The GOAT doesn't care which field he grazes in, so long as he's well fed. And Tom Brady is hungry for more.
His 45th birthday on Aug. 3—or claim he was retiring—notwithstanding, the relentlessly fit NFL star will be shooting for the Super Bowl at least one more time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his team since 2020.
Forty days after his Feb. 1 retirement announcement that, in hindsight, was full of loopholes—Brady let it be known he would be playing in his 23rd season after all in hopes of winning an eighth ring, thanking his ever-patient wife, Gisele Bündchen, for understanding his superhuman drive to keep playing.
Well, he didn't say that, exactly, but Brady did acknowledge on E! News' Daily Pop in June that football is just as much of a "big commitment" for his wife as it is for him. "She takes a lot on for our family," the athlete said, "and she does an unbelievable job of prioritizing our kids and making sure all their needs are met. It really allows me to go out and do what I love do."
It probably helps that he remains so damn good at it.
Brady capped off his debut season with the Bucs in 2021 by playing in his 10th Super Bowl and winning his record seventh ring, making his the most decorated fingers in NFL history.
Tampa Bay hadn't even been to the postseason since 2007—a time span in which Brady's New England Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three times—and they ended up becoming the first NFL team to get to play for a championship on their own field, Raymond James Stadium having long been penciled in to host Super Bowl LV. (The Los Angeles Rams achieved that same feat this past February when they won at their hometown SoFi Stadium.)
"How great is that?" Brady remarked to coach Clyde Christensen ahead of the big game in 2021, per the Tampa Bay Times. "I don't have to move to a hotel. I don't have to move my family for the game. I'm rolling around just looking at the water."
That's just how it works, though, right? Wherever Brady goes, glory follows? With a view?
"Trespassing in parks, breaking and entering... Just making myself at home in Tompa Bay!" he tweeted in April 2020, invoking the nickname immediately bestowed upon the city when they found out Brady was coming to town. And when he did, he was cited for working out in a public park, which was against COVID-19 restrictions at the time, and another day walked right into a stranger's house, thinking it belonged to his new offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich.
So it's been a wild ride from the beginning, one that's proved entirely worth it to everyone involved (including Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to win another ring with his favorite QB before calling it a career after last season's campaign fell short).
"The belief he gave to this organization that it could be done—it only took one man," Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians told reporters after their 2021 NFC Championship game win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers sent the Bucs to their first Super Bowl since 2003.
In case it wasn't clear, he was referring to Brady, the three-time league MVP who has won more Super Bowls than anybody and who at 43 became the oldest-ever QB to play in the title game. But while the Bucs certainly counted on the age-defying athlete bringing his Meidas touch to the team when he signed a two-year, $50 million deal after spending the first 20 seasons of his career with the Patriots, nothing is ever for certain in football.
And along with the many still rooting for him, there were plenty of skeptics, those who didn't think Brady had it in him for another championship run, figuring he had to start to decline sometime, as well as spurned Patriots fans maturely hoping for his abject failure in a new uniform.
Of course, he didn't need to leave New England to be both loved and hated, revered for his championship ways and reviled for... well, also for his championship ways, especially since his biggest critics never believed that he and the Patriots got to the mountaintop with entirely clean hands (or, for a time, fully inflated balls).
But even the four-game suspension he served at the beginning of the 2016-17 season for his alleged role in the scandal known as "Deflategate" did nothing other than motivate Brady to crush it harder. Which he did, promptly winning his fourth Super Bowl that February.
And no wonder Brady, while he idolized San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana growing up, has emotionally called his dad his true hero. That sort of support system doesn't grow on avocado trees.
"What the league did to him and what Roger Goodell constantly lied about is beyond reprehensible as far as I'm concerned," Thomas Brady Sr., Tom's father, said of the NFL Commissioner in a 2017 interview with the San Francisco Bay Area's KRON-4. "He went on a witch hunt and went in way over his head and had to lie his way out in numerous ways and the reality is that Tommy never got suspended for deflating footballs. He got suspended because the court said that he could, Roger Goodell could do anything that he wanted to do to any player for any reason whatsoever. That's what happened. The NFL admitted they had no evidence on him."
Sweet, sweet justice then for the Brady family, when Goodell had to grin and bear it when he was feting the Patriots a week later.
The 6-foot-4 dynamo from San Mateo, Calif., is the youngest of Tom Sr. and Galynn Brady's four children and their only son. He started throwing at a young age, his first job being a paper route that netted him a solid $25 a month, but didn't start playing football until the ninth grade. He started out as a backup quarterback on a high school team that went 0-8.
Brady readily acknowledges that he wasn't born a phenom, like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan. Looking back on himself as a kid, "damn, I was nothing like those people!" he shared on Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast. "If you saw me you would never say, 'Yeah, Tom's going to be playing 21 years in the NFL.'"
But he did work his butt off, eventually ditching his two-donut-a-day habit in favor of healthier choices, and was actually a three-sport athlete who was drafted by Major League Baseball's Montreal Expos out of high school in 1995. Knowing he wanted to play football, though, he headed to the University of Michigan, where things went...alright. He was the backup QB for two years before becoming the Wolverines' full-time starter, going 20-5, including Bowl wins, in the two seasons he started.
"I think being naïve allowed me to accomplish a lot of things," he told Shepard. "Like when people said, 'Oh you're going to go to college and play football?' I was, 'F--k, of course I am, what do you think?'" They had a laugh over his premature assumption that all would turn out exactly as he planned. "I look back and I'm, like, the odds to overcome all those things [were incredible]."
After graduation, Brady entered the 2000 NFL Draft as a lightly heralded prospect, and waited. Then waited some more, wondering if he was going to need his resume boasting two summers as an intern at Merrill Lynch after all.
Finally, he was unceremoniously taken in the sixth round, the Patriots making him the 199th pick.
Yet while that might not have felt incredible at the time, Brady admitting years later in a tearful interview that he had to leave the house as his family watched his stock drop lower and lower... the rest is history.
Brady was initially the fourth-string quarterback when he joined the Patriots in 2000, the rookie living in a motel during training camp, but he became their starter in 2001 after franchise QB Drew Bledsoe was injured in game two.
Whoever on the Patriots staff ultimately decided to go with Brady over Louisiana Tech QB Tim Rattay in the 2000 draft must have started feeling pret-ty proud of himself at some point, because they proceeded to win the Super Bowl. Brady was MVP of the title bout, having rebounded from a knee injury suffered in the AFC Championship Game. (Shout out to Rattay, who played in the NFL until 2010, including for the Bucs, and is now quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State.)
Brady's second Super Bowl win came in 2004, his third in 2005. In 2007 the Patriots went 16-0 but lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, Eli Manning going on to be the only quarterback to get the best of Brady twice in the big game.
Remarkably, he won his fourth championship in 2015 at the age of 37, the regimen at the root of what is now his TB12 Method wellness empire obviously doing a body good. (Agreeing in 2014 that he was stronger and faster at 37 than he was at 22, he told Sports Illustrated, "I'm more durable, too. But given where I started, I wouldn't say that like it's some great accomplishment.")
At 39, he earned his fifth ring leading an epic fourth-quarter comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 and winning in overtime, his fourth time being named Super Bowl MVP.
A loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018 was followed by a snoozer of a 13-3 win over the L.A. Rams in Super Bowl LIII, though he slipped on ring No. 6 all the same. And thanks to his unparalleled focus and the unbelievable shape he's still in, here we are again.
Which is due in no small part to his sheer love of the sport, Brady telling Shepard that, outside of being with his family, his "happiest moments" have come when he's playing the game.
"Being on the football field is pure joy," he explained. "In the moment, living my very highest and best calling, just literally, like, in the zone... I'm on the field the other day and I'm like, 'I just f--king love football!'"
And while he did commit decades ago to working "twice as hard" as everyone else, knowing he didn't have the natural talent of some guys and would always be playing catchup in that respect, he also knows that he just got insanely lucky. "It's a perfect storm of a lot of different events over long periods of time that all broke a certain way," he said.
Not that his charmed journey from hero up north to hero down south hasn't been without its missteps.
For instance, the single-mindedness that helped him maintain that level of success also landed him in marriage counseling with his supermodel wife, who explained to her husband in a letter that she needed his head in the game at home when he wasn't on the field.
"She didn't feel I was doing my part for the family," Brady, who admitted he originally hadn't planned to get married or have kids until his late 30s (or "until I'm basically done playing"), Brady told Howard Stern in 2020. "I had to make a big transition in my life to say, 'I can't do all the things that I wanted to do for football like I used to. I gotta take care of things in my family,' because my family, the situation, wasn't great. She wasn't satisfied with our marriage."
But just as he'd done his whole life when something mattered to him, he put in the work.
"Every day, you inspire me to be the best person I can possibly be," Brady said in a video he made for Bündchen's 40th birthday. "Thanks for being the most wonderful example of what's possible in this world. Your love, your dedication and your love of helping people around the world is so inspiring to all of us, so I'm lucky to have you as my wife, our kids are lucky to have the best mom in the world. We love you so much."
The coronavirus pandemic actually provided an unprecedented opportunity for Brady to just be at home with his wife and their kids, now 12-year-old Benjamin and 9-year-old Vivian. He also shares son Jack, 14, with Blue Bloods star Bridget Moynahan.
They had vacationed at their spread in Costa Rica just before international travel restrictions started being imposed in March 2020. Upon their return they made the big move to Tampa, leaving behind the sprawling 12,112-square-foot mansion in Brookline, Mass., that they'd provided impressive glimpses of in Bündchen's "73 Questions" video for Vogue and Brady's Facebook series Tom vs. Time. (They originally listed the property for $39.5 million in the summer of 2019, took the property off the market after the onset of the pandemic, but finally unloaded it for a reported $32.5 million.)
Upon arrival they leased a 30,000-square-foot waterfront abode from pal Derek Jeter (if anything breaks, "I call and bitch to him," Brady joked to Stern), but soon purchased a $17 million teardown on 300-acre Indian Creek Island, an exclusive enclave in Biscayne Bay known as "Billionaire Bunker." Not afraid of a reno, the pair having previously remodeled a home in L.A.'s Brentwood neighborhood before selling it to Dr. Dre for $40 million, they reportedly planned on building a new, environmentally friendly manse from the ground up in Miami.
Maybe it's Brady's apparent pivot to family man first, football guy second after years of unequivocally saying that his day job was his No. 1 priority during the season, but there's something about their new life in Florida that feels almost quaint, Billionaire Bunker aside.
Yes, he and Bündchen are still the poster couple for the BMOC-marries-hottest-girl-in-town-trope. They have an abundance of celebrity friends, he's hosted Saturday Night Live and been on multiple GQ covers, and they were regulars at the Met Gala.
But even when Brady's image was more of the "don't talk to me, I'm passing" variety, he's had a pretty consistent reputation as an all-around good dude. Boston-bred Ben Affleck, for instance, who was ready to go to the mattresses to defend Brady during the "Deflategate" controversy, called him "a prince and a really sweet man" (pre-move to the Bucs, but Affleck said the longtime Patriot deserved to go get paid what he deserved if someone else wanted to sign him for two years).
A Patriots teammate told ESPN before the 2012 Super Bowl, "Everybody has this image of Tom Brady being this passionate, tough guy on the field. But off the field, he's one of the nicest guys I've ever been around." He gifted all of his teammates Ugg slippers, furry fruits of his multimillion-dollar endorsement deal, and bought watches for his offensive line for Christmas one year.
Already active with Best Buddies International and Boys & Girls Club of America, in 2016 he launched the TB12 Foundation, which helps economically or medically disadvantaged young athletes get the proper training, wellness resources and treatment they need to excel at their sports.
While he likes his burgers and beer (and famously hates strawberries), Brady's strict diet and training program, which includes cognition exercises to make sure his head space is ship-shape, are the stuff of legend.
Sports Illustrated reported in 2014 that the athlete's dessert of choice was an "ice cream" consisting of an avocado base mixed with cacao powder and he never lived it down—but let people scoff.
At least he and Bündchen are in that plant-based space together, filling up on whole grains and organic produce and avoiding sugar. Brady told Men's Health in 2019 while in the Bahamas that his go-to pre-game snack was a smoothie and almond butter and jelly sandwich. The magazine noted that even his vacation cabinets were stocked with protein, recovery fluids, and TB12 electrolytes that he added to his water. "Just a little squirt," he said.
He and Bündchen have had their issues as a couple, such as when the Brazilian supermodel found out a couple months after they'd started dating that his ex, Moynahan, was pregnant with his child and she had to decide whether to stay or go.
"It was a challenging thing because here I am, you know, thinking, I'm dating this guy, we met, and we started dating and everything is great and then this happens," Bundchen recounted the experience on CBS This Morning in 2017. "So, then I felt like I didn't know what to do. It was kind of one of those moments of like, 'Do I just run away?'"
But she was falling for him and, as she told Vanity Fair in 2009, "It made me feel more in love with him; it made me realize who he was. Our relationship has become so much stronger, and I think I wouldn't be as certain as I am today if it weren't for that."
Plus, Bündchen has always loved Jack like her own, and cherishes the bond he has with Benny and Vivi.
And even though he keeps moving the goal line when it comes to retirement (first it was after the 2016-17 season, then it was after he had won two more Super Bowls, and at this point he'll probably play, as LeBron James recently quipped about the two of them, "until we can't walk no more"), Bündchen has never stopped cheering him on. Sightings of his wife and the kiss she always gives him after the Super Bowl, win or lose, have simply become a part of the game-day ritual.
Brady's most stalwart fans, however, are easily his parents, who both battled COVID in 2020. Until his pandemic-plagued first season with Tampa Bay, they had never missed watching one of his games—in college or the pros—even when Galynn was undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2016 and 2017.
Tom Sr. and Galynn weren't going to let logistical hoops get in the way of watching their son play for his seventh ring, though.
The Kansas City Chiefs—whose own star quarterback, then-25-year-old Patrick Mahomes, had watched and admired Brady while he was growing up—were three-point favorites.
But Brady was 2-2 in his career against Mahomes, and if anyone was capable of beating the odds, it was the guy who won his first Super Bowl in 2002 as a 14-point underdog—and whose body was still firing on all cylinders after 21 years in the NFL.
Which is like 60 regular years.
"Tom is pushing back the aging process," Brady's personal throwing coach, Dr. Tom House, told Sports Illustrated in 2015. "There's no reason he can't do at 45 what he did at 25."
His longtime trainer and co-founder of TB12, Alex Guerrero, reiterated as much in 2019, telling Boston's WEEI-FM, "Every year he just adds another year. He goes in, he's like, 'Guys, I just feel so good still. I think I am going to go til 45.' I am like, 'OK.'"
But, Guerrero shared, "Now he's like, 'Alex, I think I can go like 46 or 47.'"
Only seven or eight years after he first told his wife he'd pack it in. No big deal, right?
"A lot of it is, I am not a robot out there," Brady told Westwood One Sports host Jim Gray in October 2019 of his desire to keep going until at least 45. "It's a lot of time and energy, and I enjoy putting my time and energy in those places and taking care of myself. Hopefully, to afford myself the ability to play as long as I want to play. I also really love the sport and I enjoy playing. So, not many things have changed on that front."
Not to mention, there's always room for improvement.
"Just steady progress," he told Shepard in 2020, humbly describing his unguaranteed road from barely drafted rookie to most winning NFL quarterback of all time, as well as the wisdom he's gleaned from his journey. "Progress over perfection. We weren't born like that, you know, let's make it a little better every day, whatever it is."
Asked what it would mean to him to win his seventh ring, Brady said, "It would just be cool to accomplish it this time. I don't compare them to the other times. Those are all magical moments in my life, and no one can ever take those away from me, and hopefully we can finish this season strong and win a Super Bowl. That's why we're here, that's why we're playing. It'd make for a really magical season for us."
Magical being the operative word throughout so much of Brady's career.
Asked if he still thought of playing past 45, the answer was, "Yeah, definitely."
"I definitely would consider that," he continued. "It's a physical sport. Just the perspective I have on that is you never know when that moment is [to stop]. Just because it is a contact sport. There's a lot of training that goes into it. And it has to be 100 percent commitment from myself to keep doing it."
He continued, "I think I'll know when it's time. I don't know when that time will come, but I think I'll know. And I'll understand that I gave everything I could to this game. You put a lot into it. I don't think I could ever go at this game half-ass. I've got to put everything into it. When I put it all out there [and] I feel like I can't do that anymore, I don't feel like I can commit to the team in the way the team needs me, then I think it's probably time to walk away."
Brady at least recognized when it wasn't time, even if he was flagged for a false start. Though he achieved the desired result in Super Bowl LV, falling short last season left too bad a taste in his mouth not to try again.
"These past two months I've realized my place is still on the field and not in the stands," he wrote on social media in March. "That time will come. But it's not now. I love my teammates, and I love my supportive family. They make it all possible. I'm coming back for my 23rd season in Tampa. Unfinished business LFG."
That perfect sunset will just have to wait.
This story was originally published on Monday, February 8, 2021 at 6:48 a.m. PT.