By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For as long as he’s been a Super Bowl champion, Tom Brady has been humble. Even as those titles increased from one to two to three, and then to four and five and six, Brady resisted and pushed back whenever people called him the GOAT — aka the greatest of all time. It just wasn’t in his DNA to boast.
That’s why, upon seeing a printed quote from Brady in a forthcoming Sirius XM interview, it’s almost hard to believe it’s real.
The Boston Herald’s Karen Guregian shared some comments from Brady from an upcoming “town hall” event with Jim Gray, and she closed her article with an anecdote from Brady on his now-famous quote from “The Shop.” On that show, Brady showed his obsessively competitive side when he shared the reaction he had when an unnamed team passed on him in free agency last year. In this interview, Brady — either intentionally or by accident — shared with the world that he actually does view himself as the GOAT … at least when his competitive juices are flowing.
Here’s the full quote, via Guregian:
“There’s private things for me that are going to remain motivational for me. They know who they are … it’s fine. Everyone has a choice to choose. I think what you realize is, there’s not as many smart people as you think. That’s just the reality. I think it’d be a no-brainer if you said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to get Wayne Gretzky on your team, or you got a chance to have Michael Jordan on your team.’ … ‘Oh, we don’t need him, no thanks. We’re good.’
“In my mind, I’m kind of thinking, ‘OK, let me go show those teams what they’re missing.’ At the same time, let me go prove to the team that did bet on me, and the team that really showed they really wanted me, and committed to me, that I’m not going to let them down.”
Let’s run that one part back again:
“I think what you realize is, there’s not as many smart people as you think. That’s just the reality. I think it’d be a no-brainer if you said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to get Wayne Gretzky on your team, or you got a chance to have Michael Jordan on your team.’“
You have to understand: This kind of quote from Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. is just about unheard-of.
Tom Brady says he can’t believe teams passed on signing him when he was a free agent: “I think it’d be a no-brainer if you said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a chance to get Wayne Gretzky on your team, or you got a chance to have Michael Jordan on your team.’“
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) July 22, 2021
Consider this reaction when asked about being referred to as “the GOAT,” which he said to Michael Strahan in 2019 after winning his sixth Super Bowl:
“I don’t even like that! I don’t like it. It makes me cringe. It makes me cringe. It makes me cringe. I guess I take compliments worse than I take — I wish you would say ‘you’re trash, you’re too old, you’re too slow, you can’t get it done no more.’ And I would say, ‘Thank you very much, I’m gonna go prove you wrong.’”
Back in 2017, when Brady was merely a five-time champion, he actually pushed back against the notion of being the GOAT:
“I don’t agree with that, and I’ll tell you why. I know myself as a player. I’m really a product of what I’ve been around, who I was coached by, what I played against, in the era I played in. I really believe if a lot of people were in my shoes they could accomplish the same kinds of things. So I’ve been very fortunate. … I don’t ever want to be the weak link.”
In 2018, Brady told Rodney Harrison that he didn’t like hearing people say that he’s the greatest:
“I don’t think I like it very much, truthfully. I don’t think that that’s … it’s almost more uncomfortable for me, because I never see myself like that. I’ve always been the underdog.”
In 2017, in an interview with CBS This Morning, Brady resisted the conversation about being the best quarterback of all time:
“I’m not good with things like that. So, I … I mean, I feel like I’ve done a great job to maximize what my potential was. There were some incredible players. There are guys that could do things that I could never do, how they move in the pocket and how they escape and the way they play. I play with the best coach of all time. I mean, that’s pretty lucky for any player. I’ve played with some incredible players over the course of my career that have come together to form this great team. And all of those players — I mean, there’s too many to mention — but I’ve played with this offensive line that always has protected me and their sole responsibility for the entire course of my career has bene to protect me. So are there a lot of other players that I feel if they were in my position, knowing all the things that I’ve known, could accomplish similar things? Absolutely. I absolutely do. And I feel like I’m very blessed to be the one that got to do those things.
In that famous 2018 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Brady once again said he wasn’t a fan of being called the GOAT:
“I don’t like it. I don’t like when people say it. No, I don’t like it at all. I don’t feel that way, you know? I’m not attached to that feeling. I don’t care whether people think that or not. I want to be the best I can be. I know when I go out there, it’s not to compare myself to this guy or that guy. It’s … everyone’s good, everyone plays good.”
Oprah being Oprah, the interviewer asked Brady that it must feel good to get that kind of recognition, given his insatiable appetite for competition. Brady replied:
“Yeah, I don’t — I still feel like I’m in it. I still feel like I’m doing it. I still feel like there’s still more to be accomplished. I was practicing the last two days, working on my technique, on my fundamentals, on all the things with my training. I still feel like I can be better, be a percentage better. I’ve played a long time. It’s not like you go, ‘Hey man, I’m gonna become something different.’ No, I am what I am, I know my strengthens, I’ve improved on some of the weaknesses, and I still think I want to go out there and compete and play with a bunch of 22-year-olds. It’s still a lot of fun.”
During the 2018 season, Brady said that being called the GOAT makes him feel uncomfortable:
“I don’t like it, truthfully. I am [uncomfortable] because I don’t think — I don’t see myself in that way. That’s not a value that I put on me playing. I play for the enjoyment of the game. I play for the camaraderie with my teammates, and I play to win. I don’t play to be called a certain thing or compared to this guy. I had heroes when I grew up. There was a lot of great quarterbacks — there was when I grew up, there are now. … I don’t need anyone to tell me, ‘You’re such-and-such. You’re better than this.’ There’s a lot of great players, and that’s how I see other players, too. There’s a lot of things other guys can do that I can’t do. And there’s some things I can do other guys can’t do, too. That’s part of my skill set. There’s so many different things involved with being a great player.
“I think the greatest asset I have is a great organization — great ownership, great coaches and great teammates since I came into the league.”
And as recently as last month, an incredulous James Corden couldn’t believe that Brady doesn’t spend any time thinking about being the best quarterback of all time. Brady replied:
“I don’t. No because I don’t — it’s like saying, ‘What do you like better: steak, fish, chicken?’ Everything’s good.”
Clearly, Brady has made it a point to always push back and resist whenever the GOAT topic has arisen. And with Brady, it’s arisen a lot.
The invocation of the names of Gretzky and Jordan, then, are a clear break from tradition in that respect.
So why’d Brady do it? Here are a few theories.
Tom Brady doesn’t drink coffee, but if he did, he’d be earning plenty of it. Because coffee is for closers, and Tom is always closing.
In this case, Brady’s NFT business announced that Wayne Gretzky was on board.
A huge morning for Tom Brady's 'Autograph' NFT Platform ✍️
Autograph has signed partnerships with DraftKings & Lionsgate for a new wave of digital content.
Joining the Autograph board w/ exclusive NFT deals:
– Tiger Woods
– Wayne Gretzky
– Derek Jeter
– Naomi Osaka
– Tony Hawk pic.twitter.com/Duxew3tF7K
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) July 21, 2021
ABC. Always. Be. Closing.
2. Insane Competitiveness
What did all of those comments based on humility have in common? They came when he was comfortably employed by the New England Patriots, the team that drafted him, believed in him, and helped elevate him to his immortal status.
Since then, he experienced the uncomfortable position of being a free agent that … not many teams wanted. The Chargers and Bucs reportedly made contract offers. Some other teams pondered it but opted against committing to a 43-year-old quarterback.
That 43-year-old then went out and threw 40 touchdowns for just the second time in his GOAT-worthy career … and then he beat Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes en route to winning his fifth Super Bowl MVP and seventh championship.
Guy is nuts.
So while it was out of character for Brady to drop that line on “The Shop,” and while his Gretzky/Jordan quote doesn’t fit with his usual brand, it was a unique situation. A large majority of the NFL didn’t want him to be their quarterback last year. And …
Tom Brady, forever and always: pic.twitter.com/6OukFdr6zr
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) July 21, 2021
3. The Reins Are Loosened
Oh, the other part of being employed by the New England Patriots? He was employed by the New England Patriots!
If ever there were an organization that didn’t need its quarterback prancing around while bragging about his own greatness, it would be the one located in Foxboro. Humble Pie is force-fed down everyone’s gullets in that building, and Brady for 20 years was the model citizen in that regard. Despite his many human emotions — good, bad, otherwise — during his 20 years with the Patriots, Brady always tried his best to share none of them when speaking publicly. He was good at it too, as he estimated he wasn’t being honest with about 90 percent of what he said.
This is a man, mind you, who has never really spoken an ill word about Roger Goodell, a man who crusaded against him, his reputation, his legacy, his honor, and everything he’s dedicated his life to building. If he can bite his tongue on that, he can stay quiet on anything.
But now? Now, Brady is on the Bucs. And the Bucs can say whatever they want. Brady, nearing his 44th birthday next month, might simply be trying on some braggadocio, either to just see how it feels or to prove that old dogs can learn new tricks.
But if he was still with the Patriots, coming off the seventh title? Here’s betting we wouldn’t be seeing that Gretzky/MJ line.
4. Nearing The End
A common theme in those many Brady dismissals involved Brady still believing he was in the middle of his career, not at the end of it. Now, by all accounts, Brady has the finish line in sight.
His reworked deal has him under contract through the 2022 season, when he’s 45. He’s said forever that he wants to play until 45. He’s negotiated deals with his own wife to be able to do that. His trainer says 45 remains the goal. Brady himself has for the first time indicated playing longer than that may not be possible.
So he’s nearing the end. He’s standing on the 18th tee box, phoning in his lunch order at the clubhouse. (A fruit smoothie with a side of avocado.) And he’s at least a little bit willing to soak in the view atop the mountaintop. He’s worked for so long to get there, and he sees his finish line, so he’s affording himself a brief diversion from the work toward the goal.
5. He Likes Jim Gray
Sometimes it’s about the question asker more than the question itself. And when Brady has wanted to say something, he’s typically used Jim Gray to do it.
6. He’s Right
Lastly, there is this. Tom Brady is the best of all time. And teams like Tennessee were dumb to choose Ryan Tannehill over him. The Bears rolled with Mitchell Trubisky. The Broncos liked Drew Lock. The Jaguars like Gardner Minshew. Washington stuck with Dwayne Haskins. The Panthers wanted Teddy Bridgewater. The Colts sprung for Philip Rivers.
The Patriots essentially pushed Brady out the door, only to end up with Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer.
Brady could have elevated most — if not all? — of those teams to Super Bowl contention. But they all deemed him to be too old.
They were wrong. He was right.
Granted, the Super Bowl banner that will hang forever in Tampa will drive home that point on its own. But even now, as he seeks out new ways to feel overlooked or disrespected despite his utterly ridiculous success, you can bet that Brady will be tapping into that healthy competitive psychosis to once again prove that the teams who did not want Tom Brady were foolish.
This Gretzky/Jordan quote seems to refreshingly be part of the 10 percent of Brady’s public commentary that is actually from the heart. As he nears the end of his career without the restrictions and concern with saying the wrong thing, perhaps we’ll be getting some more of it going forward.