Tom Brady sneezes, and it’s news. His every move, motive, and decision is scrutinized and analyzed in public debate. His social media posts are breathlessly repackaged and disseminated as if his last name were Kardashian. His approach to philanthropy is front-page-worthy and sparks televised shouting matches. Sports talk radio is suffused with endless speculation about how and when his Patriots career will end.
It has been Brady, Brady, Brady all offseason. The Patriots quarterback is a five-time Super Bowl champion, jet-setting NFL icon, and New England’s most obsessed-over celebrity.
But to his parents, he is just Tommy, their only boy and the youngest of the Brady brood. The fascination with their son, what he does off the field, and his fate on it is amusing, frustrating, and at times infuriating (see: Deflategate).
I caught up with the original Tom Brady, Tom Brady Sr., to get his thoughts on Tommy Boy. Senior said that he can’t see his son retiring if the Patriots win a sixth Super Bowl this season, that if the Patriots decided to move on from Brady, that would not necessarily be the end of his storied career, and that as a parent he does worry about concussions. He also offered a very encouraging update on the health of Brady’s mother, Galynn.
One of the most intriguing issues for the Patriots as they head into the 2017 season is their long-term plan at quarterback. Brady turns 40 in August and is showing no signs of decline. The Patriots rebuffed overtures from the Cleveland Browns this offseason for backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who is slated for free agency following this season, barring a franchise tag. With Brady signed through 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a clear path to a peaceable transition of power at the quarterback position.
Perhaps a sixth Super Bowl title would entice Brady to walk away and clear the way for Garoppolo.
“I don’t know where those rumors come from,” said Brady Sr. “I’ve certainly never heard those from my son’s lips. At a certain point in time, you might fall out of love with it; what else is there to accomplish? But he loves football as much as he loves anything in his life. Why he would voluntarily give it up other than for family responsibilities, I don’t know.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft would have to exhaust all of the goodwill and unfailing fan fealty they’ve built up since 2001 to jettison Brady before he wants to retire. But both Tom Bradys are mindful of how Brady emerged to become the greatest quarterback of all time — he seized the job from incumbent face of the franchise Drew Bledsoe.
“It may not be the Patriots want to have him, but 31 other teams do if Belichick and Kraft don’t want to have him,” said Brady Sr. “You just don’t know. He could get hurt the second game. If they win the Super Bowl, does the organization let him go?
“Last year, he threw 28 TDs and 2 picks and was arguably the league MVP. He will be 40 this year, but if you play like you’re 29, how does that go over? As he said in the past, he is not too concerned with it right now. He is just focusing on improving every day.
“People say he is going to fall off. What’s falling off, 35 TDs and 6 interceptions? The bar is set pretty high for him, so people are going to be scrutinizing everything in his game.
“In terms of Tommy going out on his terms, you just take it day by day. There is no sense worrying about next year.”
One development that could cut Brady’s career short would be if he has a fear of the lasting impact of concussions. Brady’s wife, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen, made waves in an appearance on “CBS This Morning” last month when she indicated that Brady had a concussion last year and intimated he has had them in the past. Brady was never listed on the injury report with a concussion last season and in his 17 NFL seasons has never appeared on an injury report with one.
Brady Sr. said he wasn’t aware of any concussion his son suffered last season.
“It’s a topic that’s inflammatory,” he said. “It’s a hot-button issue, so if somebody alludes to something, it’s going to be blown up whether it’s a big deal or not.
“We didn’t get to any games last year, except the Super Bowl, so I wasn’t aware of his health condition throughout the year. He wouldn’t tell us.”
The elder Brady acknowledged that the NFL culture discourages players from true transparency in reporting injuries for fear of losing their job. As a parent, he does worry about the risk his son faces.
“I think every parent that sees their kid playing football knows that these guys are big and fast and things can happen that aren’t always good,” Brady Sr. said. “Hopefully, if something does happen, it will be dealt with as intelligently as possible.
“This is all kind of a new phenomenon. Some of the concussion catastrophes we’ve read about were sad, and frankly, the ballplayers were kept in the dark on the severity of the issue for a long time. The league didn’t open up until they had to.
“That’s kind of the way they deal with things. Players are much more apprised of the situation now than they were before, and I’m sure they take their injuries far more seriously than they were led to believe they had to in the past.”
Brady’s father maintained that his son has absorbed fewer blows than most because he never played Pop Warner football — that’s right, the greatest quarterback of all-time never played Pop Warner — he barely played as a freshman in high school, and he had to fight to get on the field at Michigan, splitting time with Drew Henson as a junior and a senior.
It’s good to know that Brady is like most adult children when it comes to keeping his parents abreast of his life. He doesn’t always keep them as informed as they would like. But it’s easy for them to follow him from San Mateo, Calif., because he’s always in the news.
One story that caught their eye and their ire was a Globe piece in April about Brady requesting that Best Buddies, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, contribute to his charitable foundation in exchange for his continued services as a Best Buddies fund-raiser and ambassador. Brady also came under fire for headlining a seminar with self-help guru Tony Robbins last Friday.
Brady has been involved with Best Buddies since 2001, helping to raise $52.5 million, including a record-breaking $6 million this year at the 18th annual Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port. Best Buddies has contributed $3.25 million to Brady’s Change the World Foundation since 2011, according to the Globe.
“I just think it’s much ado about nothing,” said Brady Sr. “He has helped raise about $52 million for Best Buddies. The fact that he could stop doing it and raise money for his own charities, it made sense for both sides. He can take care of his own charity and at the same time help a bigger community.
“He wasn’t too bothered by it. It’s just people making headlines; if headlines portray him in a negative light, it gets more spotlight than if they just say he is a pretty good guy. Negative clicks are far more easy coming than if somebody says something nice about somebody. I don’t pay attention to it anymore.”
Dealing with an issue such as Galynn’s cancer helps the Bradys keep the venial controversies that are part of the territory of Brady’s celebrity in perspective.
Brady was emotional and introspective in Houston at Super Bowl LI, and his mother’s health had a lot to do with it. The family didn’t know until the Wednesday before the Super Bowl whether Galynn, who had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments, would be able to see Brady play in person for the first time all season.
Brady Sr. said that his wife concluded her cancer treatments two months ago.
“She is doing great,” he said. “She is getting out and playing golf and tennis and looks wonderful.
“I think in the dark recesses of every cancer survivor is the thought it could reappear. We simply pray now that after her treatment it never rears its ugly head again.”
That’s by far the best Brady-related news of a Very Brady offseason.