflix subtitles/clean feeds. We resist complexity. Then again, Brady, too, is at odds with times. Here is a 44-year-old—full stop. Forty-four. Closer in age to Dan Marino than to Patrick Mahomes—still winning Super Bowls and mounting an MVP candidacy.

Last year, Brady claimed the Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year award for the second time in his career. As part of the honor, Brady and I sat down for what was less an interview than the kind of sprawling conversation befitting two middle-aged men.

That was in November. Now, as reports of his retirement surface, a look at some of the outtakes from our interview, lightly edited for length and clarity.

On perfectionism:

“I think if anything, the most challenging part is the emotional aspect of football for me. Because when we win, it’s a relief, and when we lose, it’s depressing. It's not like, ‘The joy, the happiness.’ It’s a relief. Because sometimes just winning isn’t good enough for you, you know? You expect perfection and when you expect perfection and it's less than perfect, you feel like there's a down part to that. I’d say if anything, that’s the hardest part for me as I’ve gotten older. I wish I smelled the flowers a little bit more. Yeah. I wish I did. I think I live in the moment, I am very present. But at the same time, I wish I could appreciate the smaller victories.”

On leadership:

“Leadership is a lot of different things to me. Leaders provide solutions. They require action. Leaders push other people to be their best, but certainly they have to hold themselves accountable to being the best that they could be. Leadership takes on a lot of different forms…I think it’s…I think a curiosity toward people who I really viewed as my mentors or people that I saw and said, ‘Wow, I want to be a little more like that.’ It still goes on today and I think different people came into my life at different times…I don’t think you can go through life and be fixed. You know, I was listening to something the other day and said ‘The words I don’t know are the most powerful words because they’re limitless. And as soon as you think, you know, something you’re fixed…My dad, I think was my first example of what a great father could be and what a great husband should be and what a great competitor should be.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) greets fans after beating the Philadelphia Eagles 31-15 in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game.

On competition:

“There was always competition that was stoked in our family. Oh, baby. We raced home from church on Sundays. We really did. We jumped in two different cars and we’d race home. And we would have pillow fights. Everything was a competition in our family and I always wanted to win. And when I didn’t, I was pretty pissed. But I think just the supportive environment in the competition—knowing that if you competed and failed, it was still O.K. It’s hard to compete because sometimes you lose. And what comes with failure is often hard to overcome … I really enjoyed the competition and I still don’t take it for granted because I want to go out there and kick people’s ass every day. And when I don’t, it’s frustrating. There’s a depression. There’s moments that are very challenging, still at 44 years old.”

On the decision to leave New England for Tampa:

“I was very—well, kind of—unsure what my football future would look like at that time and had to make a tough decision. And at that point I had known that I wasn’t going to be with the Patriots, but I was excited about what I thought I could bring somewhere else … How much culture shock was there? A lot. And I think, just look at this, this is [motions to view of the Bay] it’s, basically Thanksgiving and it’s 82 degrees out today. That’s one of many other things that are quite a bit different. A different conference, different division, different coaches, different offense, different terminology, different players, different drive to the stadium. … Two decades was great. And it came to an end and I had to make a different decision. I have a new football experience and I had to try to make the best decision I could. And I think I’m always thinking about what I think the best decision might be in a certain moment. Just like I think about football, I strategize and I gameplan. There are sleepless nights and there’s early mornings. You don’t always make the right decision, but I think when I look back on that decision, I’m very happy.”

On New England:

“It was 20 great years. I think my answer now is going to be the same answer in five years, which was the same answer when I left. I have tremendous gratitude for what we accomplished and for the everything I’ve learned and the experiences and I had the best relationships we did everything we set out to accomplish. The highs of highs and there weren't many lows. I have nothing but gratitude for it. Was it perfect? Nothing’s perfect. It’s like saying how’s your marriage? Well, it’s pretty great. But is every day perfect? No. You got to work through moments and when things weren’t perfect or great. That’s what people probably would love to focus on. You know, that's what the, that’s what our culture is about. Currently, you know, we’re in this washing machine. Reality television and social media, social media. And it’s class act versus an act. And the acts get just as much of attention as class acts, you know? Hopefully we can return to a class act and hopefully we can return to mutual respect. Hopefully we can return to kindness. Hopefully we can learn to, ‘Hey, I’ll respect your opinion. You gotta respect my opinion too.’ ”

On technology:

“I think there’s more distractions out there. And I think with everything, there’s a lot of good and there's a lot of bad. I think the connectivity is amazing. You know I have a relationship with [my son] who lives in New York City, I FaceTime him every day. I see his face, I see his mannerisms.

“But with that comes the constant incoming of information and, you can get distracted by different things. A guy said to me, ‘Your brain, isn’t the source of information. Your brain is just an antenna.’ So just program what you want to program it to and focus that the antenna where you want.’ For us, we had TVs with antennas and you would just move the antenna. I think that's how I feel. Like, you can focus on all the s---, but why don’t you focus on the good stuff?’ ”

On continuing to play at age 44:

“I think a couple of things. One is, the competition’s fun and, and, uh, you know, I’m still pretty good at it too. And if I stopped, I think I’d have to find something else that I'm pretty good at. And I don’t think that I’m going to be able to jump into something that has the same amount of excitement.

“Football pushes you in ways that not a lot of other things do. You’re so much in the moment. You’re living this life you're so comfortable with. I think football has been very grounding for me. I would say the off season is very challenging for me. … The offseason is way more challenging for me than the actual football season. The football season is like a routine. I don’t travel that much. It’s a lot of hard work. You’re up at six and you’re home at six and it’s Groundhog Day. It’s a long marathon of, of a season. But there’s still a lot to be gained from it.

“[In the offseason] I’m living out of home. Every two days, we’re going somewhere different, living out of a suitcase. It’s fun. I’m fulfilling a lot of other obligations that I don't get to do during football season.”

On the perception he has put himself out there more in 2021:

“Naturally I’d say I’m very introverted, you know? I loved football. Maybe. I don’t know. It didn’t always love what came along with it and the expectations and having to please everybody all the time. And then I was in an environment where what the goal of our football team and the Patriots was, you know, there was one voice; and we were all gonna say the same thing; and you got to do what’s best in the best interest of the team. And I think this is a different. Our team here, I think there are more voices and it’s fine. There’s different ways to be successful too. So … I’m rediscovering my voice and I’m having fun with it. And I think there’s more comfort just that as an older guy, too. You know, there’s, there’s—my give-a-s--- levels is probably a lot less. So now I’m kind of like, ‘Okay, what’s it gonna be like 10 years?’ I’m really not going to give a s--- then.”

On fatherhood:

“This is the reason why you try to be the best you could be. Probably the best part of my football career was having Jack [Brady’s 14-year-old son] at training camp with me for two weeks. And just having him every day to myself. Just a great kid. My family’s so important and without them, you know, there isn’t the joy of life that I have.”

On winning the Sportsperson of the Year Award in 2005:

“Hard to imagine. Sixteen years went by really, it was the flash of an eye. I remember Bono from U2 had this really cool video for me. It all happens pretty quick. I’m kind of blinking hard to imagine I’m still actually playing football and still loving it as much as I always have.”

More on Tom Brady:
• Report: Tom Brady to Retire After 22 Seasons, Seven Super Bowls
• Report: Tom Brady Has Not Told Bruce Arians of Retirement Plans
• NFL World Reacts to Reports of Tom Brady's Retirement