HOUSTON – On Saturday night, on the eve of Super Bowl LI, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady took to Instagram. He posted a picture of his mother, Galynn, standing on the field of NRG Stadium. She was receiving a kiss on one cheek from Brady and on the other from his father and her husband, Tom Sr.
Galynn Brady had made it to just one Patriots game all season due to an illness she has been battling for about a year and a half. There were no guarantees the 72-year-old would make it to Houston.
Now there was. The message was clear. Galynn was in the house.
“Sandwich kiss for Mom … Go Pats!” Brady wrote.
A photo posted by Tom Brady (@tombrady) on Feb 4, 2017 at 4:04pm PST
That the world even knows that Galynn Brady was ill or that her arrival here was ever in doubt was one of the most unexpected parts of Brady’s seventh Super Bowl week. It came out organically – there was no previous public disclosure of her situation, or the fact that Brady’s father, a constant at his son’s college and pro games for over two decades, had also made it just once either. Brady is famously private. This was personal, family stuff. It was no one’s business unless he wanted it to be.
And yet he mentioned it, part of a week where he sat in front of media – traditional, social and even silly (such as late-night television) – and was uncommonly introspective, emotional, thoughtful, comical and revealing.
He choked up on Media Night talking about how his father is his hero. He later revealed his mother’s struggles. He even played the part, despite being 39 years old, of the eager kid, explaining how much it means to have his family there, from mom and dad to his sisters to his wife and children.
“I think I’ve always found where my family kind of sits,” Brady said. “I scout that out when I have all my tickets. I try to make some eye contact and let them know I am looking at them … it’s special. It’s always been that way. This year it will be as special as it’s ever been.”
It wasn’t all pulling heartstrings either.
He put out an Instagram hype video that discussed spirituality and another where he described himself as an introvert – “I don’t talk too much,” he said. He managed to get through questions about commissioner Roger Goodell and President Donald Trump without sparking mayhem. He spoke with depth about his relationship with head coach Bill Belichick.
He filmed a number of scenes with late night comic Conan O’Brien. In one he played video games, with cameos from Rob Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount. In another he and Atlanta defensive lineman Dwight Freeney were supposed to apologize to each other on the count of three. (Freeney for the times he has sacked Brady, Brady for hurting Freeney’s feeling by throwing the ball quickly all the times Freeney wanted to tackle him). Brady wound up tricking Freeney though and didn’t apologize. It was quick and unplanned and funny.
— Conan O'Brien (@ConanOBrien) February 2, 2017
“Does Bill Belichick know you are here?” O’Brien asked at one point.
“Absolutely not,” Brady deadpanned before breaking into a laugh.
Brady has, at times, shown different sides of himself. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” once, after all. But that was the offseason, not Super Bowl week. Put it all together and this was a different Brady.
Let there be no doubt, Brady’s full intention and intensity here is about beating the Falcons on Sunday. That never wavers for Brady. A fifth Super Bowl is the prize, although teammates say he is no less focused than he would be for an October game against the Buffalo Bills.
Brady, without acknowledging the joke, mentioned at multiple times this week that reaching a Super Bowl was a “once in a lifetime experience.”
It was probably more the mentality he brought to Houston. It’s not as if he took the other six for granted, it’s actually that this one might have been the one where he could enjoy it a little bit more. The first three came in a hurry, during his first four years as an NFL starter. He was young and a near overnight champion. Then came some years that ended in frustration, including one with a knee injury in the opening week that sidelined him for the season. Suddenly nothing was taken for granted.
Spy-gate also came along, and with it a belief that the Patriots needed to cheat to win, which Brady, and others, took as an insult to their work ethic. They got back to the Super Bowl in February of 2008, but carried not just revenge for Spy-gate but a 19-0 record that brought its own added pressure. They lost that Super Bowl in heartbreaking fashion. They got back in February of 2012 only to lose again in the final minute.
Belichick and Brady needed another one and time was slipping away. For Brady, there was also a desire to win a title with his three children around him – the first three came when he was single.
Then came two years ago, with deflate-gate trying to spoil the party, but victory over Seattle changing everything. Brady’s two, 10-play, fourth-quarter drives that erased a 10-point deficit cemented his legacy. If anything, in the days since, despite serving a suspension this year from the NFL, the specter of deflate-gate has become either a joke or an afterthought.
Over the last two regular seasons, with the football pressure under constant scrutiny, he threw 64 touchdown passes against just nine interceptions. Deflate-gate either didn’t happen or it didn’t matter. Goodell may have foolishly compared it to steroids use, but Brady kept slugging 70 tape-measure home runs a year.
The columns and commentary here this week has Brady as the greatest of all time no matter what happens Sunday. His brilliance across the years, in a salary cap era, has made him incomparable.
So maybe after everything, with middle age upon him – fast-growing kids, health concerns about his parents – he approached this as the once in a lifetime event it usually is. He exhaled.
“I’ve got a good regulation of my emotions and I know when I need to get amped up and I know when I need to relax a little bit,” Brady said. “You learn those things. You kind of have to be right on the edge. It’s such an emotional game. You don’t want to be out of control, but you can’t play with [out any] emotion. You strike different chords for different emotion at different times.”
This week, his seventh week, was different. Win or lose, it was different in a good and seemingly healthy way for Tom Brady.