Tom Brady’s week began with tears. Chances are it will end that way, too.
All you had to do was look in his eyes and listen as his voice cracked Monday night when he tried to answer a question about who his hero is.
“Who’s my hero? That’s a great question,” Brady told a 7-year-old who had won a contest to be a Super Bowl reporter. “I think my dad is my hero, because he’s someone I looked up to every day and, uh . . . my dad.”
Brady’s eyes welled and he needed a few seconds to compose himself before finishing that sentence.
Earlier that day, in his weekly radio appearance on Boston sports radio station WEEI, he again talked about the influence of his father, Tom Sr., and again had trouble finishing his thoughts.
There were more tears to be stifled. On Tuesday, he spoke about his mother, Galynn, who has been dealing with an illness the last 18 months and hasn’t been to one of Brady’s games all season.
“It’s been a tough year,” Brady said. “Every family goes through different things. I’m just hoping everyone’s here on Sunday to share in a great experience.”
So this has become more for Brady than what might have appeared to be the obvious story line of the entire season. It came into focus early in July, when he took to Facebook one day to accept his punishment for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal. Brady finally surrendered to the edict set forth by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he serve a four-game suspension for being “generally aware” of the use of purposely deflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015.
Surely, Brady is anxious to finish off a season that began with a four-game suspension, and the prospect of accepting the Vince Lombardi Trophy from Goodell — and perhaps the MVP award, as well — is an enticing reward for yet another spectacular effort in the regular season and playoffs.
Goodell has suggested on multiple occasions these last two weeks that he wouldn’t feel the least bit awkward if placed in the position of handing over his sport’s most cherished hardware to the man he spent more than a year battling in the courts. Even so, it would be compelling theater to see such a scene unfold at NRG Stadium if the Patriots win the Super Bowl — and the following day, if he is fortunate enough to be presented the spoils of a fourth MVP selection.
But there are so, so many more reasons for Brady to want to win this game.
For his parents, who have stood by him through every challenge in his life, up to and including his war with Goodell.
For his teammates, to whom he constantly spreads so much of the credit for the Patriots’ success during a historic run that began in 2001.
For his coaches, particularly Bill Belichick. The Brady-Belichick partnership has been the most productive of any quarterback and coach in the NFL and is one of the most lasting alliances in any sport in any era.
“[Belichick] commits his life to coaching football and to coaching this team, and I commit my life to playing football for this team and playing quarterback,” Brady said. “It’s not a sacrifice because I love to do it. Playing football is so important in my life, and I know Coach loves to coach and I love to play and I love playing for him. I want to go out and win this game for not only him, but all my coaches, teammates and all our fans. We worked hard to get to this point, and we just have to go finish the job.”
It would be yet another crowning achievement for Brady to go out on top, and it would place him alone among his peers as the greatest Super Bowl quarterback of all time. Brady can become the first quarterback to win a fifth Super Bowl, surpassing Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw and further distancing himself from any of the other great passers.
But there should be no debate about Brady at this point. Regardless of whether the Patriots beat the Falcons in Super Bowl LI, I believe he already is the greatest quarterback of all time, and Sunday’s final score will not change that conviction. This will be Brady’s seventh Super Bowl appearance. No one else has played in that many and no QB has won more of them than Brady, whose run of brilliance has reached 16 years and shows no signs of slowing down.
Most teams that win multiple championships do so in a much more compressed era. The Giants have won four Super Bowls, but the two each under Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin came during a five-season span each time. The Steelers won four Super Bowls in the Bradshaw-Chuck Noll era in a six-season span. The Montana-Bill Walsh 49ers won three Super Bowls in eight seasons, with Montana winning a fourth the year after Walsh retired. Troy Aikman won three Super Bowls in a four-year span with Jimmy Johnson.
In essence, the Brady-Belichick alliance has thrived for twice as long as the longest previous dynasty, and three times as long as either of the Giants’ two runs. Is it the coach, or is it the quarterback? In all honesty, who cares, other than to appreciate the fact that we are in the midst of the best and longest run of all.
Truth be told, neither Brady nor Belichick gets this far without the other, and the fruits of their symbiotic relationship simply cannot be measured separately. Nor should they be. The greatest quarterback of all time working alongside the greatest coach of all time is a perfect storm, the likes of which the NFL had never seen until now.
And here they are, one more time, with a chance to add another chapter to their legacy.
For Brady in particular, it is the culmination of a season the likes of which he has never experienced before. His emotions have been churning all week, all season. Now that the final moment is here, he hopes for one more transcendent performance.
Quarterbacks who led their teams to the most American professional league championships:
No. Name, TeamLeague/Titles won
7 Otto Graham, Browns AAFC (1946-49), NFL (1950, ’54-’55)
5 Bart Starr, Packers NFL (1961-62, ’65), Super Bowls I, II
4 Terry Bradshaw, Steelers Super Bowls IX, X, XIII, XIV
4 Tom Brady, Patriots Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX
4 Sid Luckman, Bears NFL (1940, ’41, ’43, ’46)
4 Joe Montana, 49ers Super Bowls XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV
3 Troy Aikman, Cowboys Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII, XXX
3 Johnny Unitas, Colts NFL (1958, ’59) Super Bowl V