Column: An unsettling development: Tom Brady is not so easy to hate anymore
The cheater talks lovingly about his children. The smug one proclaims the greatness of his parents. The robot spins yarns about spending summers on a Minnesota farm.
Something really strange is happening this week on this Super Bowl’s frozen plains.
Tom Brady is thawing out.
When the week began, with the New England Patriots’ Brady playing quarterback in this game for the record eighth time, much of the country was like, him again?
Now it’s more like, who again?
Just as he is closing in on goodbye, Brady, 40, has decided to say hello, revealing a side of himself that has little to do with deflating footballs or blowing up history.
He has talked like somebody’s father.
“My kids are saying, ‘Yeah, daddy, all my friends said go win the Super Bowl!’’ he said.
He has talked liked somebody’s son.
“My mom doesn’t think I’ve ever done anything wrong. She tells me, ‘Oh, no, you played great.’ She’s always just being a mom, always being protective of her son,’’ Brady said.
He has talked about spending a couple of weeks each summer at his grandparents’ farm in Browerville, a small town two hours northwest of Minneapolis.
“I remember my uncles gave me chewing tobacco for the first time when I was really young,’’ Brady said. “Within five minutes I’m outside the car throwing up all over the place.’’
If the Patriots defeat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, Brady will become the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, earning a sixth ring, most by a quarterback, while further cementing his legacy as the greatest ever to play the position.
But during interviews this week, along with the “Tom vs Time’’ documentary showing on Facebook, it sounds as if he wants to be remembered as something else, something more closely resembling a human being than the dandelion greens-eating alien who frequently has stolen January during the past 18 years.
It’s a strange, unsettling look. A conflicting look.
Most of America outside of New England is conditioned to be sick of Brady, who along with coach Bill Belichick has come to symbolize an arrogant franchise whose incredible achievements have been tainted with stolen plays, spying cameras and flattened footballs.
Brady has never been loved like Peyton Manning, or admired like John Elway, or good-old-boy embraced like Brett Favre. He has always been as distant as his stare, as unknowable as his playbook.
Last fall, he published a best-selling book touting his unique methods of staying in shape — avocado ice cream anyone? — and folks rolled their eyes. He literally dropped the microphone after a rousing speech at the Patriots’ send-off rally Monday in Providence, R.I., and folks shook their heads.
After the underdog rush of this former sixth-round draft pick’s first championship win in 2002 subsided, Brady’s greatness has been accepted begrudgingly, his Super Bowl presence only tolerated.
Quick, show of hands: how many of you failed to appreciate Brady’s brilliant, short-handed fourth-quarter comeback against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship game because you wanted Jacksonville in the Super Bowl? Outside of New England, the answer is probably everybody.
It’s almost as if Brady realizes this. It’s as if he believes it’s finally time to turn that harsh spotlight on him into a soft glow. When he sat with a mass of reporters and cameras Tuesday, he wore a plain gray hoodie, a black glove on his healing right hand and a smile so kindly you wanted to see whether he was sitting on a rocker.
“Like everyone, you learn and grow as you go,’’ he said.
He began the week hanging up on longtime Boston radio talk-show partners at WEEI after one of the station’s hosts on a different show insulted his 5-year-old daughter Vivian by calling her “an annoying little pissant.’’
“It was very disappointing to hear that, my daughter or any child certainly does not deserve that,’’ he respectfully said before hanging up, behaving like any aggrieved parent.
A day later, he showed gracious forgiveness by telling the media that he didn’t want the offending host fired.
“I certainly hope the guy is not fired; I would hate for that to happen,’’ Brady said. “We all have careers and we all make mistakes and, I mean, I’d hate for someone to have to change their life over something like that.’’
Showing his chops as a dad, then showing his decency as a human, Brady began the week on a revealing roll and kept right on going.
He was specific about the gifts of his parents.
”They never said I couldn’t do anything,’’ he said. “My parents always said, ‘No, you could do it, keep trying, keep working, I’ll be there right with you Tommy. We’re going to take you to the batting cage; I’m going to take you up to the park and hit flyballs to you; I’m going to bring you to a 49ers game and we’re going to pay catch outside Candlestick Park.’ ’’
He said he couldn’t wait to get home to his family.
“I love the time I have with my kids. I’m really looking forward to being with them a lot more often. … There’s early mornings I’m gone at 5:30, my wife [former model Gisele Bundchen] has got them in the morning, taking them to school, making their lunch. I realize I’ve got to pull my end of the bargain this offseason. I look forward to that.’’
He talked about listening to the likes of Jay-Z, Coldplay, U2, Pearl Jam and Kendrick Lamar to relax on his drive home from work. And he acknowledged that his music choices don’t make him seem any younger to his teammates.
“When they initially meet me … they’ve probably seen me on TV for a long time when they were young,’’ Brady said. “Patrick Chung, I remember he got drafted, he’s like, ‘Wow, Tom Brady’ and I’m like, ‘Damn, Pat, I’m not that old.’ ’’
That was in 2009. Now he is that old. He’s old enough to know how he wants to be remembered, and it’s got little to do with football, and he seems intent on making that happen before it’s too late.
It feels like the equivalent of a last-second drive for acceptance, so you know what that means.
Even if you’re not buying it now, you can never count Tom Brady out.
Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke
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