TAMPA — You may have forgotten there was a time when Tom Brady was the quarterback everyone loved to hate.
Maybe it was all the winning he did on the field and in life. Six Super Bowl rings, one supermodel wife. Three beautiful children. Some of the enmity was borne out of envy.
The fact that he played 20 seasons for the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick contributed mightily to the dislike outside of six states representing New England.
Belichick’s news conferences were hypnotic. Robotic. We’re on to Cincinnati.
Don’t forget the scandals. Spygate. Deflategate.
Then came the comeback from a 28-3 deficit to win Super Bowl 51 over the Falcons and some of the animosity was at least replaced by admiration.
Even Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen admits all his years on the Indianapolis Colts’ staff required him to be deprogrammed where Brady was concerned.
“I think he’s always been such a good guy,” Christensen said. “You won’t find a teammate say a bad word about him. I think he’s always been the same guy, but I just think if you weren’t a New England fan, there was some kind of anger. If things didn’t go right, people didn’t like the Patriots ― myself included.”
But at 43, after leading a Bucs franchise that hadn’t reached the playoffs in a dozen years to Super Bowl 55, Brady has become the most unlikely likable quarterback in the NFL.
Almost from the time he arrived in Tampa Bay, Brady has shown an endearing amount of fallibility and personality.
He was asked to leave a workout at a Tampa park closed due to coronavirus.
He inadvertently walked into the wrong house looking for offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who lived next door.
When the NFL closed team training facilities, Brady organized private workouts with his new teammates at Berkeley Preparatory School. He tagged them with pet names. Scooter, Juice and J-Watt.
Then came the golf match with Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in May and the seventh hole when Brady split his pants bending down to retrieve a golf ball.
Brady handled it with humor, not hubris.
Needless to say, his social media game, limited mostly to pitching TB12 products in New England, became more active once he got to Tampa.
There was the charming letter home to his parents from training camp he posted on Instagram.
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“Dear Mom & Dad: Yesterday was the first REAL day of camp. They finally let us put on the pads and run full speed, and they gave me a special orange jersey so the big guys can’t hurt me. My friends Ryan and Blaine let me have all the blue freeze pops. They’re really nice. I can’t wait for you and all my friends to see me and my new friends play football, which I have been practicing a lot. XOXOXO, Tommy.”
Anyone who watched one episode of the Bucs’ in-house production of Tommy & Gronky, complete with flamingos and inflatable pool, knows that Brady was embracing his Tampa Bay lifestyle. He lost his jet skis in a storm.
Former Bucs and Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer, who worked as an NFL analyst with ESPN, said he was always amazed how much hate there was for Brady by the 20-something-year-old production assistants.
“When we were in Bristol, (Conn.) I was blown away by the deep hatred stemmed from jealously and bitterness that Northeasterners had for Tom if they weren’t Patriots fans,” Dilfer said. “Broken Bills fans. Broken Jets fans. Because there was no hope for them. They took that brokenness out on hating Tom and now those same people are praising him.”
Not that Brady needed to add more squeak to his clean, but since coming to the Bucs, his image among NFL fans seems to have been sanitized.
“They get to see him start over,” Chistensen said. “You go to a place that hasn’t won and you battle. We struggle early and the whole thing is getting comfortable and moving. Now he’s in the Super Bowl in his first year here at 43. It’s fun to watch.”
Following the Bucs’ 31-26 win over the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, Brady climbed the railing at Lambeau Field and asked an usher if he could say hi to his oldest son, 13-year-old Jack.
“Love you, kiddo,” Brady said.
Even the frozen tundra began to melt.
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