Ultimate chess match on tap as Brady faces Pats for 1st time

Former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick during happier times.

Perhaps you were aware that Tom Brady returned to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, but this time he was wearing a white Tampa Bay Buccaneers uniform.

When Brady announced on March 20, 2020, that he would forsake the Patriots franchise for which he had played for 20 seasons, it caught many local fans by surprise. After all, he was a year removed from a Super Bowl victory over the Rams, his sixth championship with New England, and he had always re-signed with the Patriots, even though it was often at a below-market-price figure.

But given that Brady’s return was front-page news everywhere leading up to the game, perhaps we should have been able to see the end coming long before it did. After all, during the course of the 2017 season, in which he reached the Super Bowl for an eighth time, he also was filming a six-part documentary called “Tom Vs Time,” which revealed many interesting details about TB12, his home life, his preparation, and his training methods.

While a lot of what we saw on-screen was very familiar to Brady fans, a lot of it had a bit of a sinister tone, and was certainly edited in a fashion that made the Patriots QB the angelic figure, while indirectly showing that all was not wine and roses in the background, particularly when it came to his relationship with controversial trainer Alex Guerrero and the team’s reaction to it.

The documentary came out about a month after the Pats’ loss to the Eagles in the Super Bowl in 2018, but Brady’s departure was still two years away.

But did “Tom Vs Time” actually give enough foreshadowing that eagle-eyed viewers might have sensed that all was not right in the quarterback’s Camelot-like life on and off the football field? Well, after rewatching the series, and this time knowing the ultimate outcome two years down the road, there certainly are some hints that a professional divorce was looming, even if fans would never have believed it back in 2018.

Let’s take a look at what we might have missed.

Episode 1 (The Physical Game) concentrates on the offseason after the Patriots’ comeback win over the Falcons in the Super Bowl in 2017, and at one point he says, “Being mentally tough is putting all that BS aside, everything that’s happened, all that noise, all the hype, and just focusing on what you got to do. It’s no excuses, it’s no whining, it’s no complaining, it’s like, did you win, or did you lose? End of story.”

Those cold words sound a bit odd coming from a recently-crowned Super Bowl champion, but Brady did begin the season being doubted, given that he had just turned 40 and the team started the season 2-2, with both losses coming at home, leading to whispers that “The cliff is coming,” according to a sports talk-radio voiceover.

Also interesting: talking about his game study habits, Brady says, “So this is a lot of stuff that Belichick talks about during team meetings that I write down.” What is interesting is that this is the absolutely only time that Belichick’s name is mentioned in the entire six-part series, and the fact that Brady doesn’t refer to his longtime mentor as “Coach Belichick,” as he invariably did during his career interviews, should have been telling as far as where the relationship stood at the time, which was obviously, in retrospect, on the outs.

Episode 2 (The Mental Game) focuses on Brady’s preparation, and features an interesting line from his throwing coach, Tom House: “Old age and treachery always overcomes youth and exuberance. (Brady) went through his youth and exuberance; he’s into old age and treachery right now, he’s mastered probably as much or more information and instruction than anyone in in the history of football, and he’s still on that journey.”

And while subsequent episodes prominently feature Brady’s wife, Gisele, and their three kids and what a great husband and father he seems to be, but it also shows Brady up by 6 a.m. and talking about his film-watching dedication: “I watch tape all day Monday, all day Tuesday, Wednesday we practice, Thursday we practice, Friday we practice, and then I come home and watch film. The Saturday before the game I watch film and Sunday morning before the game I watch film, to get tells. I don’t know why I can sit here and watch it and process information so quickly, but I can. I could literally just watch film all day. It’s like soothing because I’ve been doing it so long, I could go four or five hours without getting up from this chair.

Brady also later snarls in a phone conversation with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after an early-season loss, “Atrocious. You know, we’re the f- — Patriots, let’s just roll our helmets out there and we’re gonna win, we’ll score, and they’ll quit, and don’t worry, we’ll win.”

Episode 3 (The Social Game) seems to hint at some underlying criticism that he received, as he says, “We’re trying to build something together, and I think we all need to feel like we’re part of the same unit. You’re all the same when you’re out on the field. No one really gives a s— what I’ve done. They want me to do it now.” Later he adds, tellingly, “I show up to work every day just like (my teammates), trying to do the same thing. We have the same goals, (and) my connection with them is through joy, and love, it’s not through fear, it’s not through insults — that’s not how I lead.” Hmmmm.

Episode 4 (The Emotional Game) is all about Brady’s family: the wife and kids in their sprawling mansion in Brookline, along with a California visit with his parents, who went through a cancer scare during the 2016 season. He particularly speaks about his job and commitments that take him away from his kids: “Sometimes it’s hard for them to be a No. 1 priority, because in the season there’s no break, and you’re in the middle of a marathon, and it’s not like you can just stop here and have my family time. I think they know that (their) dad works hard, and he makes a big commitment and dad loves them deeply, and dad’s trying to do the best he can for his family.”

Episode 5 (The Spiritual Game) primarily takes place in Costa Rica, where the Bradys often vacation, and is highlighted by a somewhat uncomfortable husband-and-wife interview where Gisele says, “I just want to say that, when I met him in 2006, he said, ‘I am just going to play 10 more years and I’m gonna win one Super Bowl, and I’m going to be happy.’ And I told him last year, well, this is great, what a great win, and now you won two Super Bowls, and it’s the end of the 10th year, and now we’re gonna go and —” (Tom: “Live in Costa Rica!”) — G: “Woo-hoo, let’s go, I’m ready. And then he’s like, no.” Tom: “Still got a few more to go.” G: “Yeah, he said that.”

A couple of additional nuggets: after a dramatic late-season win in Pittsburgh, Brady said, “It’s probably the most joy I’ve had in a long time.” Also, it shows Brady getting a massage up in an empty luxury suite at Gillette Stadium, because his trainer, Guerrero, has been banished from the locker room, and this scene screams out, indirectly, that Brady is being forced to make significant concessions from the team despite his legacy of championships.

After another late-game victory, on the drive home, Gisele tells Tom, “After the kids are in bed, we’re going to do a fire, we’re going to write down on the piece of paper all the things we like to let go, and burn them in the fire, we offer it to the fire, and then we write down on another piece of paper, the intentions and the other things we want to focus on in the next year, and then we meditate for an hour.” (“An hour?,” a clearly surprised Brady responds.)

But Episode 6 (Endgame) has the most surprising revelation from Gisele: “These last two years have been very challenging for him, in so many ways, and he tells me, I love it so much and I just want to go to work and feel appreciated and have fun.”

Brady appears to confirm that when he says early on, ”You never know when you’re going to get opportunities again. You have to kind of go all-in, and you’re accessible and you commit to something, and there’s a time where you need the boundaries to say, look, this is where my ultimate focus is. If you lose a particular game, you don’t ever want to feel that there was anything that ever chipped away at your focus or your energy. I just wanted to make sure that I was really cognizant of that.

And the final clip from an episode-7 epilogue is particularly foreboding, when Brady says from his couch, “The last couple of years, a lot of parts about football weren’t enjoyable, when they should have been. I think anytime you’re together with people for a long period of time, relationships ebb and flow. ... I’m not one to talk about a lot of drama, I’m sure a lot of teams have things like that, but ours has it to the 10th degree. I’m learning to deal with it better, a lot of it is about keeping things in perspective; like, nothing is that big a deal to me anymore, maybe just caring about things that matter, like my family, like people’s health, like life and death, but to worry about a lot of BS that people may say or think or feel, I really don’t care.”

Hope you had a nice visit, Tom. It sure appears the drama-free life down south is preferable to your final days in New England.

Chris Young’s column appears Saturday in The Sun Chronicle’s Weekend Edition. He can be reached at ballparkfigures@comcast.net.

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