There will come a time, some day in the distant future, when Tom Brady becomes too old to play football.
After winning his seventh Super Bowl last Sunday at the age of 43, Brady is making Father Time work overtime. Brady may not be getting younger, but he doesn’t look like he’s getting older, either.
“Maybe he really is a Benjamin Button,” said his father, Tom Brady Sr., referencing the movie character that aged in reverse. “People have been laughing at the avocado ice cream for 10 years. They want to mock him that all this stuff is nonsense. OK, well, they can laugh all they want, and he’s laughing his way all through Super Bowls.”
Brady has long stated that his goal was to play in the NFL until age 45, though few people actually believed him. Steve DeBerg holds the record for oldest starting quarterback (44), but that was just a one-off situation. Before Brady, no quarterback had ever won a Super Bowl after the age of 40.
Now Brady has won two Super Bowls after 40, and has appeared in three. His goal of playing until 45 now seems quaint. Maybe he can make it to 48 and break George Blanda’s record as the oldest player to appear in a game. Heck, maybe 50 is even in reach.
It sounds ridiculous, but do you want to be the one who doubts Brady at this point?
“If what you’re doing is something that you really love, then why stop?” Brady Sr. said Wednesday from his home in Northern California. “He said it before, and I just read it again today — he plans to quit when he sucks, and he doesn’t plan to suck for a while.”
Several factors have contributed to Brady being able to thrive into his 40s, and not all are in his control. Certainly, the current era of NFL football has helped extend Brady’s career. Staying healthy and productive has never been easier for quarterbacks. They have never been more protected by rules that outlaw hits to the head, below the waist, and late hits. The NFL’s rules have also never been tilted more toward the offense, with the league setting several records for points and passing this season.
Brady’s position also plays a major factor. As long as his brain and arm are functioning, Brady can play quarterback. Brady just won a Super Bowl with a left knee injury that requires surgery. Philip Rivers once played an AFC Championship game on a torn ACL. Brady and Rivers couldn’t do that in basketball or baseball. They couldn’t even do that if mobility was part of their game, like it is for Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes.
Brady’s smarts and experience have also helped him last 21 years and counting. He knows when to throw the ball away and not take a hit. Brady has been sacked on just 4 percent of his pass attempts over the past five years, which ranks as the fourth-lowest rate among quarterbacks.
“He’s smart enough to not take those hits, to get the ball out, to understand the limitations of his body while still pushing his body to be the very best it could be,” said Jay Feely, a CBS commentator and former NFL kicker who has been friends with Brady since their days together at Michigan.
But those aren’t the only reasons Brady is still flourishing. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning didn’t make it to 43. They weren’t able to stay healthy during their final seasons.
Brady is fending off age because of his obsessive work habits with his body guru and business partner, Alex Guerrero.
“He takes it to a whole ‘nother level with that TB12 method, his work with Alex, and the lengthening of his muscles,” said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, who won his only MVP award at age 37. “He’s all-in. It doesn’t start for him in July or August. It’s year-round.”
Words can’t express the bond we have formed over the past 17 years @AGuerreroTB12. I’m so blessed to have you in my life! We have spent countless hours together, laughing, crying and everything in between. I couldn’t do it without you! Love you my brother @tb12sports pic.twitter.com/nHskIWQupo— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) February 11, 2021
Brady will cheat occasionally. Brady celebrated his latest Super Bowl win with friends and family on a boat last Sunday night. And he definitely seemed to enjoy himself at Wednesday’s championship boat parade.
“He’ll have a piece of candy, but he doesn’t need four pieces of candy like I do,” Brady Sr. said. “He’s very disciplined, but once in a while the release is good.”
Yet the word “offseason” doesn’t exist in Brady’s vocabulary. He is always in season.
“I’m half-surprised Alex wasn’t working on him that night while we were out on the boat,” Feely said. “And I promise you, Alex was working on him for two hours the next morning. There’s no doubt in my mind.
“What’s most amazing about him is that despite all the success — and I compare him to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods — how those guys continued to motivate themselves and have the desire to continue to put in the effort and to never be fulfilled and never get complacent.”
Brady has found a system that works for him — an obsessive diet and training regimen that he lives and breathes 365 days a year.
“That’s kind of what his secret is. It’s not the Super Bowl, it’s the process,” Brady Sr. said. “He loves every day working out, he loves every day eating right, he loves every day doing the TB12 method. He’s never put in minimums. He puts in maximums. He lives football.”
After the Buccaneers won last Sunday, pro golfer Trevor Immelman shared a story on Twitter about running into Brady in the parking lot before Brady participated in the golf match with Woods, Manning, and Phil Mickelson last May.
“A few hours before tee-off, Brady is in the parking lot at Medalist, in the rain, by himself doing this strenuous sprint/stretch workout,” Immelman wrote. “Charles Barkley asked him what the hell he was doing. He said, ‘I’m trying to win a Super Bowl.’ ”
Brady’s devotion to training is unique at his age. A few years ago, former 18-year NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said in a Globe interview that he could have kept playing past age 40, but life got in the way.
“You get to the point of I don’t know if I can be the best dad I want to be and the best quarterback I can be,” Hasselbeck, now with ESPN, said then.
Brady hasn’t always been perfect in that regard. He revealed last offseason that his wife, Gisele Bundchen, wrote him a letter a few years ago asking him to recalibrate his priorities. This season, Brady seemed to be in a better place with his family.
“That may be something that he has to come to grips with in the near future, but right now he puts the kids to bed every night,” Brady Sr. said. “And in the offseason he’s got six months of time to spend, February to July, with them every day.”
Mostly, Brady has found a way to bring his work with him. Vacationing in Montana? Brady built a mini football field in his yard and invites his receivers to work with him. Spending a week in Los Angeles? Brady gets in a few workouts at UCLA. No matter where Brady goes, Guerrero is always by his side.
“Alex goes wherever he goes, and he brings his pads and they create his workouts and they do them wherever they are on vacation,” Feely said. “And they do an amazing job. It’s not like [Brady’s] immune to those injuries. They happen, and they just find a way to work through them with nonstop treatment.
“I was one of those older guys — you get to the point where you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to go through the pain and spend all my time trying to rehab and get my body ready just to go out there and play a game.’ But he continues to do that every single day throughout every offseason and every season.”
Brady knows that age will catch up to him, or that at some point he may not want to put in the work anymore. He is relishing every moment he gets on the football field.
“You never know kind of when that moment is, just because it’s a contact sport,” Brady said. “And again, it has to be 100 percent commitment from myself to keep doing it. I’ve been very fortunate. Alex and I work very hard over the years to make sure I’m performing at our best.”
And they’re making Father Time sweat it out like never before.