TAMPA — The crowd was gone, and the field was empty. Just a couple of boys remained behind to do some running drills.
The younger one was 13 and ran with the gait of someone still growing into their body. The older one was 44 and ran as if calories and calendars were somehow immune to his world.
Perhaps this is Tom Brady’s secret. We tend to think of the Bucs quarterback as a man on a mission, sacrificing sugar and the easy life to chase one more ring, one more miracle.
But maybe the truth is that Brady simply remains a boy at heart. Happy to stay in the 95-degree heat when the rest of the team is taking ice baths and IVs. Happy to run wind sprints with his son Jack, who attended Wednesday’s joint practice with the Titans as a ball boy.
“It’s really fun for me. I love physically to train and put myself in a position to compete. I love the mental aspect of the sport. I have a lot of fun doing it. It’s a lot of joy in my life,” Brady said later. “You can do anything with people you want to be with. You’re with your kids, you’re with your family, it doesn’t matter if you’re at the park, the house, the movies, you’ll have a great time.”
It’s not quite that simple, of course. It takes a certain mindset to find the joy in putting on pads at Brady’s age. Particularly when you have earned as much money and won as many games and championships as Brady has.
Stop and think about how long he has been at this job. This is his 22nd training camp in the NFL, which translates to about 900 practices. And that doesn’t include more than 1,000 daily practices between regular-season games.
I’m not suggesting Brady works harder than a day laborer or deserves more plaudits than a cop on the beat for 22 years, but it can’t be easy to find motivation when you’ve already climbed every hill and met every challenge.
It can’t be easy, when you have seven Super Bowl rings to choose from, to find the joy in throwing a few more slant passes under an unforgiving sun when the regular-season opener is still three weeks away.
It can’t be easy when most of the guys in the locker room and huddle are closer in age — and may even have more in common — with your 13-year-old son than they do with you.
And maybe the monotony is why Brady didn’t look quite as sharp as we’re accustomed to seeing during Wednesday’s controlled scrimmages against Tennessee. The first-team offense looked sluggish and had a lot of dropped and wayward passes.
Coach Bruce Arians noticed it, and Brady acknowledged as much. He later said the real aim in practice is communicating and figuring out how to get on the same page.
“It’s one thing if we miss a pass or we (drop) a pass; I’m just concerned with us doing the things we talk about doing and executing them in the right way,” Brady said. “The throwing, catching, blocking and tackling, that’s for the game.”
It can’t hurt to have his older son around, either, to help Brady navigate the dreariness of another camp. He said Jack was probably learning some colorful words he doesn’t normally hear in the classroom but the tradeoff was worth it.
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“He’s at a good age. The more I get to do with him, the better it is,” Brady said. “We have a great time together, and it’s really a treat for me to have him (here). He thinks it’s fun, but it’s probably way better for me having him out here.
“It’s really, really cool.”
Someone asked Arians how remarkable it was to have a 44-year-old quarterback still willing to deal with the extreme sacrifices it takes to play a young man’s game.
“There’s only one,” Arians said. “There’s only one.”
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com and @romano_tbtimes.
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