TAMPA — Tom Brady stepped outside of the AventHealth Training Center wearing a gray Bucs’ hoodie on a humid, 88-degree afternoon and carrying a silver TB12 water bottle.
He folded his 6-foot-4 body into a metal outdoor patio chair facing three emerald practice fields. From a socially-distanced 6 feet away, Brady looks much younger than his 44 years.
Remarkably, he plays like it as well.
“I can still throw the ball like I’m 24,” Brady said recently in a one-on-one interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
The Bucs quarterback isn’t saying anything that wasn’t proven last season, when he left New England after 20 years and led the Bucs to a 31-9 victory over Kansas City in Super Bowl 55, the first title won by a team in its home stadium.
There were only 24,835 in attendance for that game. When he leads the Bucs out of the tunnel at Raymond James Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night, there will be slightly less than 67,000 fans to kick off the 2021 NFL season.
“I saw (former Bucs cornerback) Ronde (Barber) the other day and asked him about it and he said, ‘Man, this place is going to be awesome,’” said Brady, smiling.
Brady is attempting to become the first quarterback since — well, Brady — to win back-to-back Super Bowls, something he did 17 years ago with the Patriots.
After only a few minutes, it becomes apparent that even though he added a year to his contract and is signed with the Bucs through the 2022 season, Brady may only be getting started with the second act of his career in Tampa Bay.
In addition to his lively arm, his body feels better than it has in years. He played the 2020 season with a torn MCL in his left knee, which caused him to undergo treatment and taping with trainer Alex Guerrero at 7:30 each morning.
“It’s good for me to feel like I can move around freely,” Brady said. “I had a knee sleeve on for 13 years. Just that little bit of compression keeps a hamstring from working the right way. You try to compress the knee to keep it more stable, but then you’re also compressing the quad. This is the first time that I’ve been able to run and not think about it. I’m not going to turn into Michael Vick out there but at least I’m not going to be super restricted.”
Brady also is completely comfortable with the offense and throwing to his running backs, receivers and tight ends. There’s no longer any mystery where Brady’s receivers should be and in turn, they know where to expect him to deliver the football.
“I’m no doctor but I know this, he looks like a 25-year-old out there bouncing around,” Bucs quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen said. “He’s enjoying himself. You can tell he’s comfortable and he feels good. He’s really had a nice, nice camp and it really is amazing for all of us who have watched him for so many years.”
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Perhaps just as important, Brady is blissfully happy, not just with his choice of the Bucs, but with his life in paradise.
Having moved out of Derek Jeter’s mansion, he and his family are renting another home on Davis Islands.
“Whatever I thought I was getting into, it’s been so much better,” Brady said. “As good as I could’ve envisioned, it’s been even more enjoyable than that. It’s pretty much a different life than being in the Northeast. I had a great 20 years and I never want to take away from that. Also, this experience has been amazing. (Tampa’s) a great-kept secret. It’s a small city. Everything is close. The airport is close. Work is close. We live on the water.
“In January, February and March, every day I go out there with Clyde (Christensen) and go, ‘Clyde, top 20 (perfect days)?’ And there’s something to be said for that. Right now in the Northeast, it’s going like this. Seventy, 60, 50, 40, 30 (degrees). You’re out there every day and this is so much fun.”
Brady also has found his voice. He posts all over social media, mostly on Instagram and Twitter. If he’s not pitching products, he’s poking fun at former teammates.
He also isn’t afraid to speak out on league issues. When NFL franchise values were released by Forbes, showing 20 percent increases while player costs fell 14 percent, Brady said players in the league were ignorant.
“I have a lot of perspective on things,” Brady said. “You know, like there are certain things that frustrate me and I say, ‘Well, this is something I should speak up about.’ Things as it relates to pro football, the unions. And I’ve been around for 20 years to watch and I say, ‘Is it getting better or worse?’ And when I feel like it’s getting worse, I go, ‘What are we doing? This is not the purpose of the game.’
“But there are people who are making decisions who don’t have the same perspective. Not that mine is always right, but at least I want to feel like my point is heard, too.”
Repeating as Super Bowl champion is Brady’s only focus and he won’t allow teammates to become complacent. Especially on offense.
“I think that’s what you’ve got to guard against,” Brady said. “You can’t think that, ‘Oh, it’s just going to go the way it went (last) year. So we already know what to expect so let’s just play with the same level of effort. My only point is we know what to expect. But it’s not like we won 20 games last year. We won 15. We were 15-5. It’s not like we were undefeated and we were blowing teams out. There’s a lot of room for improvement, at least I feel from our offense.”
Meanwhile, Brady’s remaining longevity feels as if it only could be deterred by injury. “He loves the game. He continues to love the game,” Guerrero said. “But you know what? He’s not sore on Monday and Tuesday. His body feels good. So he’s like, ‘Why not continue what I love doing because I feel good.’”
Brady makes it very clear his career isn’t likely to stop after this season, whether confetti falls on his head or not. While his age would suggest he’s nearing the end of his career, he sounds like a man who is just getting started.
“Hopefully, I’ll be here a long time,” Brady said. “For many years.”
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