They practiced for 2.5 hours in the blazing sun, then ran a half-dozen or so sprints up the Detroit Lions’ conditioning hill, and when they were all finished, the New England Patriots gathered around their fearless leader Monday and serenaded him with a rollicking version of “Happy Birthday.”
Tom Brady turned 42 years old over the weekend, and as he returns to the state where he plied his craft in college, it’s worth taking a minute to appreciate just how incredible a run he’s had.
The quarterback who once split time with Drew Henson at Michigan is now arguably the best player in NFL history.
He’s a six-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP. He hasn’t had a losing season in his 18 years as a starter. He’s on track to move into second place on the NFL’s career passing list this fall. And maybe most impressively, he’s the only player to go 12 rounds with Father Time and come away standing.
Brady showed some signs of aging last year, when he uncharacteristically threw 11 interceptions — imagine that being your low point — and the Patriots had their fits and starts offensively.
But he caught fire at the right time, won his sixth ring, and on Sunday signed a contract extension that leaves his future after 2019 somewhat up in the air.
“It’s really the reality for most guys in the NFL,” Brady said Monday of a contract that gave him an $8 million raise but officially leaves him a free agent at season’s end. “I don’t want to think that I’m any different than anyone else. Football’s a tough business, it’s a production business and I’m ready to go this year and that’s really what matters and that’s where my focus is. It’s a unique situation I’m in. My 20th year with the same team and I’ll be 42 years old, so pretty much uncharted territory for everybody and I’m going to go out there and do the best I can this year and see what happens.”
Brady once said he wants to play until he’s 45 years old, and while he didn’t quite double down on playing four more seasons Monday, he said he has “a great opportunity to prove to a lot of people that they didn’t think I can do it and hopefully I can.”
Quarterbacks nowadays tend to have more longevity than they did even a decade ago.
Drew Brees will play this fall at 40 years old, Philip Rivers turns 38 in December and Aaron Rodgers is closing in on his 36th birthday.
But there’s something unique about Brady. While Brees saw his passing numbers dip late last season and Rodgers was hurt yet again, Brady is the type of quarterback who delivered some of his best performances in the playoffs.
Asked how he’s been able to defy age and perform at such a high level this late in his career, Brady said it call comes down to taking care of his body.
“I wrote a book on it, literally,” Brady said. His book, “The TB12 Method,” was a New York Times bestseller in 2017. “I live by it and I think it’s given me pretty good results. I try to pass it on to the next generation so they don’t have to go on through the same mistakes that I did, but everyone learns different ways and hopefully I can be an inspiration.”
Brady’s methods have rubbed off on others, even if not everyone subscribes to The TB12 Method itself.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who began working with Brady’s throwing coach, Tom House, last offseason, spent a good five minutes chatting with Brady in between periods at Monday’s joint practice between the Lions and Patriots.
Lions safety Tavon Wilson, who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Patriots, said he owns Brady’s book and has put some of his former teammates’ tips into practice.
“I’m definitely amazed at [how long he’s done it],” Wilson said. “But seeing all the work that he puts in, day in and day out, I’m not really surprised.”
Maybe no one else should be, either.
Brady is an assassin on the field, the competitive kin to Michael Jordan on the basketball court, yet someone his teammates — happy birthday! — clearly love.
He wins championships, that’s a big part of it. He accepts coaching, that is, too. And there’s no doubt that doing what he does at 42 years old endears him to teammates who appreciate and respect and fear and marvel at him all in one.
Brady came off that conditioning hill Monday bounding like a college graduate after commencement. He stopped to chat with Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford and her family for a few minutes, then he made his way over to the assembled media before signing a few autographs on his way off the field.
“That was a different rendition,” Brady said of his teammates’ singing. “Not the traditional happy birthday, but it was nice.”
Fitting, too, because this 42-year-old is anything but a traditional quarterback.