TAMPA — The breakdown of the breakup between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is like that of any fractured relationship.
The relationship is irretrievably broken, and all that remains is the disagreement over who was more responsible.
But this much both sides will concede: Brady visited the home of Patriots owner Robert Kraft in spring 2020 to tell him he had decided to end his 20-year career with the Patriots and sign with the Bucs as a free agent. But Belichick said goodbye on the telephone to the quarterback who had won six Super Bowls with him in New England.
All this has become a juicy subplot to Brady’s return to New England on Sunday night for the Bucs’ game against the Patriots.
On Wednesday, Belichick denied a report that he suggested a phone call as his last communication with Brady.
For his part, Brady insisted Thursday that the whole matter was “handled perfect” and he harbors no bad feelings about the manner in which his career ended with the Patriots.
“All those things are super personal,” Brady said following practice while nursing a raspy voice. “We had a great relationship. Everything was handled the right way. We handled everything as gracefully as we could. It was an amazing time, and it was handled perfect.
“I mean, everybody understood where we were at, the people involved in the situation. Things worked out for the best for all of us, and we’re trying to do the best we can do now. That’s what happens in life. You go through these experiences. You don’t know where life is going to lead.”
Belichick denied a report in the upcoming book It’s Better to be Feared by ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that he told Brady he wasn’t available for an in-person meeting and instead suggested the phone call.
“No, that’s not true, and I’ve heard a few things about this book, and it sounds like it’s a lot of second-, third- and fourth-hand comments, but I’m not going to get into that,” Belichick said during his news conference Wednesday. “I’m going to focus on this game and try to prepare for the Bucs.”
Belichick was very complimentary of Brady and his ability to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl victory in his first season with them.
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“Tom’s had an unbelievable career,” Belichick said. “There’s not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he’s achieved and continues to achieve, so yeah, it’s unbelievably impressive.”
Brady returned many of the same superlatives Thursday when asked what he appreciated about playing for Belichick.
“He’s a great coach,” Brady said. “Obviously, a great coach. He has everyone prepared; he does a great job of that. And as I’ve said before, he taught me a lot. He was a great mentor for me for a long time, and I really enjoyed my time in New England. But at the same time, I’m super excited about what we’ve done here.”
It’s clear Brady is extremely proud of what he has accomplished in a short time with the Bucs, overcoming a 7-5 start last season to win eight games in a row and his seventh Super Bowl ring.
The Bucs are 2-1 heading into Sunday’s game, and the only score Brady seems focused on settling is the one between the Bucs and Patriots.
“I think the only thing I know how to do is give it all I can in every day, moment, and the people who really bet on me, I want to do really well for them,” he said. “(General manager) Jason (Licht) and (coach) Bruce (Arians), I thank them for coming into my life and saying, ‘Hey, we really want you to be here.’ It’s been an amazing thing.’’
The key words in that statement are “want you.” Brady no longer felt wanted by the Patriots, and nothing Belichick could have said on the phone likely would have changed that.
“I’m just really excited to go up there and beat a really great football team, and that’s ultimately what this week is about,” Brady said. “It’s not about the quarterback. It’s not about the fans or the home crowd or relationships for 20 years. It’s about two good teams going at it, and we’ve got to do a great job.
“It’s going to be a huge test. Last week was a huge test; we didn’t quite beat it,” he said of the loss to the Rams. “This is another huge test. We’ve got to go meet the challenge.”
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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