The Man Behind the Curtain With the Number 12 on It.Something unusual is going on with Tom Brady at the Super Bowl. He's not speaking his mind exactly, but he's letting people see a bit of what's inside it.
As a veteran of many a Brady press conference, what I expect from the Patriots' quarterback is very pleasantly expressed cliches and cheerful but noncommittal replies to more specific questions. This gentle brushoff technique is standard media relations for jocks. Being dull makes the questioners go away more quickly to leave you in peace.
Brady began his Super Hype week ducking the question of his relationship with the President of the United States. This is understandable. Brady's spent his life in an ultimate bubble, as a handsome football hero since puberty. His supermodel wife has more real world experience than he does. It must've come as a shock to him to find that expressing a political opinion, no matter how passively, exposes one to controversy and even anger.
Since that opening non-bid, however, Brady has taken the opposite approach. Perhaps in compensation, he's revealed glimpses of his thoughts and even emotions. I wouldn't say he's exposing his vulnerable side, just his normal one.
The main news story about Brady this week is that his mother has been ill. This story had to have come from either Brady himself or his immediate family, a huge change of policy from that clan. Ever since Brady's Dad justifiably shot his mouth off about Deflategate, the Bradys have kept a low profile, which is kind of hard to do when you're Giselle Bundchen. I was surprised the news came out, and figured that Brady himself would go full clam as a result. I was wrong.
Those wishing to escape the subject of Pres. Trump should've watched Boston local TV news this week. Every one of Brady's Super media sessions was broadcast live on every station. Out of midwinter cabin fever I watched 'em. And there was a new Brady at the podium. Oh, the Patriot Way was still the message he stressed most, but he had a secondary message, too. If asked the right question, Brady switched to a hot read of "Hey, I'm a real person here."
The right questions came from reporters who clearly were not football beat reporters or even sports reporters at all. They were too basic for that. They were asking about things people inside sports take for granted. Taking things for granted is a good way to overlook something important.
On Wednesday, Brady was asked the following simple, profound query: Why do you like football?
No sportswriter would ever ask that. Football's drawbacks as a profession, the insecurity, tedium and near certainty of permanent health issues in later life are so obvious we sort of insiders just assume all the players love it for illogical reasons and go on from there. From a veteran superstar, I'd expect to get a nonanswer at best, a sneer at worst if I'd asked it.
Brady answered at length, as if he'd wished all his career somebody would've brought up the subject. Summarizing so as not to misquote, Brady said the challenges of mastering football's complexity and its collaborative nature were why he preferred it to other sports and what made the game so great. It was an honest look into the emotional side not of football, but of quarterbacks. His was a viewpoint specific to the unique position he plays. Ask a linebacker or right tackle the same question, and honest answers would be quite different.
Yesterday, Brady was again asked a question few if any reporters not at their first Super Bowl would have. Describe Bill Belichick and your relationship to him.
In the moldy notebooks in my attic there are paragraphs of fluent cliches from Brady on the subject of his coach. This time, Brady let that mask drop for a few moments. He spoke approvingly of Belichick as a disciplinarian, and how the coach wasn't afraid to yell at or use his cold sarcasm
on his invaluable star should Brady put a foot wrong in practice or a game.
"That's good," Brady said, "because it lets the team fell I'm just one of the guys, and I think it helps the team if they feel that way, especially for someone in their 17th season."
By "the team," Brady meant "me." Comedians want to play Hamlet. Firemen wish they could be cops and vice versa. And the all-time great athletes of every team sport want to be just another teammate, an equal, no more, no less, in a communal fellowship. That wish led Michael Jordan, about the most success-driven person ever, to spend a season failing at Double-A baseball in perfect contentment.
Didn't last, of course. Jordan soon went back to being the prickly, demanding superstar of his true sport. Nobody fights destiny for long.
Same for Brady. His teammates may love and revere him, in fact they'd better if they have a brain in their heads, but he's not one of the guys and never can be. For one thing, he's almost twice the age of some of them. For another, he's a quarterback. They're part of management, willingly or not. Most of all, he's free from the insecurity that's so much a part of their existence. Football players are not dopes. They know that when Belichick yells at Brady, the coach doesn't REALLY mean it. It's a show for their benefit.
What has caused Brady to let down his well-perfected guard, even just this little bit? Beats me. Maybe it's compensation for not talking Trump (doubtful). Maybe dealing with a family crisis has given him a new more philosophical outlook (could be). Or maybe Brady's just feeling secure and relaxed enough about his personal future he doesn't feel he needs that guard.
If I were an Atlanta Falcon, that last possibility would bother me.