TAMPA — Tom Brady joining the Buccaneers may have sounded more like a misfit than a match. At worst, it was an odd pairing of the six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and a team that hadn’t made the postseason in a dozen years.
At best, the alliance could change the balance of power in the NFC for a few seasons to come.
“It just ended up being a great fit,” Brady said Thursday. “And as it’s played out, I’ve just thought, ‘Wow, this has really been a magical year.’”
The Bucs and Brady will play the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, becoming the first team to play the league championship game on their home field. Brady was the missing piece that coach Bruce Arians felt the Bucs needed after going 7-9 in 2019 with turnover-prone quarterback Jameis Winston at the helm.
At the NFL combine last February, Arians was asked if there was one free-agent quarterback he would pick up the phone for. He didn’t hesitate before answering “Tom Brady.”
“You can’t hit a home run unless you’re going to swing for one,” Arians said. “You can’t do anything special in life sitting on a fence. The question back then was, ‘If there was a quarterback that was a free agent, who would you want?’ Of course it was Tom Brady, not thinking he’d become a free agent. Once he did, it was a pursuit that we wanted to make and (we) knew he had some interest. That’s how you live life. Do you sit and live in a closet trying to be safe, or are you going to have some fun?”
The fun is back for the Bucs and Brady, who were 7-5 following a 27-24 loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 29. Since that game, they have won a franchise-best seven straight.
Once he decided to leave the Patriots after 20 seasons, Brady made a list of priorities that included ownership, coaching, front office, roster strength and geography.
“I’d like to think that I wasn’t that much of a ‘chance’ after a lot of years,” said Brady, smiling. “Becoming a free agent and then having the opportunity to continue my playing career, I love the opportunity that presented itself here, which is ultimately why I chose here. I really love the coaching staff, I loved the players that they had. I looked at those players and thought, ‘Wow, these are really great players. This would be a good opportunity for me.’”
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Brady is quick to add that he hadn’t soured on the Patriots. He still has a lot of relationships with that club and its fans, starting with owner Robert Kraft, who contacted him following the Bucs’ win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
What has been difficult is navigating a pandemic that hasn’t allowed him to fully solidify the relationships with many of his new teammates, particularly on defense.
“Certain players on defense that I just don’t know very well (because) we’re not able to be together in certain rooms, we’re not able to eat together, we’re not able to travel well and we don’t get the normal camaraderie that you have on a normal team,” Brady said. “Under the circumstances, we’re all doing the best we can do and it’s been a tricky year in that sense.”
You can’t argue with the results. Helped by an improving defense that is among the league’s best in producing turnovers and sacks, Brady thrived. He set a club record in the regular season with 40 touchdown passes, and the Bucs won three road playoff games to secure a home-field advantage in the ultimate game.
From misfit to magical, it has been quite a ride for Brady and the Bucs.
“For me as a player to switch teams, that takes a lot,” Brady said. “To move my family, to go to a different conference, to keep building the way we did and develop a rapport with the guys that we have here. So much of football is about the relationships that you get with your teammates (and) coaches. The fact that we’re still playing feels really good for me and understand that we’ve put a lot into it. Hopefully we can go finish the job.”
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