How is Tom Brady still going? Early Patriots teammates reflect on his longevity

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/5228/" data-ylk="slk:Tom Brady">Tom Brady</a>, at 41, has the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/new-england/" data-ylk="slk:New England Patriots">New England Patriots</a> in Super Bowl contention yet again. (Getty)
Tom Brady, at 41, has the New England Patriots in Super Bowl contention yet again. (Getty)

On Feb. 3 in Atlanta, Tom Brady will arrive at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for his ninth Super Bowl. He’ll do so at the age of 41 years and 184 days, as the oldest quarterback to ever start in the NFL postseason. Should he conquer the Rams – as he did 17 years ago, and as Vegas and fans alike expect he’ll do again – he’ll become the oldest non-punter to win a ring.

Brady is beating Father Time. The proverbial torch remains firmly in his grasp. His late magic against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game was proof. And although he slowed ever so slightly in 2018, he’s not stopping anytime soon. He’ll be back next season, and if all goes to plan, “beyond that.”

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Brady’s sustained excellence is as remarkable as anything else in American professional sports. A 2005 GQ profile of the then-three-time champ opened by imagining him as a U.S. senator on a 2020 vice-presidential shortlist. Instead, he’s still playing the game he loves. And still winning.

So how has Brady done it in a league whose acronym doubles as a warning: Not For Long?

More than a dozen former Pats – including Brady’s first roommates, his first backups, his first offensive coordinator and members of his first meaningful huddle – spoke with Yahoo Sports for a feature on the GOAT’s NFL beginnings. They told stories of an ordinary 22-year-old guy with extraordinary confidence and competitiveness. Of naked laps around condos and golf clubs buried in greens. Of late-night film sessions and early-morning workouts, one of them less than 36 hours after his Super Bowl.

They also reflected on Brady’s longevity – which, when considered alongside their own lives today, is all the more exceptional.

How Tom Brady has sustained his greatness

Not only has Brady been in the NFL for 6,856 days and counting; outside of 2008, when he tore his ACL in Week 1, he hasn’t missed a single start due to injury. He’s played in over 300 games.

The explanations for the sustained success are plentiful. They begin with his work ethic, which was visible behind the scenes to those who saw Brady early on. With the sacrifices his TB12 regimen requires. With his unforgiving attention to detail, and a drive that has never dissipated.

“The thing that’s the most remarkable, honestly, is just the level of preparation he still is able to put in after all these years,” says Drew Bledsoe, who would know. Bledsoe played 14 NFL seasons, but was unseated by Brady when he suffered a life-threatening injury in his second game after signing a 10-year contract.

“It kinda doesn’t matter what you do in life,” Bledsoe continues. “If you’ve been doing it long enough, there’s a sense of monotony that comes in. But he’s been able to, every year, and every week, and every day, really attack his preparation.”

Center Damien Woody uses that same word to describe his former QB: “Remarkable. You just gotta tip your hat to the way he’s taking care of his body, his mind. And he’s seen everything, so you’re not gonna fool him. And that’s why I think he’s the greatest of all time.”

Brady’s competition for the No. 2 quarterback job heading into 2001, Damon Huard, remembers how he himself felt physically during the latter stages of his career. “Even when I was 34, as a backup, I played in Kansas City at the end, got knocked around a bunch,” Huard says. “It was just so hard for my arm to function right. And to drive the ball the way I wanted to.

“My mind worked better than ever. But at 34, 35, dude, I couldn’t throw it the way I wanted to. To think that he is where he is at [41], I give him so much credit, for just being innovative, the whole TB12, the way he eats, his diet, his workout process. The rage to master his craft that he still has. And to do it at his age. And the sacrifice that he has to put in. It’s just incredible. There’s no one like it.”

Huard mentions the beating he took. Brady and the Patriots appear to be doing a few things in that department to prolong his career. NFL run/pass rates are at all-time lows. But the Pats, per teamrankings.com, ran the ball proportionally more often in 2018 than they had in any other season since 2008 – which Brady missed with the torn ACL. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up more runs than passes last Sunday in Kansas City.

Brady also took fewer sacks per game in 2018 than in any other campaign since 2009 – when he was coming off the surgery. And the Pats offensive line has yet to allow one in the 2019 playoffs.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/5228/" data-ylk="slk:Tom Brady">Tom Brady</a> has stayed mostly clean in 2018, while the Patriots are running more than they have in a while. (Getty)
Tom Brady has stayed mostly clean in 2018, while the Patriots are running more than they have in a while. (Getty)

But countless other quarterbacks have captained run-first offenses behind sturdy lines. Few, if any, have been as durable for as long as Brady has. He’s the sixth-oldest to start an NFL game at QB. Assuming he takes the field on opening day next season, he’ll ascend into the top five on that list.

“It’s hard to believe,” says Grant Williams, an offensive tackle on Brady’s first two Pats teams. “It’s just hard to believe. … There’s so many good books out there with sports psychology. I don’t know how you can not have a chapter on him in every one of them. He’s just the epitome of what drives winning and focus.”

Says wide receiver Troy Brown, who played all 15 of his NFL seasons with the Pats: “I love football. And I’ve been around a lot of guys that have played football, and I’ve seen guys just lose the passion for it. I’ve seen guys that were willing to walk away from it. Not because they were afraid of getting hurt, they just didn’t have the passion anymore. … His ability to hold onto that passion for the game … for this long, 19 years, man, and still have the same fire. It’s amazing.”

So how much longer can Brady go? Three more seasons? Four more? Five? “I don’t know if that’s realistic,” Woody says of another half-decade of Brady. “But I will say this: However long Tom wants to play, he’s earned that right to play however long he wants to play. … His body of work speaks for itself. He’s still playing at a high level. So whenever he decides to hang it up, he deserves that call, not someone else.”

Says Huard, summing up the amazement: “I just think of all the things I’ve done since I’ve retired from football. To think that he’s still there, practicing, playing this game, it’s just surreal.”

Tom Brady’s first teammates: Where are they now?

What, exactly, have Brady’s early teammates done since retiring from football?

Every single one interviewed for the feature is in his 40s – just like Brady. Three of the 10 other members of that first huddle are younger than him. Yet while Brady remains an elite NFL quarterback, the 10 have been out of the league for a combined 115 years.

Nowadays, they are all over the map – literally and figuratively. The offensive linemen, from right to left, were Williams, Joe Andruzzi, Woody, Mike Compton and Matt Light. The tight end was Jermaine Wiggins. The receivers were Brown, David Patten and Charles Johnson. The lone back was Patrick Pass.

Williams, who retired in 2004, runs a counseling practice in St. Louis. He’s also an offensive line coach at Lindenwood University. Andruzzi, who retired in 2006, beat cancer, then founded the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which has raised more than $16 million to support patients afflicted with the disease. He also works part-time in the business development department at Brewster Ambulance Service in Massachusetts.

Woody, who is two months younger than Brady, has been an NFL analyst at ESPN since 2011. Compton, whose kids are all in their 20s, is the offensive line coach at the University of Virginia at Wise. Light, the last of the 10 to retire in 2012, runs his foundation and various business ventures from Massachusetts.

Among the skill-position players, Wiggins – the only of the 11 who hails from New England (East Boston) – has worked for multiple local radio stations and NESN. Brown now analyzes the Pats for NBC Sports Boston. Patten is a pastor and motivational speaker in Columbia, South Carolina. Pass runs football clinics throughout New England. (Johnson could not be reached for the story.)

Brady’s first backups, meanwhile, both run wineries in Washington state. Bledsoe, who lives in Oregon, jokes that his goal is to go his entire life without working a real job. (Between football and the winery, Doubleback, he’s well on his way.) For Huard, the wine business (Passing Time) is a side gig. He’s the director of community and external relations in the University of Washington’s athletic department, and a special advisor to the AD.

And Brady’s first roommates, David Nugent and Chris Eitzmann, are both out in Middle America. Nugent works for a surgical robotic company called TransEnterix in Memphis. Eitzmann, for years, worked at Putnam Investments in Boston before moving to Nebraska to manage his late father-in-law’s farm.

Then there’s Charlie Weis, Brady’s first NFL OC, who has remained out of coaching since being fired by Kansas in 2014. Weis told Yahoo Sports in December he gets “one or two phone calls” every year “about going back into coaching,” but would only seriously consider returning “if the right situation came along.” While he waits, he talks about football on Sirius Radio and the NFL Network. He follows his son, Charlie Jr., the youngest offensive coordinator in FBS football at Florida Atlantic. And he is involved with Hannah and Friends, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife, Maura, to help children and adults with special needs.

Oh, and Tom Brady. He’s done OK for himself as well.

“I can believe he’s still playing,” Eitzmann says. “But if you had asked me my rookie year who was gonna have a longer career, I would’ve said me – which, obviously, is not the case.”

And Nugent, reflecting on his old roommate: “I’ll be at the gym on the treadmill. I’ll watch some highlights of a game, or see an interview that he’s in, and just think, ‘We used to watch those highlights together in our living room at night; or play Tecmo Bowl together; and just be kids. It’s so neat to see that he’s still living that dream. He’s always loved this game, and he’s still doing it.”

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Henry Bushnell is a features writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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