On March 16, Tom Brady called up New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and said he wanted to come over to his house and talk.
Kraft thought Brady wanted to iron out a new contract — friend to friend, befitting their two decade relationship — that would keep the quarterback in Foxborough for the rest of his career.
That wasn’t Brady’s intention. He instead told Kraft he was leaving New England as a free agent. The time, Brady said, was right.
“I went over and said, ‘Look, I just want to say I love you and appreciate what we’ve done and know that we’re not going to continue together, but thank you,’” Brady said Wednesday on “The Howard Stern Show.”
Were there tears?
“Yeah, I was crying,” Brady said. “I’m a very emotional person. I play with my [emotions]. I would say I’m very emotional because I have a deep caring of the people I work with.”
That included Bill Belichick, the only professional head coach he has known. Brady wanted to have a similar meeting with Belichick, but it was getting late, already 9:30 p.m. Belichick doesn’t live in the same part of Boston as Kraft and Brady. Instead they decided to call the coach and break the news.
“I wanted him to hear it from me,” Brady said.
It wasn’t easy. Brady cried again.
Brady spoke with Stern on Wednesday for the most revealing and expansive interview of his lengthy career. QB12 is about as famous for offering little insight into his life as he is for winning a record six Super Bowls.
Stern is Stern though, the best interviewer in the business. Brady said he was a longtime fan of the show, and by just agreeing to go on it, he foreshadowed this would be different. It was.
Brady’s departure from New England — completed once he signed with Tampa Bay days after the tearful call with Belichick — had been a point of palace intrigue for years. Brady said he didn’t fully make up his mind until the very end, but he acknowledged that he headed into the 2019 season thinking that was it.
“I don’t think there was a final, final decision until it happened,” Brady said. “I probably knew before the start of last season that it was my last year. I knew that it was just — our time was coming to an end.”
As a sophomore at the University of Michigan, Brady met with head coach Lloyd Carr and told him he was going to transfer, essentially due to a lack of playing time. Carr said he would allow it, but wanted him to take a day to think about it.
“If you walk away now, you’ll always wish you had stayed and tried to compete,” Carr said. “If you leave, you’ll always wonder what would have happened if you stayed.”
Brady was in college then. A different time of life. Belichick made no such sales pitch to a 42-year-old. It’s a different style of coaching.
The deal was sealed. That doesn’t mean, Brady insinuated on Stern, that the many rumors of them not getting along or respecting each other were true.
“People have the wrong assumptions,” he said.
Brady’s ability to prolong his career far beyond most athletes’ made it difficult for Belichick to plan for the franchise’s future.
“I think he has a lot of loyalty,” Brady said. “He and I have had a lot of conversations that nobody has ever been privy to, and nor should they be. So many wrong assumptions were made about our relationship and how he felt about me. I know genuinely how he feels about me.
“I got into uncharted territory as an athlete because I started to break the mold of what so many other athletes experienced. I was an older athlete, and he started to plan for the future, which is what his responsibility is, and I don’t fault him for that. That’s what he should be doing.”
Stern asked Brady the age-old question, who would have had more success without the other — Brady or Belichick?
“I think it’s a pretty [expletive] argument that people would say that,” Brady said. “I can’t do his job and he can’t do mine. So, the fact that you could say, ‘Would I be successful without him?’ The same level of success, I don’t believe I would have been.
“But I feel the same and vice versa, as well,” Brady continued. “To have him allow me to be the best I can be, I’m grateful for that, and I very much believe he feels the same about me because we’ve expressed that to each other.”
Brady also inadvertently revealed that the reason he didn’t attend offseason workouts the past few years had nothing to do with flexing his power within the organization or any disagreement with his coach.
It was a matter of trying to maintain proper work-life balance. It came to the forefront after his wife, Gisele Bundchen, made it clear in a letter to him that she was unhappy with his maniacal, near 365-day-a-year focus on football.
“A couple years ago, she didn’t feel I was doing my part for the family,” Brady said. “She felt like I would play football all season and she would take care of the house, and then all the sudden when the season would end, that I’d be like, ‘Great, let me get into all my other business activities. Let me get into my football training.’ And she’s sitting there going, ‘Well, when are you going to do things for the house? When are you going to take the kids to school and do that?’
“She wasn’t satisfied with our marriage, and I needed to make a change in that. … Her point was, ‘Of course this works for you. … but it doesn’t work for me.’ I had to check myself. Because she was like, ‘I have my goals and dreams, too.’”
Tom and Gisele, just like the rest of us.
In the end, Brady felt it was time to try something different. Being a so-called “Patriot For Life” didn’t mean much. His place in history there is secure. Tampa is a new adventure that he’s earned.
“I never cared about legacies. I could give a [expletive],” Brady said. “That's not me, that's not my personality. Why did I choose a different place? Because it was just time.”
Brady has always been hesitant to step out and speak up. For decades he deferred to the team philosophy and created few waves. Even as speculation swirled about his apparent unhappiness with Belichick — and across two decades, that would happen in any relationship — he mostly remained quiet.
Why upset things?
It was, perhaps, similar to his relationship with Donald Trump. The two met in 2002 when Brady served as a judge on Trump’s Miss Universe contest in Atlantic City. They became friends and Trump would often call him after big wins. When Trump ran for president, he sent a “Make America Great Again” hat to Brady and it wound up in his locker, which was noticed by reporters.
Brady never endorsed Trump. He tried to say nothing political, whether pro or con of Trump or anyone else through the years. He did reveal on Stern that Trump tried to get him to speak at the 2016 Republican National Convention, which he declined.
“I didn’t want to get into all the political — it is zero-win anything,” Brady said.
Winning was Brady’s focus his entire career. Anything that didn’t aid in it wasn’t worth discussing.
Now everything is in transition. Brady is holed up at home like everyone else (albeit a 30,000-foot Florida waterfront mansion he’s renting from Derek Jeter).
So what better time for a long conversation with Howard Stern, to fill in some blanks and offer some new perspective?
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