What does it mean to change, and to challenge yourself, again and again?
Whether it’s a month ago, last year, five years or 10 years ago, the fact is every person — and every athlete — faces changes. Everyone comes up against challenges. Whether they’re physical, mental or emotional, they’re part of everyone’s lives. I’m no exception.
Twenty years ago, I was a sixth-round draft choice from the University of Michigan who wasn’t sure he was going to get drafted at all. When the call finally came, I packed up all my things and moved to the other side of the country. I didn’t know how long I’d be playing for the New England Patriots, or whether I’d even get the opportunity to play for them. (I was the fourth quarterback on the depth chart my first year.) I had no idea I would spend the next 20 years in New England, or start a family there.
The same thing was true in 2008, too. I couldn’t have predicted what would happen when, on the second drive of the season opener against Kansas City — on my 15th snap of the game — I shredded my ACL and MCL, and spent the next few months getting surgery and rehab on my way to a full recovery.
Changes and challenges are part of life. They’re part of athletes’ lives. They’re supposed to happen. They need to happen sometimes.
These changes can be emotional, too. For as long as I can remember, my career, and football in general, has been an extremely important and gratifying part of my life. But just as important, and oftentimes more gratifying, are the times I spend with my wife and children, and the joy I feel watching my kids get older. In my case this means always checking in with myself and with them to make sure my priorities are in the right place — and if they’re not, making adjustments.
Changes and challenges are part of life. They’re part of athletes’ lives. They’re supposed to happen. They need to happen sometimes.
There’s no rulebook, either. Finding a balance between the things and the people you love, and allocating time for both, is how each of us grows. Benny and Vivian, my two youngest children, are now 10 and seven. They’re not babies anymore. That means that being a dad — and showing up at my kids’ soccer or hockey games, and being present for them — really matters to me. Finding that balance is a continuous process. It’s always changing, too. These days for example, my oldest boy, Jack, sometimes joins me on the field to work out or throw the football!
Twenty years ago, I arrived in New England from a different coast, a different part of the country and a different culture. Today, I’m transitioning into another chapter of my life and career. It involves gathering up all the things I’ve learned in my life so far and moving to a different coast, a different part of the country and a different culture. If that feels familiar, there’s a good reason why. Because that’s how it started.
My journey over the past 20 years in New England has been amazing. It’s been a long road, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
When the Patriots drafted me back in 2000, I was 22. I remember I was sitting in my parents’ house in San Mateo, California, growing less and less confident that the phone would ring. But late in the draft it did. By the way, in the sixth round it’s not like Coach Belichick himself was on the other end of the line — I think it was his assistant, Berj. “We just wanted to let you know you’ve been picked by the New England Patriots,” Berj said.
Mixed in with my excitement was confusion. Aside from four years in college at Michigan, I’d spent my whole life in San Mateo. I honestly didn’t have a clear idea where New England actually was. Was New England an actual place? Once the draft was over, I flew east, landing not in Boston but in Providence, and then driving to the old Foxboro Stadium. It was mid-April. Those first few weeks, I remember trying to orient myself to a place I had no idea would be my home for the next two decades.
I didn’t know the East Coast at all. It took me a while to find my bearings, not to mention my sense of direction. The fact is, no matter where you live in California, the Pacific Ocean is a straight shot west. It’s almost impossible to get lost.
But on the East Coast, everything was in reverse. The Atlantic was due east, and west meant something else entirely. This is basic stuff to New Englanders, but it took me a little longer than it would most people to get used to. Once I did, I almost immediately got acquainted with the beauty and uniqueness of every region in New England, whether I was on Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket, or visiting Cape Cod, or in the Berkshires, or driving up to Maine.
It was the first time I’d experienced all four seasons, too. Snow and cold weather I knew about — Michigan winters can be tougher than New England’s, but I was never really there in the summer. In New England I got to fully experience spring (long, muddy), summer (beautiful, a little humid), and fall (my favorite time of year, since it coincides with football season). I grew to associate bare trees and a chill in the air with Halloween, and family gathering at our house for meals and get-togethers with the holidays. I came to love all the seasons — good, bad, hot, cold, leafy, rainy, sunny, snowy and muddy.
I also got to experience New England as a husband and father. Jack had been born in California, but he spent a lot of time here, and Benny and Vivi were both born in Boston. Watching Benny and Vivi grow up as native New Englanders has been an amazing experience for me. They will always think of themselves as New Englanders. In a very special way, I will, too.
But more than any one physical place, it’s the relationships I made in New England that I’ll miss the most. Of course, it starts with the entire New England Patriots organization, and Robert Kraft and the entire Kraft family. It extends to countless other individuals who played such a valuable role in my 20 years as a Patriot. Teammates and coaches, past and present. Old friends, new friends, the neighbors we went trick-or-treating with every year. But mostly, I’ll miss the fans.
If there’s one thing anyone can say for sure, it’s that New Englanders understand what fandom is all about. New Englanders just really, really love their sports. That’s maybe because compared to New York, or Chicago, or Los Angeles, Boston feels less like a big city than it does a large small town. Even if you don’t know everybody in Boston, you feel like you know everybody. The fans feel like they’re part of our team, and my teammates and I felt the same way about them.
The support and love of New England fans has always been unconditional. So many great moments stand out for me — the packed training camps, the victory parades, the tens of thousands of supporters who came to see us off at the airport each time we boarded the plane for the Super Bowl. Win or lose, the same number of people would be there to greet our plane when we came home. Gillette Stadium holds around 70,000 people, and I’ve never not played in a sold-out stadium during my career as a Patriot. How fortunate am I?
“Tomm-eeee! Tomm-eee!” I would hear that echoing through the stands, and it always meant so much to me. The support sometimes went deeper than that. Recently a friend told me that her sister was pregnant with her first child, a boy — and that she planned on naming him Brady. She was telling me this, she said, so that I’d realize the impact my playing for New England had had on so many people’s lives. Hearing that, I felt so humbled by the idea that when some people think of me, it’s with a warmth in their heart or their spirit. There’s no better legacy I can think of than that.
Above my desk in my home office in Brookline hangs a poster of Joe Montana, my hero growing up. It sits alongside photos of my own children, dressed up in Patriots jerseys, cheering me on in person in Gillette Stadium or at home in front of our big TV. Children will always make room for heroes, and few things could honor me more than being told I played that role for someone’s son or daughter.
Life is always changing, and in whatever decision you make, or direction you choose, there’s an opportunity. Choosing to leave New England, and the only team I’ve known for 20 years, to join a new football team is a great opportunity, a great change and a great challenge.
People ask sometimes what motivates me. The answer is simple. I love my sport. I love doing what I do. I want to keep doing it until I don’t want to do it anymore. Playing football isn’t something you can do alone in a backyard either. Football is a team sport, and getting a chance to collaborate with my teammates is a big reason I was drawn to the game in the first place.
I was blessed to grow up in an amazing family, with loving, supportive parents and siblings. I left San Mateo and flew 3,000 miles to the other side of the country, eventually raising a family of my own outside Boston. Now I’m moving on to another chapter, another experience.
When you play for one team for two decades, change is exciting. It’s also challenging. Just packing up the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, it’s natural to ask, Where am I going to put that in my new space?
When you pack things up, you realize that some things fit perfectly, and other things don’t fit anymore. You either leave behind what no longer fits or you make an extra effort to make it fit.
The changes and challenges I’m facing now are physical, mental and emotional — and the only way is through. I’m taking all the things I’ve learned so far as an athlete into this new chapter, while continuing my journey as a husband and father with my family. The most important thing? Enjoying every moment. Because it goes by so fast.
For me, playing football isn’t going to last another 10 years. In the time left, the question is, How can I keep maximizing what I do, put everything I can into it, make it the best I possibly can? At this point in my career, the only person I have to prove anything to is myself. Physically, I’m as capable of doing my job as I’ve ever been. Now I want to see what more I can do. I want to see how great I can be. I want to hear other people say, “Go, man. Now that’s what we’ve been missing. That’s what we need! That’s what we’ve been looking for!” Deep down I know what I can do. I know what I can bring. Now I want to see it in action.
My training and conditioning hasn’t changed over the years. It may be the off-season now, but to me it feels like the season has already started. It’s like getting ready to run a race. You’re not thinking about the race or the finish line. You’re getting ready, lacing up your sneakers, running in place, shaking everything out, finding your groove.
When it’s time for the race to start, you put one foot in front of the other. The rest isn’t up to you. Everything will happen at the pace that it needs to happen. You can’t know what it’ll be like until then. So why not appreciate and enjoy the journey?
I’ve had so many friends and teammates over the years who’ve come and gone. I was always the one guy who never had to move. As I said before, playing for one team for 20 years has been an amazing ride and experience. But doing the same thing year after year brings its own challenges. A familiar rhythm can be comforting and great. But it can also make you lose sight of other rhythms, newer ones that remind you of everything that hasn’t been done yet. One isn’t necessarily better than another — they’re different, is all. Playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a change, a challenge, an opportunity to lead and collaborate, and also to be seen and heard. And I know my time there will be as amazing in its own way as what came before.
It will be different — that goes with the territory. Different coaches. Different players. Different programs. Right now I have no idea how to get to Raymond James Stadium, or where the meeting rooms are, or where everybody sits. It will be a learning curve, in the same way it was remembering that the Atlantic Ocean is always due east.
Still, I’m excited. Most of all, I’m motivated. I want to deliver for my new team, my new coaches and my new teammates. I don’t want to let anyone down. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
The welcome and warmth I’ve gotten from the players and coaches in Tampa Bay has been so gratifying. For my part, I’ve loved getting to know a new group of young players.
They’ve welcomed me as one of their own. They want to listen to what I have to say. I’m excited to be embraced fully for what I can bring to the Bucs. In turn I’m ready to embrace fully a team that is confident in what I do — and what I bring — and is willing to go on this ride with me.
I’m ready to embrace fully a team that is confident in what I do — and what I bring — and is willing to go on this ride with me.
Here’s another great thing that happens as you get older — you want to see other players succeed. A lot of veteran players were mentors to me during my years as a Patriot. They were there for me when I signed a second contract. They were there for Super Bowl wins, and when I got married. They saw me develop, and grow, and eventually start a family. Along with the opportunity to win championships, the support of older teammates is an amazing part of playing for a team. Doing whatever I can to help younger players evolve as people and players matters a lot to me. I’ve learned so much during my 20 years in New England — and I want to bring those things to a new team.
Right now, though, I have things to prove to myself. The only way is through. If I don’t go for it, I’ll never know what I could have accomplished. Wanting to do something is different from actually doing it. If I stood at the bottom of a mountain, and told myself I could scale the highest peak, but then didn’t do anything about it, what’s the point of that?
I’m trying to do things that have never been done in my sport. That’s actually fun for me, too, because I know I can do them. When a team gives you the opportunity to do those things with them, well … if not with them, then who?
At some point, you have to throw your whole body into what you’re doing. You have to say, Let’s ride. Let’s see what we got.
I want to show everybody what I got.
In partnership with Under Armour.