What more could Tom Brady want?
Seth Wickersham [ARCHIVE]
ESPN The Magazine
May 3, 2013
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This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's May 13, 15th Anniversary issue, Mag 15. Subscribe today!

TOM BRADY doesn't have a Tom Brady Room in his Back Bay apartment. It's more of a Tom Brady Passage, wider than a hallway but thinner than a room, an "awkward space," he says as he enters it on a March morning. The shelves are packed with photos and trophies, mementos and tokens, all surrounding a flat-screen TV, and when you first walk in, you think, That's it? Brady could easily fill a room many times this size.

But there's a purpose in here, as subtle as its modesty, and to understand it, you have to understand this about Brady: When he wants something to be a reflection of himself, he labors over it. For instance, in high school, college and even in the NFL, Brady always washed his own car. Nobody could do it better. Nobody sweated every detail the way he did. And now, because he no longer washes his car -- "My wife would kill me for wasting water," he says -- spaces like this represent a part of him. In fact, Brady seems to have designed this passage for those who spend the most time in it, hoping they'll someday understand and appreciate everything that occurred in between the Michigan helmet on one side and the Patriots helmet on the other.

"The kids," he says.

BRADY HAS had a throwing coach since he was 15. For most of his life, that coach was Tom Martinez, whose picture hangs in the passage in Brady's apartment, a sketched portrait of a smiling older man with heavy eyebrows, dark eyes and a weathered face. Martinez was the coach at the College of San Mateo in California, and Brady first attended Martinez's football camp the summer before his freshman year of high school at local Serra High. Brady's father, Tom Sr., often tells a story about how Martinez coached Brady by empowering him. Brady was so anxious the night before his first start as a sophomore that he told his dad, "I forgot how to throw." They visited Martinez, who walked Brady to the field and said, "Just throw." And that's what Brady did, for three straight minutes. No magic, no whispering, just throwing until doubt seeped away. "A couple moments of reassurance," Tom Sr. says.

Two decades later, of course, Brady is a future Hall of Famer and entering the final act of his career. He says that his "first 13 years prepared me mentally and physically for my last seven." He has won and lost Super Bowls. He has been loved and reviled; he has won MVP awards and has watched -- after his knee injury in 2008 -- football move on without him. Most of all, he has kept it together. He has never self-destructed or posed for a mug shot or twisted himself in lies. Brady is a study in discipline and consistency -- he plays and wins -- in the face of the most extreme professional and personal life expansion of any athlete of his era. If the first stage of his career was defined by miracles and the second stage was somewhat diminished by them, in the third stage he's trying to summon magic again.

And so in February, Brady stood in the gym in his house in the Los Angeles hills with his new throwing coach, Tom House, the former major league pitcher whom Brady hired last year after Martinez died of a heart attack. Weeks after losing to the Ravens in the AFC championship game, Brady wanted to try something new. Maybe it would help, maybe it wouldn't. The point was to try. House prepared to put him through a beginner's version of the slice of torture he had designed for pitchers called the Fogel Drill: stepping and shuffling as fast as possible while making simulated throws for 30 seconds. Pitchers who've trained with House do four sets; House wanted Brady to try one. House set his timer, and Brady was off, shuffling and stepping, throwing right and left, and after 30 seconds, the color had drained from his face and he felt as if he might pass ?out. Hunched over, Brady looked at House and said, "How long will it take before I can do what the pitchers do?"

OF COURSE, Brady's kids don't care about helmets. They care only that this space gets as dark as a tunnel -- all the better for movies. But whenever Brady enters, he gravitates toward the pictures. Here he is in Africa, with the ONE campaign. Here he is with the Entourage cast, from his cameo years ago. Here is one with Joe Montana, his football idol, and as he points to it, he casually nods, still in awe, still in disbelief, still impressed, even though he'll be 36 when the season starts and has eclipsed his hero in almost every measure except championships. "Pretty cool," Brady says.

His voice is scratchy. His nose is stuffed. He has one of those parental colds that has lingered for weeks. Brady is a young father -- to sons Jack and Benjamin, ages 5 and 3, and 5-month-old daughter Vivian -- and an aging quarterback. But he says, "I feel like I'm 25," and he looks it too. Few wrinkles or grays. Slimmer, more sculpted than he was a decade ago. But the years show in subtle ways. Brady needs sleep more than he used to. His diet is stricter. He rarely drinks. He used to love to hit the bars after wins. Now he says he wants to go home, see his kids and crash. "You couldn't pay me to go out after a game."

That's right: Brady, once the vessel of quarterback glamour not seen since Joe Namath, is now a homebody. Brady, the consummate teammate, now considers himself "more coach than player." He advises the younger Patriots not to party too hard, and they earnestly nod as they quietly disregard him, the way he once disregarded those who offered him similar advice. At the same time, Brady tries to relate to them. Brady asked the teenage son of a buddy what music he likes so he'd know what the rookies would be listening to. "Gucci Mane? ASAP Rocky -- something like that?" Brady says. "I gotta download some music."

He's not much hipper at home. "You've Got a Friend in Me" from Toy Story is constantly stuck in his head. If he happens to zone out while thinking about football or pecking on his BlackBerry, his wife snaps him back to reality: "Is this a Tommy day or a family day?" He can't get a kiss from his kids unless he asks. When they say no, Brady replies, "No kisses for Daddy." Voilà -- he'll get a kiss. "Reverse psychology," he likes to say.

But if he's late returning calls because he's playing with his kids, he doesn't care. If he misses a night out with the guys to watch Toy Story -- again -- that's okay. Two challenges constantly circle in his head, both beyond his control: how to win another Super Bowl and how to raise balanced kids in an unbalanced celebrity world. When Brady remembers playing with other neighborhood kids in the street, he considers that his children will be raised in a gated house in the Los Angeles hills. Brady grew up overlooked; his kids are photographed even when Brady's parents take them to the playground. Brady grew up roaming the Candlestick Park...
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