Joe Namath, and some other quarterback vets, understand what is ahead for Tom Brady
You’re a legendary NFL quarterback, a Super Bowl winner, with a sea of fans wearing your No. 12 jersey. Your name is synonymous with the cold-weather East Coast market you represent. QB to the sports world, and GQ to the celebrity scene, you finish your illustrious career in the other conference and under the swaying palms in a sunny corner of the country.
You’re Tom Brady.
And Joe Namath.
As Brady prepared Wednesday to leave New England for his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Namath was at home in Southeastern Florida and could empathize with what the superstar quarterback likely was feeling.
“For me, I felt very sad, very awkward about leaving the people in the city, the people in New York, the fans, the guys I made buddies with throughout the years,” said Namath, 76, recalling when he left the New York Jets after 12 seasons to finish his career with the Los Angeles Rams.
Namath was one of three Super Bowl quarterbacks to speak to The Times about different aspects of Brady’s big transition.
“If it hadn’t been for Chuck being there — maybe sort of like Bruce Arians being in Tampa Bay — I’m not sure I would have gone.”
— Joe Namath on Chuck Knox being head coach of Rams when he came to L.A.
Brad Johnson, the only quarterback to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the Buccaneers, discussed the transition — and excitement — that awaits the Patriots icon.
Matt Hasselbeck, who was 40 in his final season with the Indianapolis Colts, understands the challenge of connecting with teammates who are nearly a generation younger. Brady will turn 43 in training camp.
Four decades separate the Hall of Fame careers of Brady and Namath, and the game has changed on and off the field. For instance, whereas Brady has a chain of TB12 stores, Broadway Joe had the nightclub Bachelors III.
The track record for aging Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks who leave the teams they starred for at the end of their careers is mixed.
“It was a different life when you were an athlete back in the ‘70s than it is today,” Namath said. “The support system from the organization today is like 24/7 as far as nutrition, training, all that stuff. The facility is almost open 24 hours a day to you. Back then, we had a normal routine of meetings, and, say, you’d spend four hours at the facility. The rest of the day you’d have studying or going out to socialize. It was a different life.”
But Namath and Brady knew when it was time to leave the franchise they knew so well. And both left to play for teams coached by men steeped in Pennsylvania football. For Brady, that’s Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, raised in York, Pa. And for Namath, the coach was Chuck Knox, who was born and raised in Sewickley, Pa.
“Chuck and I first met when I was a junior high basketball player in Pennsylvania,” said Namath, who grew up in nearby Beaver Falls. “We maintained a relationship through the years and it was important. If it hadn’t been for Chuck being there — maybe sort of like Bruce Arians being in Tampa Bay — I’m not sure I would have gone. The relationship I had with Chuck was huge.”
For Brady, getting comfortable in Tampa as quickly as possible is going to be key. That’s how Johnson sees it, having played for five different franchises in his 16-year NFL career.
“The odd things for Tom will be, ‘Man, I’m wearing a different colored uniform. Where do I line up in the huddle? How do I get in the building? Where do I park? These shoes are different. Where do I live? How do I get to the game?’ ” Johnson said.
“Tom’s a great guy, and he’s going to make himself available to everybody, but it’s going to be awkward for him.”
— Brad Johnson, on Tom Brady adjusting to life in Tampa Bay.
“I went through a move a few times in my career, and that’s what you need to get over real quick. He needs to get a media guide and find out who are the secretaries, who are the cooks, who are the equipment managers, who are the trainers? Just being comfortable. That’s the No. 1 thing.”
Likewise, Johnson said, people in the Buccaneers facility are going to have to get used to having a world-famous celebrity walking their halls. Brady, the only quarterback to win six Super Bowl rings, is no ordinary player.
“Everyone there is going to be star struck at some point,” Johnson said. “Like, ‘Here he comes.’ You can’t help it for someone coming in with that much weight. But Tom’s a great guy, and he’s going to make himself available to everybody, but it’s going to be awkward for him.”
The Chargers agreed to terms with cornerback Chris Harris and added defensive tackle Linval Joseph.
Arians is regarded by many as one of the all-time great quarterback coaches, but Brady is different than the ones under his tutelage in recent years — players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck, Carson Palmer, and Jameis Winston, each of whom took a beating standing in the pocket and slinging it down the field.
“Tom’s a rhythm quarterback,” Johnson said. “He plants his feet, and that ball’s coming out.”
That’s not to suggest Brady lacks toughness. In fact, he’s remarkably durable.
“Playing quarterback, it’s like riding a bull in a rodeo; you’re going to get hit,” Johnson said. “That comes with it. But Tom’s pretty athletic in a weird way in the pocket. So he knows where his outlets are. He knows the weaknesses of protection schemes and being able to get into a better play. Trying not to waste plays. That’s why he’s lasted so long. He really hasn’t missed games.”
Johnson said Brady will supercharge the Buccaneers fan base the way that Jon Gruden did when he arrived as coach in 2002 and promptly won a Super Bowl.
“I remember when Gruden came to town,” he said. “That flag got raised. The excitement was there immediately.”
After news broke Tuesday that Brady was headed to Tampa, ticket sales spiked. The virtual line to buy tickets on the team’s website was more than 6,000 people long. But fan interest in the Buccaneers has risen and fallen dramatically over the years. Tampa isn’t Green Bay or Cleveland, where ticket sales aren’t so dependent on the team’s performance.
In that respect, it’s not always sunny in Tampa.
“When you win, they cheer,” Johnson said. “When you lose, they boo.”
Judging by his history, Brady is unwavering in his approach to the game. But in many ways, he’ll have to be flexible in his new environment.
“He’s like ‘The Terminator’ now,” Johnson said. “This is the way he’s done it. This is his schedule. This is the way [Patriots coach] Bill Belichick presented Mondays and Wednesday mornings, and how they did the installations. It’s going to be different. He’s going to be, ‘Well, why are we doing it this way?’ Some of the things aren’t going to make sense to him.
“To be able to deal with change, that’s the huge element.”
Some changes are inevitable no matter where you are. Brady for years has said he wants to play until he’s 45, but every year a new wave of players in their early 20s comes in. That age gap only grows, and outside interests and obligations change.
“You’re real people, and these are real decisions based on more than Xs and O’s.”
— Matt Hasselbeck, on family issues when players decide to switch teams
“As you get older and you’re in your 40s, your kids are getting older too,” said Hasselbeck, who played 17 seasons — including reaching a Super Bowl with Seattle — and now is an ESPN analyst. “It almost becomes a family decision. Obviously, your wife is very involved in whatever decision, I don’t care what business you’re in. But as your kids are getting older, getting to the point where maybe they’re playing organized sports, or having an opinion.
“I remember my last year, I had an eighth grader. We were making decisions like, ‘OK, what sports are you good at? Where are we going to go to high school?’ I had two hockey players and three lacrosse players. You can’t do that everywhere.”
On the same day the Rams lost Dante Fowler to the Atlanta Falcons, the team agreed to terms with former Chicago Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd.
Brady is the same way. The fact his wife and children live in Manhattan factored into his team choice, and is believed to be one of the reasons he turned down the Chargers.
“Sometimes in the media or as fans, we talk about these players as if it’s fantasy football,” Hasselbeck said. “We forget about parents and grandparents, being close to family, and whatever those things are that appeal to some of these players.
“You’re real people, and these are real decisions based on more than Xs and O’s.”
And that generation gap is real too.
“In my last three years in Indy, Andrew Luck came over to my house,” Hasselbeck said. “It was the first time he came over. The adults were in the kitchen and the kids were in the family room. Andrew was in the family room more than he was in the kitchen. I made a joke, like, ‘Hey, why don’t you come hang out with the adults?’
“He clipped back at me in a real witty way, ‘The people in here are closer to my age than you are.’ And I did the math and thought, ‘Wait a second, that’s true.’ ”
Then again, Brady is seemingly ageless. That’s why Namath predicts a lot of smiling faces among the fans of the three AFC East teams that had to face Brady twice a season.
“Fans that grew to be Patriot haters because they were so successful over the years,” he said. “Those kinds of fans are more than likely all happy to see Tom get out of there, get away from that Patriot uniform.”
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