Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady leaves the field an NFL divisional round playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, in this Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Brett Duke / AP Newsroom)
This is not a dig; Brady’s said this himself. "What I say versus what I think are two totally different things," the quarterback said on an episode of the LeBron James–produced talk show, The Shop. "I would say 90 percent of what I say is probably not what I’m thinking."
Lately, there’s been evidence of a shift. In March 2020, after two decades and six Super Bowl titles, Brady left the only professional team he’d ever played for, the New England Patriots, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leading them, stunningly, to a Super Bowl victory, Brady’s seventh.
In the Florida sun, a noticeably more carefree version of Brady—Brady 2.0—has arisen. Playing for a team with a less formal, more let-it-all-hang-out vibe, under a veteran head coach known to utter stressless maxims like "Win or lose, we booze," there appears to be a bit of a…loosening up.
Tom has accomplished so much in his career, and the world knows him for his love and devotion to the game of football. Now it’s great having others also get to know him a bit more, as I do.
"By the end of the Tampa season, as he’s holding the Super Bowl trophy, I think you could really see a different Tom Brady emerging," says Tara Sullivan, a sports columnist at the Boston Globe, a job that requires a Ph.D. in Advanced Bradyology.
Don’t read this wrong: Brady hasn’t suddenly morphed into a candid chatterer on par with Dorothy Parker or Draymond Green. But he’s started showing more of the Tom inside. His social media teems with self-deprecating dad humor, and he’s revealed his amusingly cocky side, ridiculing teams that passed him over in free agency and good-naturedly taunting rivals like Aaron Rodgers. At Tampa Bay’s rowdy waterborne championship parade, the famously disciplined Brady recklessly decided to hurl the Lombardi Trophy across the seawater from boat to boat, and in the aftermath, didn’t hide the fact that he might have imbibed a little too much. ("Noting to see her…just a litTle avoCado tequila," Brady tweeted.) In early September, as the Bucs announced the team was 100 percent vaccinated against Covid-19, he confided to the Tampa Bay Times that he’d contracted and recovered from the virus early in the off-season.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Brady, who has historically been loath to utter anything political—he used to tiptoe around his old friendship with Donald Trump—showed up with the Bucs at the White House in July and actually dared the third rail of political humor, deadpanning a 2020 election zinger to President Joe Biden.
"Not a lot of people, you know, think that we could have won," Brady said to President Biden. "About 40 percent of the people still don’t think we won.
"You understand that, Mr. President?" Brady asked.
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If you were accustomed to 20 years of meticulous Brady caution, you might be asking: Who is this guy?
I’m right there with you. Let me tell you about this person I just met. His name is Tom Brady.
It’s a warm summer afternoon, and there he is, via Zoom from Tampa Bay, in a T-shirt and AirPods, TB12 himself, looking tanned and relaxed and, per usual, a solid 10 years younger than his actual age, which is now, amazingly, 44.
I’m asking him about this perceived thawing, this idea of a "different" Tom Brady.
There is a change, he agrees.
"I feel like I’m just coming back to life in a certain way," he says.
For a moment here, Brady veers back to his careful self, because there can be an exasperating binary whenever he talks about his new life in Florida—that anything positive he says about Tampa is somehow a slight of his former life in New England. I’m from New England and can appreciate this regional tension. Brady could compliment a mailbox in Tampa, and my mother up in Massachusetts would be like, "Hey, what’s Tom Brady got against mailboxes up here?"
This is not how it is, Brady insists.
President Biden, surrounded by members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, speaks during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik / AP Newsroom)
He is grateful for his time in New England. How could he not be? It was the most successful stretch of football anyone’s ever played—all those championships, Super Bowls, division titles, never a losing season since becoming the starter. He and Bündchen started their family there—the couple have two children, Vivian, 8, and Benjamin, 11, and Brady also has a 14-year-old son, Jack, with the actress Bridget Moynahan.
The Brady-Bündchens built a house near Boston, made a life, dug deep roots. "I certainly wouldn’t change the 20 years that I had," Brady says matter-of-factly.
Still, Florida’s a different vibe. Anyone can see that. New England, coached by the stone-faced legend Bill Belichick, prided itself on its hive mind, in which the institution always superseded the individual. No one embodied this discipline more than Brady, who loyally stayed on message, seldom offering any comment that could become a locker-room distraction.
"When you’re an employee of a company…you kind of take on the voice of what that company is," Brady explains.
I get it. Still, I tell Brady that what he said on The Shop—the line about "90 percent of what I say is probably not what I’m thinking"—made me a little sad.
"It is a little sad," he says. "It’s a little sad because it’s…a challenging thing to do, you know? What you say and what you believe might be two different things.
"But part of it is: You’re in a team. When you’re in a team, it is not necessarily always what you think. It is kind of what ‘we’ think…. I’ve been a little bit trained to say, you know, this is what ‘we’ think."
The transition to Tampa wasn’t easy, Brady says. At times, he felt like a kid who switched schools. Tampa Bay got off to a solid start, then struggled, losing three of four and dropping to 7-5, at risk of falling out of the playoffs.
Bruce Arians, the Bucs’ head coach, says he saw Brady begin to open up as the season’s stakes were raised, and he grew more comfortable with his teammates.
Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady have been married since 2009. (Jackson Lee/Getty Images)
"You could see the personality come out more and more," Arians says. It had an effect on team confidence: "The rest of the locker room adapted to the personality of ‘Hey, he’s been here, he’s done it. He’s telling us we’re good enough. We believe it.’ "
Bündchen saw the shift in her husband too.
"Tom has accomplished so much in his career, and the world knows him for his love and devotion to the game of football," she says. "Now it’s great having others also get to know him a bit more, as I do."
Another factor is this: Brady is comfortably into his 40s. It’s the constitutional right of everyone older than 40 to give a little less of a damn about what the rest of the world thinks.
"When you’re going to be 44, you feel liberated to say, ‘All right…I feel differently,’ " Brady says.
He loves clothes way more than I do. He has great taste and understands and really cares about what people want
Brady recalls reading some wisdom about aging, about how younger people spend a lot of time obsessing about what other people think, or believing that people are hanging on their every word, but by the time they hit their 50s and 60s, they discover that nobody was really paying much attention in the first place.
"I think that’s probably how it’s going," he says. "You think people care what you think, and then you care less what people think, and then you realize no one cared, anyway."
Another motivation for Brady to let the world in a little more: Tom Brady, Inc. Believe it or not, Brady will stop playing football at some point, whereupon he intends to turn his attention to a portfolio of business interests ranging from his TB12 health and wellness brand to fashion and filmmaking and beyond.
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This is a crossroads an elite athlete usually hits in his or her 30s. Brady’s much older, and still on the job, so he’s trying to do both at once. "I feel like I’m living two lives," he says. "My football life and then my post-football life." Toggling between both, he admits, is tiring.
A clothing brand is a major new foray. A line of men’s training- and activewear, Brady, is coming in December—he’s wearing some of the threads in these pages. His co-founder and the CEO of the eponymous brand is Jens Grede, a force behind fashion behemoths like Kim Kardashian’s hypersuccessful Skims line. Grede imagines the Brady brand becoming one of the planet’s biggest namesake sportswear labels, like Jordan.
"We’re just focused on creating the finest sports brand in the world," Grede says. "That really is the ambition."
It helps Brady to have an experienced fashion eye living in his house. "She’s pretty good," Brady says of Bündchen. "She’s obviously got incredible taste." Though Bündchen’s appeared on countless runways and magazine covers, her preference skews casual, he says. "In the end, I think she’s very much a hippie. She’d just prefer to wear, like, a simple little dress in 80-degree weather and, you know, just chill out."
"He loves clothes way more than I do," Bündchen says. "He has great taste and understands and really cares about what people want, what can help them feel good. That’s what fashion is about."
Other budding Brady ventures include 199 Productions, a content company named after his spot in the 2000 NFL Draft, when an overlooked Brady was selected in the sixth round. ("Tom has got incredible storytelling instincts," offers Avengers: Endgame co-director Anthony Russo, who has something in the works with 199 Productions.) Another project coming this fall is Man in the Arena, a multipart ESPN documentary from Tom vs Time director Gotham Chopra, told through Brady’s 10 Super Bowl appearances.
In this Aug. 22, 2015, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) greet each other after an NFL preseason football game in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
Chopra thinks Brady will approach his post-football career with the same relentless style. "Everything in [Tom’s] life is about, ‘How do I do this thing? How do I get better?’" Chopra says. "The outside world is like, ‘No, you can’t get better. No one’s been better,’ and he’s always like, ‘No, I can, I can.’
"I say he’s like a mad scientist, or he’s a monk."
Because it’s 2021, there’s also a Brady partnership with a cryptocurrency exchange (FTX) and—of course—Brady NFTs (nonfungible tokens via Autograph, an NFT platform he co-founded), the first wave of which sold out within seconds in August. Meanwhile, Brady’s first major business foray, the TB12 health and wellness brand, co-founded with his longtime body coach Alex Guerrero, is eight years old.
Initially, the TB12 method got attention for its namesake’s rigorous lifestyle and diet—avoiding nightshades like tomatoes and strawberries, treating himself to avocado ice cream, etc. These days, Brady talks up the practical side of the technique, which he says offers something for everyone, from elite athletes to schoolteachers in pain from standing all day in class. "I want to be able to provide solutions for that," Brady says.
I don’t think anything will match my football career. That’s kind of why I want to go until the end, because I want to make sure I don’t look back and go, ‘Man, I could still do it.’
In today’s business climate, relatability is essential. I ask him if the Anti-Aging/Superhero/Never Touches Carbs image became something of an unhelpful caricature. He doesn’t disagree. Brady might have a different kind of life and a different sort of job, one that involves trying to successfully execute on live television before millions of people, but people of all kinds "are looking for wins professionally. They’re looking for wins personally," he says. "They’re looking at how to parent in a challenging life, how to have a healthy marriage based on professional responsibilities…. I relate to everybody that way. To think that I don’t is ridiculous.
"The reality is that I’m very human," Brady says.
Of course, he’s still playing pro football. It’s crazy, really—Brady, in his 22nd season, is four years older than the second-oldest player in the NFL. It was surreal to see him in the audience this summer for rival Peyton Manning’s Hall of Fame speech—Manning has been retired for half a decade and is now a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio. Brady, meanwhile, is still at it, a reigning Super Bowl MVP, Benjamin Button in shoulder pads.
It’s defiant to the point of being comical. Athletes aren’t supposed to be so good for so long—in any sport, much less a sport in which the opposition is trying to pummel you to the ground.
A few years ago, there was a lot of chatter about When Brady Will Retire and Should Brady Retire? but these days, it feels like the public has conceded and surrendered.
He says he’ll know when it’s time.
"I don’t want to be out there and suck," Brady says. "You think I want to go out there and look like I’m 44 years old? I want to look like I’m in my prime."
If anything, contemplating Life After Football makes Brady want to play even more.
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"I don’t think anything will match my football career," he admits. "I think it’s too hard to replicate that level of energy and output and adrenaline. That’s kind of why I want to go until the end, because I want to make sure I don’t look back and go, ‘Man, I could still do it.’ "I don’t know where that’s going to be. I really don’t."
He has a contract for this year and next. "Beyond that, I don’t know. Maybe it’s another year after that; maybe it’s two. I’ll have to see where I’m at with my family. That’s probably the overriding factor—what I’m missing out on."
His family is now a Florida Family, and Brady is now a Florida Man. Or at least, a Florida Man in training. Those heavy jackets and wool hats from New England winters aren’t needed anymore. Jack spent some time at Bucs training camp this summer. Brady’s gotten into boats, and not just any boats—he’s due to take delivery of a 77-foot Wajer, list price said to be $6 million. You can watch a Wajer video of Brady rhapsodizing about snorkeling and spending Christmas on the seas.
"I literally said, ‘I’ll never own a boat in my life. Never. Who likes boats?’ " Brady tells me. Now he sees a side benefit of nautical life: enforced family time. "No one can go anywhere," he says conspiratorially. "They’re captive. I almost want to put my kids on the boat like, ‘You’re hanging with us—that’s how it’s going to go.’ "
On October 3 the Buccaneers will travel to New England to play the Patriots, and the hype machine will be in overdrive. Brady, who habitually downplays future games, doesn’t deny it will be a big one. "That one will be really fun for me," he says. "Just because I know everybody, you know? I’ve played more games in that stadium than anybody. I know that place like the back of my hand."
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It’s tempting to portray such a battle between Brady’s past and present as some tantalizing climax, but it’s really not. Listen to how Tom Brady sounds these days.
It’s another beginning.
This story first appeared in The Wall Street Journal
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