Brady spoke for the first time Tuesday since signing a two-year deal with Tampa Bay, and his conference call was filled with about as many questions related to his old team as there were about his new squad. The main theme: Why leave the Patriots now, and could anyone have done anything to prevent this divorce from happening?
Brady unsurprisingly gave nothing but glowing reviews of the Patriots, with whom he spent his first 20 seasons and won six Super Bowls. Even Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s recent comments about Brady, in which he said the quarterback would still be a Patriot if he wanted to be, didn’t rattle the veteran, who remained positive and thankful.
“I’m not responsible for how other people will say certain things,” Brady said. “I think Mr. Kraft has been a great influence in my life. I’m so grateful for two decades and I referenced that the other day, it’s been an amazing thing for my family. When I’m done playing, I’ll look back and have a chance to really evaluate my entire career.
“At the same time, I’m excited for this opportunity that I have. I can only speak to how I feel. I wrote about that in my social media the other day. This was getting to be a free agent and having the opportunity to join the Bucs was something that I was really excited about, and that’s why we’re at where we’re at.”
One or two questions about New England wouldn’t be the end of it for Brady, who was pressed repeatedly to provide a peek behind the curtain that shrouded his departure from public eye. The quarterback remained firm, mentioning his “total respect and love” for Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, who turned to him in a time of need in 2001 and never looked back.
Brady didn’t shy from the emotional toll leaving the Patriots took on him, but also didn’t allow it to influence the tone of his responses, even when a question from USA Today’s Jarrett Bell about Brady’s childhood idol Joe Montana — who left San Francisco for Kansas City to finish his career — struck a personal chord with the all-time leader in Super Bowl victories.
Brady is, after all, doing the same thing Montana once did, leaving his first club for another in search of a fresh opportunity to continue playing late in his career.
“I was at Joe’s last game at Candlestick Park,” Brady recalled. “I actually went up there and saw it with my friend. I’ll never forget that. He was an incredible player. Him and Steve Young were my quarterback idols growing up. I just think life continues to change for all of us. Just having the opportunity for me to continue to play football and lead a team is something that I love doing. I loved playing this sport since I was a kid, since I was throwing footballs in the parking lot at Candlestick. And I still love doing that today.
“I train hard. I try to keep my body as physically fit as possible. Mentally, I try to stay sharp, although it’s going to be a different challenge this year in learning. But I’m going to do everything I can to do the best I possibly can.”
Montana led the Chiefs to two postseason appearances, reaching an AFC Championship Game in the 1993 season before hanging it up after a wild-card exit at the end of the 1994 campaign. Brady’s career is following a similar path, with his two-year deal in Tampa lining up with Montana’s conclusion in Kansas City.
How that plays out remains to be seen. Brady mentioned the importance of the work his new teammates will have to put in alongside his usual tenacious training and preparation efforts. And when reflecting one last time on his years in New England, it again came down to those with whom he worked.
“I have a great deal of respect for, there’s nobody who’s been a bigger fan of Patriots than me,” Brady said. “So, I have nothing but total respect and love. I’m so grateful to Mr. Kraft and the organization and coach Belichick and all the coaches and obviously all my teammates. It’s been a lot of days responding to incredible text messages from my teammates, from former teammates, from just a lot of the great people that I’ve got to meet over the years.
“I have so many great relationships that will be maintained. That’s I think the greatest gift that football has brought me is the relationships that I’ve had with so many of the people I’ve worked with. It will be certainly different but at the same time that’s the way life can be at times. What won’t be different is my approach to the game, my approach to what my roles and responsibilities are. And I’m going to go out and do the best I can every day to put our team in a position to win.”