MINNEAPOLIS — If you’re Tom Brady, this is a great time to be alive.
He’s turning 40 into the new 20. He’s turning winning into something that’s easy.
He’s turning comebacks into something that’s expected.
He’s simply great.
Brady, named league MVP by The Associated Press on Saturday, enters Super Bowl LII on Sunday looking to add to an incredible legacy of greatness. Brady and the Patriots, his Patriots, will face the underdog Philadelphia Eagles at U.S. Bank Stadium, with the winner claiming the Lombardi Trophy.
When you talk about a face of the franchise, look no further than Brady. And he seems to be having the time of his life.
“He’s got a lot of joy about him,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He’s got a great family, he’s got great kids. I like to think he’s got a good group to come to work with. The players that he works with every day, our coaching staff, we’re all in it together. We have a lot of fun in our meeting room, we have a lot of fun at practice. We work really hard to try to get it right, and I know he cares deeply about that. I know he likes winning. He likes to win.”
The numbers are staggering.
Brady, who will make a record eighth Super Bowl start Sunday, has more victories (five) and Super Bowl MVP awards (four) than anybody else who has played in the game (aside from Charles Haley, who also has five wins). In the postseason, Brady is tops in touchdown passes (68), wins (27), passing yards (9,721) and starts (36). He has surpassed quarterbacks Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw (each with four Super Bowl titles), John Elway with five Super Bowl appearances, Troy Aikman with three titles, Roger Stau bach with two titles and Jim Kelly with four Super Bowl appearances.
Those quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame, and when it comes time for Brady to retire to somewhere warm, the debate will be short regarding his place in Canton, Ohio.
When you look at what he’s accomplished on the field, it seems almost amusing that he was asked about retiring. “Why does everyone want me to retire so bad?” he said, smiling.
To Brady, age is just a number. He still has his hairline, with no signs of gray, and he looks fit and trim. He cites a workout program in which eating right with the proper exercise is vital to long-term health.
“I’ve always wanted to play to my mid-40s, so we’ll see,” Brady said. “Football is such a physical sport. Every game could be your last game. That’s the reality of the sport.”
He certainly doesn’t have the appearance of a quarterback on the back end of his career.
Remember that black-and- white photo of Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle on his knees, bleeding in the end zone in Pittsburgh with his helmet behind him? Brady is determined not to go out looking like that. He gives off the vibe that when he leaves the game, it will be with a beautiful sunset in front of him.
When Brady strolled into news conferences this past week, he had the appearance of a big-time actor meeting studio executives, waiting to hear about the next project.
Sunday’s project is against the Eagles’ defense, a group determined to knock him around and pull off an upset.
Yet Brady has seen all sorts of defenses in the Super Bowl. Beside him for big events is a grouchy yet brilliant coach in Bill Belichick. Together they’ve won eight conference titles and five Super Bowls in seven tries.
When you put it in perspective, Chuck Noll and Bradshaw of the Steelers won four conference titles and four Super Bowls. Tom Landry and Staubach of the Cowboys together won four conference titles and two Super Bowls. Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr of the Packers won five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls.
“No quarterback I’d rather have playing for my team than Tom Brady,” Belichick said simply. “Glad to have him.”
Brady is not as mobile as he once was, but the arm strength is still there. The smarts are there. The winning is there.
In two postseason games this season, Brady has completed 67 percent of his passes for 627 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. There were the two fourth-quarter touchdown passes in the comeback victory over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game. It marked Brady’s eighth fourth-quarter postseason comeback in his career.
There are times he will miss throws, but when his team trails, as it did in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons (28-3 in the third quarter), there is nobody better at rallying a team. In the AFC title game two weeks ago, Brady played with 12 stitches in his right thumb that have since been removed. He most likely will play Sunday’s game using black tape to protect the wound.
What makes Brady great?
“There isn’t one thing. He’s a well-rounded player,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He’s in a well-rounded offense. It’s not an offense where you can take one aspect of it away and render it ineffective, and I think Brady is that same style of quarterback. He can beat you in so many ways.”
It’s hard to bet against Brady. Yes, he’s lost two Super Bowls (both to the Giants), and his victories in the biggest game of the year have been close. The winning margins have been six points, four points and three points (three times).
But he wins. That’s the point.
“I could never imagine being in this position eight times,” he said. “To be in it one time is a dream come true, and to be here eight times is unbelievable. I just appreciate it as I’ve gotten older.”
What makes Brady so great is a work ethic and attention to details.
Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer said the film room work is educational.
“It’s fun to watch film with him because it’s good to see what he’s looking at,” Hoyer said. “He sees the little intricacies that he’s looking at. ‘Look at this guy’s leverage, the rotation of the safeties.’ For me, it’s such a privilege to be in there and be a part of his preparation and see that.”
The practice field is something else.
“I’d say relentless,” running back Mike Gillislee said. “He never just stops. Every time you see him, he’s either taking care of his body or working on his craft. First one on the field and the last to leave, even in the classroom.”
On Sunday night, the greatness of Tom Brady again will be on display. Will that be good enough for another victory? He’ll have the time of his life finding out.
“Early on, it went so fast,” Brady said. “I think I really relish these experiences and opportunities and make the best of them. We lost a couple of them in 2007 and 2011. We were lucky to get back and win a couple more times, but this is the one that matters the most.”
Quarterback rating for Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. In seven Super Bowl games, he’s thrown for 2,071 yards with 15 touchdowns, both records.