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SAN MATEO, Calif. — It’s mid-morning and 75-year-old Tom Brady Sr., still wearing a gray hoodie from his morning workout, strides into his office at a pace that belies his years.
There’s a small waiting area with some framed jerseys belonging to his famous son and Sports Illustrated photos on the wall. The usual stuff except for one historic artifact: a Brady-signed football from the Patriots’ game against the Saints in November 2001. That’s when coach Bill Belichick started Brady instead of Drew Bledsoe, who was finally healthy after suffering a sheared blood vessel injury against the Jets earlier in the season.
TB12 tossed four touchdown passes in a 34-17 win and Bledsoe never got his job back. The rest, as they say, is history.
Brady neatly inscribed the ball: “To Dad, A huge win!! . . . This ball is for my idol, Love, your son”
Now 18 years later, both guys are still working hard. The million-dollar question is when will TB12 retire?
“If he retired five years ago, I would have been the happiest guy in the world, ” said Tom Brady Sr.
Instead, the outspoken Tom Sr. is asked questions about the Patriots’ offensive line, the loss of Gronk, new receivers running wrong routes and dropping bullet passes. But this time, he declines to offer his take. He already had been semi-seriously “banned” by his son from speaking to the media two years ago.
“He’s told me, ‘Dad, please respect my privacy,’ ” said Tom Sr. “ ‘If you say something, it comes back at me.’ ”
But if the end is indeed near, it’s insightful to return to the beginning for both inspiration and perspective.
Never forgets where he came from
Tommy Brady, as he is known in his hometown, spent his first 18 years in San Mateo but in some respects, it’s as if he never left.
“He’s spread his wings to the East Coast,” said Tom Sr. “But he still has a huge amount of support here.”
It’s been 24 years since Brady last tossed a pass at Junipero Serra High School but he’s still managing to give his hometown team an edge.
The quarterback sends text messages to Serra Padres coach Patrick Walsh before big games.
In September, Brady stepped up his game. His old high school team had just gotten on the bus to play the defending Division 3-AA state champions at Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. Brady face-timed Walsh.
“It was perfect timing. I just got on the bus and I said, ‘Hey, there’s someone who wants to talk to you guys,’ ” said Walsh. “I just turned the phone around and they just went nuts. They got their phones out there and they’re filming it.”
Brady told the players his remarks would be tempered because he was with his daughter.
“But what I really want to tell you guys is to whip their butts. Go get ’em tonight,” he said.
Serra promptly trounced Menlo-Atherton, 38-13.
At St. Gregory’s, Brady’s grammar school, students are allowed to skip wearing their school uniforms after every Patriot Super Bowl win. They can wear Tom Brady jerseys and Patriots gear.
“Oh God, they love it,” said Jen DiMauro, a third-grade teaching assistant. “Most of the kids are total Tom Brady fans.”
In 2018 before the Super Bowl, Serra students gathered in formation to spell out “Go Pats” on the football field.
There’s a Brady Family Stadium at his high school — TB12 didn’t want it named after him — and a Brady Science Center at St. Gregory’s. He also donated the 2004 Cadillac XLR he received from being the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVIII and it raised $375,000 for the school.
“Tommy is a product of his parents,” said Cindy Stuart, his fourth-grade teacher.
“They were just kind and down-to-earth people and that’s why Tommy is the way he is.”
Last March, Tom Sr. gave the keynote address at Junipero’s annual scholarship benefit, which raised more than $1 million. TB12 introduced him by video as “the original Tom Brady.”
Tom Jr. spoke there in 2012 and also wrote out a large check. “It’s just part of that’s what we are,” said Tom Sr. “Service is kind of the tuition to a good life.”
Staying spiritual, humble
The Bradys have lived in the same location for 44 years. It’s a modest two-story house on a beautiful tree-lined street. It’s been remodeled, torn down to the studs and Tom’s room was converted to a guest bedroom, not a shrine.
Fans drive by, Tom Sr. said. Sometimes they even ring the doorbell.
“When New Englanders go through and they say, ‘Well, we’re going to California, let’s go see if we can see Brady’s house,’ we understand the joy that New England has had,” he said. From 1981-98, the Bradys were 49er season ticket-holders. They won five Super Bowls during that span.
“I think our family, as much as any family in the United States of America, has enjoyed successful football for the last 40 years,” said Tom Sr.
Some fans even believe the Patriot Dynasty was sparked Jan. 10, 1982, when a 4½-year-old TB12 witnessed Dwight Clark make “The Catch” from 49er quarterback Joe Montana to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game in Candlestick Park.
Tom Sr. doesn’t disagree. “It’s kind of stretching it a little bit, but I guess so,” he said. “He was inspired by it. That was a time when he kind of fell in love with football. [Then] we’d come home and watch the replay of the game and we’d talk about the game.”
Tom Sr. remembered that little Tommy was whiny that day.
“Well, he wanted that [49er] foam finger. We wouldn’t get him the foam finger and he cried the whole first half because you just don’t give kids everything that they want all the time. I don’t even think we got it for him at halftime. [TB12 thinks he did]. I think they were all sold out or something.”
It turns out that Tom Sr.’s wife Galynn appreciates good pass receivers as much as her famous son does.
“Years ago our dentist or orthodontist was the same dentist that Dwight Clark used,’’ said Tom Sr. “My wife heard that he was coming in one day. She went out and got a baby present to give to Dwight while he was sitting in the dental chair to give . . . because she so revered Dwight Clark.”
The Bradys are a very spiritual family, he said. Tom Sr. spent seven years in the seminary and his wife attends daily Mass.
“But your kid is your kid until he’s 18 and then he develops his own path. He’s been reinforced in that path now with his wife who is very, very, spiritual,” he said. “He has his own quest to find his inner soul.”
Spend an hour with Tom Sr. and his mantra is simple: “Be humble and kind and thankful and respectful.”
But even the father of the greatest quarterback in the history of the game needs to take a victory lap sometimes.
A few years ago, he got a California vanity plate that read “NFLGOAT” and placed it in a New England Patriots frame.
When he drove around town, people would honk at him and point. He now deeply regrets showing off and he took it off the car.
“I shouldn’t have done it,” said Tom Sr. “It was arrogant. You should never be arrogant.”
He won’t discuss politics, either, especially involving his famous son and the embattled president. He describes himself as “an avid Democrat,” and his son as “a Californian.”
Tom Sr., the CEO of his own insurance firm with multiple offices, splits his time between the two coasts. But he no longer attends Patriots regular-season road games.
“I’m tired of going to an away stadium and having 75,000 people yell at my kid that he sucks. It’s not worth it anymore.”
But couldn’t he just flash the 2002 Super Bowl ring that Tom gave him and tell them his son kept the next five?
“Nah,” said Tom Sr. “You don’t have to say anything. We go to all the home games in Foxborough and then we watch the other games on DirecTV.”
TB12’s competitive nature has been well documented. It rings especially true on the field.
“He didn’t play football till he was a freshman,” said Tom Sr. “He was playing on an 0-8 team that did not score one touchdown. He was the backup quarterback and wasn’t good enough to get into the game for one play. So he played tight end and linebacker.”
Tom Sr. said his son liked bacon cheeseburgers, and he was slow and a little pudgy. When he ran, “he was timed with a sundial.”
His sophomore year he got his first chance to play “because the freshman quarterback got beaten up so badly in the prior year that he didn’t come back, ” said Tom Sr. “Tommy got the job by default.”
Although Brady threw for 3,514 yards and 33 touchdowns in two varsity seasons, the Serra Padres went a combined 11-9 and didn’t make the playoffs.
The most traumatic loss was against Sacred Heart Cathedral, whose principal was young Tom’s uncle, Chris Brady.
The brothers had a bet. Whoever lost would have to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for the other.
The game goes down to the last minute and Serra is down by 2. There’s 15 seconds left and they are on the 7-yard line.
“We couldn’t kick field goals, we had no kicker. So we’re trying to punch the ball in for a touchdown,” said Tom Sr.
Brady’s pass into the end zone was intercepted for a 101-yard pick-6.
“I freaking wanted to cry and Tommy was very dejected,” said Tom Sr.
His brother, a Christian Brother, tells him to forget the bet, he will prepare the dinner.
“But when we went back to his house, Chris had 3 x 4 [foot] posters blown up that showed the scoreboard and showed Tommy at the end of the game. He busted us.’’
Life after football
Tom Sr. believes when his son retires he will expand the TB12 centers.
“TB12 is a very important ingredient in his life,’’ Tom Sr. said. “I think he wants to help other people after his football career is over.” He said trainer Alex Guerrero saved TB12 when the quarterback was plagued by a sore arm at age 25.
“He couldn’t throw the ball on Wednesdays his arms were so sore — he’d have tennis elbow,’’ Tom Sr. said. “Guerrero elongated the muscles and tendons and the pain was gone. He can go out and throw 200 footballs a day and never have a sore arm because of Guerrero.
“I’m not advertising TB12 but it’s a pretty good thing.”
Tom Sr. isn’t “Saint Tommy” when it comes to advocating for giving second chances to talented but troubled receivers such as Randy Moss, Josh Gordon, and Antonio Brown. He once asked his son why Moss behaved the way he did
“You know, he never had a dad,” Tom Jr. told his father. “So whether it’s Antonio Brown or Randy Moss, the dad wasn’t in their life. And so you know we blame the players but we ought to be blaming their parents.”
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Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.