PHOENIX — Less than a week after Tom Brady’s somewhat-surprise retirement came a highly surprising treat Monday night for Patriots fans — a 25-minute chat between Brady and Bill Belichick on Brady’s “Let’s Go!” podcast with Jim Gray.
It was hard not to listen without a smile. The admiration and appreciation shown by the two Patriots legends felt genuine. Belichick showed more personality and shared more insight into his relationship with Brady than perhaps ever. They shared laughs and told a few new stories and even got a little choked up. It was the perfect sendoff for Brady and tied a nifty bow on the Patriots’ 20-year dynasty.
“Nobody sees the game better than Tom Brady,” Belichick said. “And I was so lucky to learn from him and his vision. No other coach will get that experience. I mean, it’s incredible.”
“I think, for me, there’s nobody I’d rather be associated with,” Brady said. “There’s no way I have the success that I’ve had personally without him, and I’m very grateful for that.”
The interview also was smart — or, rather, demonstrated the savviness of Brady and Belichick, as the quarterback heads into post-football life and Belichick starts winding down a nearly 50-year career.
The two seem to understand that they will be inextricably linked for the rest of their lives, and long afterward, whether they like it or not.
For two decades they were the dominant figures of the country’s most popular sport. Their records will last for years if not decades. Brady and Belichick are part of the pop culture lexicon like Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin, and peanut butter and jelly
There’s no avoiding it, so there’s no sense in projecting any sort of bitterness. It’s not healthy, it doesn’t sell, and it’s not a good look for anyone. For Belichick, there is nothing to be gained from harboring grudges or offering anything less than gushing praise. For Brady, whose Super Bowl win with the Buccaneers gave him a decided advantage in the “Brady vs. Belichick” debate, taking the high road makes him look humble and likeable.
There will be business opportunities down the road for the Brady-Belichick brand. Probably documentaries and other behind-the-scenes content in which Brady and Belichick can control the intellectual property.
So they smartly are letting the past be the past and are actively trying to change the narrative.
As part of Monday’s conversation, Brady took issue with those “Brady vs. Belichick” debates and with those who believe that he and his coach didn’t finish on good terms. Brady, of course, left New England in 2020 and played his final three seasons for Tampa Bay, winning a seventh Super Bowl in his first season there.
“In my view, it was just people always trying to pull us apart, and I don’t think we ever even felt that with each other,” Brady said. “We never were trying to pull each other apart. We actually were always trying to go in the same direction, and I think when we were in New England for 20 years together, you know, they get tired of writing the same story.
“So, you know, once they write all the nice things and championships and this, then they just start going, ‘Well this works, let’s start trying to divide them.’ I never really appreciated those ways that people would try to do that.”
Obviously, that’s just Brady’s attempt at reshaping history.
Brady really did skip offseason workouts, and he really did “plead the fifth” about whether he felt appreciated, and he did tell Al Michaels he was “the most miserable 8-0 quarterback.” Belichick really did say, “We’re not talking about open-heart surgery here” when asked about Brady winning an AFC Championship game with his thumb practically hanging by a thread. There really was genuine frustration on both sides over the Jimmy Garoppolo situation that festered for years.
But Brady and Belichick definitely deserve credit for making things right. It started in October 2021, when they spent 25 minutes alone catching up in the locker room following the Buccaneers’ win at Gillette Stadium. And it continued Monday night in the podcast interview, though it was nothing new for Belichick, who has been effusive in praising Brady over the past year.
In the podcast, Belichick’s humility shined through. He gave Brady and the players all the credit for winning six Super Bowls. He compared Brady to Bill Russell. He shared stories of Brady’s rise from sixth-round pick to 2001 champion, and of Brady hitting golf balls off a cliff at Pebble Beach. Belichick marveled over Brady’s intellect, recall, and competitiveness, and how Brady always raised the play of everyone around him.
“Of all the things that Tom was great at, which is a long, long list, his ability to make players around him better and more productive was ultimately his greatest skill,” Belichick said.
Brady in turn said he was “lucky” to have a coach like Belichick to believe in and invest in him, and praised Belichick for his flexibility as a coach and consistency as a leader.
“You know how I feel about you,” Brady said at the end. “I love seeing you out there coaching, and I think every coach in the world should watch as much Coach Belichick as you can and learn, if they want to see what a real coach can do and what he’s capable of.”
The two were joined at the end by Rob Gronkowski, another player who often didn’t mesh with Belichick toward the end of his nine years in New England. Belichick joked around with Gronk as though they were old drinking pals.
“You’ve got more commercials than Peyton Manning now,” Belichick quipped. “You have the personality for it, Rob. It’s awesome.”
This is not to say that the love and appreciation shown by Belichick and Brady was disingenuous. The conversation truly felt authentic — like two old friends sharing stories and bringing the listener right into the conversation.
But Brady and Belichick are certainly smart enough to lean into the positive aspects of their relationship. They will be forever linked, so they may as well take control of their narrative.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.