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The Ultimate Teammate
CHARLES P. PIERCE
December 12, 2005
The Super Bowl rings are nice, but his greatest achievement grows out of a generosity of spirit that makes him a leader in the toughest times
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December 12, 2005

The Ultimate Teammate

The Super Bowl rings are nice, but his greatest achievement grows out of a generosity of spirit that makes him a leader in the toughest times

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He is talking about the photo shoot that kicked off the 2005 season for him. Apparently under the impression that Brady had a couple of films debuting at Sundance this winter, GQ magazine ran a series of glossy photographs. One of them inexplicably had the quarterback carrying a goat, which is not something that ever happened to Dr. Bannister, who was not noted for his ability to juggle livestock. The overall effect was like seeing Orlando Bloom in the role of Mr. Green Jeans.

The goat photo was the subject of some hilarity at practice the day after the magazine hit the stands. Center Dan Koppen, one of Brady's best friends, his backgammon rival, and an enormously deft lineman, and offensive tackle Matt Light each wore one of the photos on his back so that, when they lined up at scrimmage, Brady was confronted by the damning evidence as he called signals. Practice broke up for a moment. Brady laughed as hard as his teammates did. What else could he do? If he were them, he'd have been doing some mocking too. There is always a price to be paid for holding a goat.

"All I wanted was the camaraderie, to share some memories with so many other guys," Brady says. "I mean, if you choose to alienate yourself or put yourself apart, you know, play tennis. Play golf."

He has defined himself, always, as part of a team, and that's carried over into this year, when his celebrity caught up with his achievement. He re-signed for considerably less money than the market might've borne so the Patriots would have maneuvering room under the salary cap. When SI's Peter King asked him about it last February, Brady said, "Is it going to make me feel any better to make an extra million? That million might be more important to the team." This isn't sports-talk-radio posturing. That's not the audience at which Brady aimed it. He was talking here to the other people in the New England locker room, none of whom will be making $60 million over the next six years, as he will.

Moreover, it was Brady who insisted that his offensive linemen be his costars in a national credit card commercial, in which the linemen sit with Brady at dinner, in full uniform, and explain to him that they are the "metaphors" for the various features of the credit card. Most critics agree that guard Russ Hochstein steals the show in the role of Fraud Protection.

"The reason for all of this [attention] is the way we've been playing," he says. "I didn't win this [Sportsman] award being Tom Brady the person. I won it because of the way we play football. There have been some great individual rewards, but there's no greater reward than winning the Super Bowl. I'm very proud of that. I look at how far we've come in five years, and it's not because I'm this great player. But I've taken advantage of the opportunities I've had. I've had so much good fortune along the way."

Brady's stardom is unique in Boston, which has never seen an athletic celebrity like this. Ted Williams hated so much about the place that he hardly counted as one of the city's own. Bill Russell never caught on for a number of reasons, quite a few of them involving race. Bobby Orr was a local star, but he played hockey, which, as has become apparent, might as well be played on Neptune. Larry Bird spent much of his time in Boston in seclusion, and much of the rest of the time in southern Indiana, which is the same thing.

But Brady has gone out on the town. At the same time, he's tried to navigate through his personal fame using the polestar of his competitive career-his love of being a teammate. For example, the podium was a big problem for him. Due to the unprecedented media crush that has resulted from his success and that of the team, the Patriots' p.r. staff planted Brady behind a podium in the Gillette Stadium media room for his weekly press conferences.

He hated it. He fidgeted. He grabbed the podium so tightly that it seemed as though his fingers would go right through the wood. Every Wednesday, Tom Brady-NFL superstar and national celebrity-stood behind that podium and looked as comfortable as a reluctant mob witness testifying his way to a new life as a greengrocer in Flagstaff, Ariz. He does the sessions at his locker now. "Some people are comfortable behind the podium, but I don't need to be the showstopper, the entertainer. I'd much rather people assume I'm one of the guys."

Brady becomes a teammate on whatever team he happens to be on. When he hosted Saturday Night Live in September, he threw himself into the preparations as enthusiastically as he once threw himself into the Five Dots drill in his backyard. His natural curiosity found new things to study. "He was very interested in the process [of putting the show together]," says Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of SNL. "I found him open, thoughtful, and he certainly was game for anything. He came to play, as they say."

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