TAMPA — Tom Brady glanced down and extended his right throwing arm. Seated in the patio area of the Bucs’ training facility, the 44-year-old rubbed it like a genie’s lamp, awaiting more granted wishes.
Now in his 22nd NFL season, Brady’s arm has passed footballs nearly 46 miles and for 591 touchdowns. It’s also helped lift seven Lombardi trophies.
But it wasn’t always as easy to coax magic from it.
“I had arm pain literally my whole life,” Brady said. “I grew up playing baseball. My arm hurt. My elbow hurt every day. High school. College, after football, I always had to ice my elbow. I’ve had tendonitis.
“Now I’m in the locker room every day. I see what everybody is doing. I see every gadget, and I look at them and go, ‘Okay. That doesn’t work.’ Because I see what they’re doing and how much time they spend doing it and then see the reflection of it on the field. And here I am at 44 and I can still throw the ball like I’m 24 and with less pain, too.”
How does Brady, the oldest player in the NFL, win his seventh Super Bowl in his first year as Bucs quarterback? How does he throw 10 touchdowns in his first three games this season and help the Bucs set a league record of scoring at least 30 points in nine straight games?
Brady points to his 15-year relationship with Alex Guerrero.
The 56-year-old Californian, a proponent of alternative medicine, was the body coach for Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest when Brady sought help for a sore arm early in his NFL career.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” Brady said of Guerrero. “It’s great teamwork. It’s almost like quarterbacks and receivers have a bond. It’s really no good if the receiver can’t catch the ball or get open. It’s no good if the receiver runs a good route and the quarterback can’t throw it.”
Guerrero is Brady’s body coach and business partner who collaborated with him to build TB12, a holistic approach to training and recovery.
Brady first came to Guerrero with a sore elbow. Then it was a calf strain and finally a severe groin injury that threatened to land him on injured reserve.
“They wanted to go in and do an abductor release surgery which would’ve taken him out the rest of the year,” Guerrero said of Brady in 2006. “He came to California and we spent three days together. He came back to New England, didn’t have any more groin pain and hasn’t had any more since.
“He said, ‘Okay, this is for me.’”
When Brady launched his final pass for the Patriots, a pick-six aimed at former teammate Logan Ryan to close out a playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans two years ago, it was suggested that maybe it was the end for Brady. Some even said he should retire so as not to tarnish his legacy.
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Instead, the Benjamin Button of quarterbacks is adding more chapters and seemingly has reversed the aging process while thriving in his second season with the Bucs.
The first TB12 sports therapy centers opened in Foxborough, Mass., adjacent to Gillette Stadium in 2013. The second is in downtown Boston.
The third facility is only a mile from the Bucs’ training complex in a nondescript, blue and white stucco building called the Midtown Professional Center on Armenia Avenue.
Brady and Guerrero spent even more time together than normal in this building and beyond last season, stabilizing a torn medial collateral ligament in Brady’s left knee.
Guerrero would begin helping him prep his knee around 7:30 for the 11 a.m. walk-through. Sometimes Brady would wear the taped support to bed.
When they first started working together, Guerrero showed Brady how lifting weights was bad for his arm, constricting the muscles and making him more likely to have elbow problems. They used pliability methods to lengthen the muscles in his arm and make it more flexible.
Brady prefers working out with resistance bands over lifting weights.
“The thing is when people get hurt, they just immediately go to the doctor,” Brady said. “But the doctor is trained in surgery, for the most part. And they believe they can solve the problems through surgery.
“I’ve had a lot of surgeries. But my view is, I want to do whatever I can to avoid that. You can fix something, but once Alex started working on my elbow, I said, ‘What can we do to keep this from happening again?’ The solution was we’ve got to be really proactive in helping to take care of ourselves.”
The TB12 method, which also has spawned a best-selling book, is constantly evolving.
Guerrero explained the mission statement this way:
“It’s a place where people who were in pain come to get out of pain and do what they love doing for as long as they want to do it. I always felt that professional athletes, the only reason they can’t sustain their peak performance, is because their body can’t keep up with their brain. But if I can have their body keep up with their brain, as they got older the game got slower.
“If I could help people get out of pain, they could do what they love for as long as they want.”
Brady brought more than just wins to the Bucs. His work ethic, nutritional habits and penchant for preventative treatment have influenced teammates.
Half the players on the roster — including Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller and Rob Gronkowski — routinely make the short drive over to TB12 for training and recovery sessions with the center’s body coaches.
And they have the Bucs’ blessing.
Near the end of Brady’s time in New England, Patriots coach Bill Belichick had denied Guerrero’s entrance to the team facility except to work on Brady, removing his sideline access and trips on the team plane as well.
Though Belichick gave no public reason for the move, Boston Magazine had published a series of articles looking into Federal Trade Commission complaints and fraud lawsuits, which were settled out of court, against Guerrero. Before he partnered with Brady, the magazine said Guerrero faced sanctions by federal regulators after “falsely presenting himself as a medical doctor and deceptively promoting nutritional supplements.”
“New England was a great experience for us. I don’t have anything but good things to say. I was treated great. We’re all close friends,” said Guerrero, declining to specifically address the magazine’s reports. “I think there were stories that were kind of made up that created the scenario that really wasn’t the reality that it was. …
“I never wanted to get caught up in that. It wouldn’t have gone anywhere. In my mind, it would’ve only created more problems for Tom and he would’ve had to answer more questions. Our focus is on one thing. Winning football games.”
Bucs buy in
A one-hour session with a body coach at TB12 is $200. The Patriots initially paid for players to use TB12 in New England, but the Bucs declined to disclose who picks up the tab for the team.
Last season, plagued by hamstring and ankle injuries, Evans was a fixture at the Tampa facility.
“It’s getting consistent treatment, even before you get hurt,” said Evans, 28, of TB12. “It’s preventative. When you get hurt, they can obviously help you get back in shape. It’s about not getting to that point.
“I love it, it’s kind of new to me. It’s like a massage, but you’re being active when you do it. It stretches you out and you feel really good. Last year (Bucs players) were injured a lot, and we were in TB12 a lot and they made sure we played.”
Miller, who battled a nagging hip injury in 2020, agreed, saying that working with the TB12 staff “gave us the best chance to stay healthy.”
Players such as Evans also have changed their bodies by adhering to a lot of the TB12 nutritional principles.
Brady’s diet is 80 percent alkaline (most fruits and vegetables) — foods that help reduce inflammation in the body — and 20 percent acidic (meat, grains and dairy, among other things). What he’s striving for is a balance throughout the day.
It’s not unusual to see Brady eating hummus or chewing on organic snack bars. He also has been known to consume 30-55 almonds in one day.
Hydration is one of the biggest components to the TB12 lifestyle, and Brady daily drinks roughly 112.5 ounces of water that includes electrolytes.
Sleep is paramount to recovery, and Brady has programmed his patterns to go to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up around 6 a.m. without an alarm clock.
“I think with all the articles, the things that people read about us and write about us, they say the lifestyle is too hard,” Guerrero said. “It really isn’t. It’s really a moderation of all things. If Tommy wants to have a snack, it’s okay. We just always then offset it. If you’re going to have a drink, you just don’t have six. If you want to have pizza, you’re not going to have the whole pizza. You’re not going to have it three days in a row.”
Evans frequently came to training camp weighing close to 240 pounds and would struggle with fatigue. This year, he said he was down to 225 and did not miss a practice.
“I didn’t cut anything out completely,” he said. “I just would say I eat a lot less and I stay hydrated. I drink a lot of water.”
Bucs backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert, the 10th overall pick of the Jaguars in 2011, knows something about longevity in the NFL and at 31 keeps himself in remarkable shape. Of course, as a backup, he’s only played in five games since 2018.
Nonetheless, he has incorporated TB12 into his workout regimen.
“Anytime you can see a guy play 22 years in the National Football League, that speaks for itself,” Gabbert said. “That’s crazy, right? Just kind of watching what (Brady) does, how he takes care of himself, how he eats, what he does maintenance-wise … that was the biggest thing I tried to apply to my offseason this year in using TB12 as a resource. Even though it’s my 11th season, my body feels young, which is awesome.”
Brady’s move to Tampa Bay always was going to include Guerrero.
Former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman once said Guerrero was to Brady what Mr. Miyagi was to Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid. Guerrero is the godfather to Brady’s youngest son, Ben.
The Bucs have given Guerrero unfettered access to their facility. He works closely with trainer Bobby Slater and Dave Hamilton, the team’s director of performance science.
The team does not allow media access to their training staff. But general manager Jason Licht affirmed that the Bucs are happy with Guerrero’s work.
“Obviously, Tom and Alex have had a longstanding beneficial relationship, and I’ve also known Alex dating back to my time in New England,” said Licht, who in separate stints for the Patriots was a college scout and assistant director of player personnel. “It’s great that some of our players are using Alex as an added benefit in addition to the excellent care they are receiving here from our trainers, doctors and entire sports science department. Providing our players with the best medical resources is a top priority, and we’re happy where things are.”
And where they are is in the hunt for another Super Bowl title. But it’s not enough for Brady to put rings on his teammates’ fingers.
As a quarterback, he’s competing mostly against himself. With Guerrero’s help, he is pushing the boundaries of what is expected when it comes to how long he can play at a championship level.
“What we’ve done together is why I’m able to play this way,” Brady said. “I still feel that way. It’s only reinforced year after year after year.”
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