By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady is 44 years old. He’s still playing football. He’s the reigning Super Bowl MVP, and he’s the current front-runner for NFL MVP. That is RIDICULOUS, all caps.
It’s also something that Bill Belichick and the Patriots organization did not consider possible when Brady was entering his late 30s.
In their defense, how could they? Nobody had ever gotten better while approaching 40, and the few souls who dared try to play quarterback into their 40s were quickly ground into mincemeat by their younger, faster, stronger opponents. While Brady had said many times that he hoped to play past 40, there was no empirical evidence showing that he actually could do it.
That’s why, in the spring of 2014, the team used the 62nd overall pick in the draft on a quarterback, taking Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois. After making the choice, Belichick said, “We know what Tom’s age and contract situation is.” The implication was clear: At age 37, Brady was on his way out.
While Brady ended up outlasting Garoppolo in New England — spoiling that well-strategized succession plan … and winning another Super Bowl — he spoke in his latest “Man In The Arena” episode about how much that draft pick affected him mentally and emotionally.
Brady said the pick caught him by surprise, after he had made being a Patriot and living in Boston a major part of his own identity.
“I really felt like I was giving my heart to the team, the city. I felt like I was setting down my roots, because I had committed to being in Boston. And then I didn’t necessarily feel like, ‘Oh, well that’s reciprocating,'” Brady said in the episode, which documents the entire 2014 season. “But I recognize I’m no different than those other positions on the team. Like, I still gotta go out there and perform at a high level and earn my job.”
Brady said that after the pick was made, he treated Garoppolo like every new draftee that joins the team: “I just thought like every other time, you know, embrace him and they’re your teammate.”
Still, the quarterback couldn’t help but feel a bit perplexed about the situation.
“Now we drafted Jimmy higher. You know, Coach Belichick referenced my age to me, referenced it to the media. And in my mind, I was thinking, ‘What are you … talking about?’ And I think he was just referencing, well, you know, not many quarterbacks have ever played and been successful late in their career. And that’s just a fact,” Brady said. “Of course for me, I was just like, ‘I don’t care about any of those things.'”
Brady said he could logically see why the team would protect itself in case his play slipped or if he retired. But that didn’t make it any easier for him to process.
“I never thought about those things, because I didn’t think of myself as aging in a traditional way,” Brady explained. “I was really beginning to understand how to take care of myself. I was really beginning to understand the game, how to study, how to be more efficient. I was really beginning to understand how to train, how to communicate more effectively with my teammates. Things were maturing in my life, and my boys were getting a little bit older, where they’re starting out to be a little more self-dependent. My daughter was born December 2012, so she’s getting a little bit older. We built a home and it got finished in 2014. Like this is where we’re gonna be.”
Of course, we know the story after that. Brady and the Patriots were buried by the national (and some local) media after their Week 4 blowout loss in Kansas City. The team was “on to Cincinnati.” They rolled through the rest of the season. They steamrolled the Colts in the AFC title game. A (cockamamie) deflated football scandal arose. Brady was just about perfect in the fourth quarter against a historically good defense. Malcolm Butler made his play. The Patriots were champs. Brady maintained his level of play so high for so long that the team had to trade Garoppolo away in 2017. The team made the Super Bowl that year and lost. Then they won it all a year later.
Brady finally did make the exit from New England after the 2019 season, a full five years, four Super Bowl appearances, three championships, an MVP season, two Super Bowl MVPs, and one historic Super Bowl comeback later.
That wasn’t in the plans, but the Patriots and Belichick certainly didn’t mind the script revision. That history was written largely because Brady believed it could happen.
“I felt like I was just starting to get into the place where my family was settled, I had a home that was built, I wasn’t going to have any more kids,” Brady said at the end of the episode. “A lot of things were coming together in my life. I was starting to figure out my body and how to prepare. Now I really get to enjoy the knowledge of the game. When most people physically decline, they start to really understand the game. I was physically — I felt like — going to improve, and my knowledge was going to improve. So I wasn’t thinking ever about not continuing to play, because I felt like my best was still ahead of me, and I could still achieve a lot more.”
Brady’s perspective on this matter was fascinating. The selection of Garoppolo has long been considered an event that motivated him and pushed him to go on this unprecedented late-career surge. And that may be an accurate assessment, to some degree.
But in his own interview for his own documentary project, Brady told a story of being more hurt than motivated, and more confused than inspired, when the team picked Jimmy G. to be the next QB.