TAMPA — Tom Brady is afraid to step off the hamster wheel. He’s fearful of ending his unparalleled career after 22 seasons knowing nothing will compare to playing quarterback in the NFL.
He admits to being “tormented” by his love of football, even at the expense of failing to live up to the example set by his role model, his father, Tom Sr.
“It’s like the hamster wheel doesn’t stop, and if you stop the hamster wheel, maybe there’s a fear that you will never be able to get back on,” Brady says in Man in the Arena, his docuseries that captures the journey of his 10 Super Bowl appearances. “What’s going to bring me the joy as I move forward?”
The 10th and final episode of the series is scheduled to air at 11 p.m. Monday on ESPN+. It offers no footage of Brady’s decision to retire on Feb 1. Nor does it specifically mention his decision to end that retirement six weeks later and rejoin the Bucs.
But it offers great insight into Brady’s biggest internal conflict at age 44.
What happens when you are so great at something that you can’t give it up, even though you know it’s almost selfish and maybe not in the best interest of your wife and three children?
The final episode is aptly named “The Wheel,” and it continues to spin uncontrollably for Brady.
The episode mostly chronicles the Bucs’ Super Bowl 55 season in 2020, from Brady’s divorce with the Patriots after 20 years to his system for choosing the Bucs and eventually overcoming a mediocre start by the team to lift his seventh Lombardi Trophy.
But as much as it is about football, it serves more as a window into Brady’s headspace during the past few years in Tampa Bay.
Landing in Tampa Bay, with a talented roster, experienced coach, warm climate and laid-back lifestyle suited Brady instantly as he trained for the 2020 season in his pool at the home he rented on Davis Islands.
“I remember (personal trainer) Alex (Guerero) and I were working out, and every day we were in the pool to do a pool workout I would look at Alex and go, ‘Dude, can you believe this? It’s 85 degrees out, and we’re in the pool getting ready for the football season,’ " Brady says.
Brady reveals that he convinced tight end Rob Gronkowski to join him in Tampa Bay during a throwing session Brady arranged at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., after a call to Nets superstar Kevin Durant.
The Bucs started the season 7-5 but won their final four regular-season games before taking down the Saints’ Drew Brees, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in the postseason. Winning the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field might have been Brady’s best memory.
“If you ever go to Lambeau Field for an NFC Championship Game, that’s football heaven,’” he says. “It’s a game that I’ll remember. Play by play. The weather. The way the sun hit the stadium. The way the grass felt on my feet. The way the reflection off the helmets was that game. Everything is kind of instilled in my mind, a photographic memory almost of those moments.”
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But it’s Brady’s moments with his father that dominate the final episode. Whether it was baseball or football, Tom Sr. made it a point to get off work in time to help his son develop as a man and an athlete.
“My dad made every commitment to me that was an amazing dad,” Brady says, wiping away tears. “There was never a moment when he didn’t have time to support what I wanted to do and try to achieve. It’s a hard thing to do.
“From the time I was a kid, whether I wanted to be a pro baseball player, he’d come home and take me out on the field and hit me ground balls until the sun set. When I wanted to learn to play QB ... he didn’t push me, he kind of held me up.”
But Brady is conflicted about what he misses with his own family due to the demands of his NFL career.
“I realize life for me is becoming more complicated,” he says. “How do I make my life a little more simple to find a little more joy in the simple moments, because I’m so excited about achieving more?”
Before the episode ends, Brady addresses the biggest struggle in his life, an impossible effort to find a work/life balance while playing a sport well beyond anyone’s expectations.
“When I think about being a dad, I think about (Tom Sr.),” Brady says. “Because of what my dad meant to me, and I know I’m not as good of a dad to my kids that my dad has been to me. I use them as my example of how to keep a family together and to care and support and to love. We want our kids to be happy. I want them to be respectful of people. I want them to be kind. I want them to make the world a better place.
“I think maybe what I wish for our children is to find something they really love like I have. But I think I’ve taken it to the extreme, too. There are imbalances in my life, and I hope they don’t take things as far as I’ve taken them. I want them to experience great success in whatever they do, but there’s a torment about me that I don’t wish upon them.
“I know there’s time for me to be sitting in the stands, I know there’s time for me to be doing other things,” Brady continues. “But there’s still a desire to win. When you’re the man in the arena, there’s no thrill like that.”
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