Tom Brady has an office chair at his locker.
Every other player in the room has a regular folding chair. But Brady has an office chair. Comfy seat, plush arms, the works.
He doesn’t have a prime, end-of-the-row spot like Rob Gronkowski where he can heap all his overflow mail, footballs and swag. He’s jammed in there between Brian Hoyer and Malcolm Mitchell.
Kyle Van Noy has an end locker too. So do Donta Hightower, Nate Solder, Alan Branch, Julian Edelman and Malcom Brown. But they don’t have office chairs.
Tom Brady has an office chair. At his locker.
Brady was drafted on April 16, 2000. Bill Clinton was in office, this song was in the Top 10 and "Gladiator" was in cinemas. Michael Vick, LaDainian Tomlinson and Calvin Johnson are all players who entered the league after Brady and exited long before.
And now, almost 18 years later, the most obvious sign of Brady’s elite status in the locker room, the one thing that sets him apart from his peers? It’s an office chair. And it showed up this year. In the same year that Brady turned 40.
That’s your diva. That’s your prima donna.
That’s your guy who – as Seth Wickersham’s ESPN piece on Friday unmistakably illustrated – has been the angry lion in winter, arm-twisting teammates to see his body coach and business partner, browbeating the 76-year-old owner about his contract, throwing hospital balls to receivers like Chris Hogan and making sure the decks were cleared of all competition.
The launch point for Wickersham’s story was an interesting one. It recounted Brady’s sideline explosion at McDaniels in Buffalo on Dec. 3. Wickersham narrates a scene in which Brady reached a boiling point after McDaniels gave a couple of disgusted, “He was wide opens…” after Brady missed Brandin Cooks on a third down. (Personally, I think he actually missed Gronk in the end zone, but whatever.)
Brady melted down right there in front of not just the team, but – an apparently relevant detail – McDaniels’ father (?).
Wickersham wrote, “…many in the Patriots' building knew that Brady's explosion wasn't really about McDaniels. It wasn't about Cooks. And it wasn't about the Bills game. It was about the culmination of months of significant behind-the-scenes frustrations.”
The 4,630-word article accurately lays out an atmosphere of tension and uncertainty in Foxboro that – while not unprecedented (2007 to 2009 was sticky too) – is gathering just as everybody’s getting old and nearing the end.
And it’s Brady’s fault. He’s the one who got Yoko Guerrero involved and couldn’t take the presence of Garoppolo any longer. He’s to blame for the Patriots getting pennies on the dollar for a would-be superstar. It’s him, it’s him, it’s him.
Flip it. Look at it through Brady’s eyes.
For 18 years, he’s happily subjugated himself for the greater good. He’s taken millions and millions less than he could have commanded. He’s kept his lips buttoned about personnel moves and what the Patriots have surrounded him with offensively.
He’s taken his verbal floggings along with everyone else. Maybe he’s taken even more because he knew that – in taking them – the greater good would be served. If teammates see he can deal with it, how can they complain when they get it too?
He’s been – by every description – their hardest worker. It’s been football and family for 18 years. And in many ways the two have been interchangeable.
Now the guy who took an obscene physical beating through the season’s first six games and withstood a hammering in the 2015 AFC Championship that would have left Jimmy Garoppolo in traction is being called soft by a “Patriots staffer”?
Citing a throw against the Chargers when Brady allegedly had a deep route open but instead chose to throw to Chris Hogan (getting Hogan hurt), the “staffer” said, "Tom was trying to get it out quick. As fragility has increased, nervousness has also increased."
Anyone who’s watched Brady closely understands that, when protection is worse, he accelerates everything. His feet, his head-swiveling, his release. Especially during the regular season. And sometimes – like the start of Super Bowl 46 – in the playoffs too. He mildly subscribes to a “live to fight another play” credo. This is not a recent phenomenon.
In a game at Seattle in 2012, Brady repeatedly danced and ducked when nobody was near him. It was frequent that year. If anything, his willingness to take punishment has increased over the years.
So labeling him fragile and nervous? Feels like projecting.
A sore Achilles and whatever other maladies he’s dealing with (there’s been a lot of hand flexing in recent weeks) aren’t a byproduct of being 40 as much as they are related to being dropped in an industrial-sized dryer every weekend. And playing behind an offensive line – which he relentlessly praises – that has undersized players at center and left guard who get bulldozed by players bent on breaking Brady.
So you’re Tom Brady and you’re digesting this portion of Wickersham’s story.
And you’re getting that familiar vibe of seller’s remorse from within your own team. The vibe that you’re not really supposed to be here anymore. That the guy who was drafted in 2014 because of “Tom’s age and contract status” was supposed to be the one still here. The future.
And you’re thinking to yourself about the hits you’ve taken while recalling that - in 2016, at age 24 – Garoppolo couldn’t make it through six quarters as your replacement.
And you’re remembering that – after winning two Super Bowls in three seasons – there was still a resistance from the team to buy into you all summer. Even though you’d gone one better than just winning those Super Bowls – you were playing at an MVP level through the first part of the season, there was no as-promised contract extension to validate your decision to sink roots and raise your family here.
You think about the fact that the guy who’s helped change your workout routine so that you can accept the beating you take – Alex Guerrero – has been marginalized and lampooned.
You think about how – for the first time in 18 years – you tried to branch out off the field with something you were passionate about and how the eye-rolling and dismissiveness rained down until Guerrero was exiled.
And you return to the sideline after an incompletion against the Bills in early December. You are being looked at as the golden goose with only so many golden eggs left to squeeze out. You are 40. Jimmy’s gone and they are stuck with you. Everything you do after all these years is seen through the prism of age. You feel there’s a bogus expiration date on your forehead.
You’re told twice you missed an open receiver.
And you’ve heard enough.