If you strip away every layer of intrigue surrounding Tom Brady’s relationship with the Patriots and why he’s not playing for them anymore it comes down to this. He’s old. And he’s been old -- by conventional definitions -- since 2012, the season he turned 35.
So in 2013, when Brady turned 36 and the Patriots offense slipped, Bill Belichick did what any coach with an aging player should do. Started making plans to replace him.
And in 2014, when Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and Brady turned 37, Brady won the first of the four Super Bowls he’s won in the past seven seasons. But during the span from 2014 through 2020, Belichick was always on alert for the decline. Brady couldn’t keep on at the level he was playing. The much-discussed “cliff” had to be coming. If not that, then an injury that would rob him of his effectiveness. Belichick didn’t want to be left with an old, expensive and injured quarterback. That’s why Tom Brady is a Buccaneer.
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Belichick didn’t believe Brady could do what he’s doing. To be fair, few did. So how IS Brady doing it? I visited Tampa Bay last week to visit Alex Guerrero. He’s been Brady’s body coach since 2005. He and Brady co-founded TB12 Sports Therapy and -- until the Belichick-Brady relationship started to go sideways in 2017, Guerrero (at Belichick’s request) treated a slew of Patriots players working in conjunction with the team’s training staff.
Over the last six years or so Guerrero’s been pilloried in the media as a quack, a witch doctor and a divider. In 2015, I actually went to see Guerrero for a sports injury. Brady recommended it so I said, “What the hell?” I paid my money ($200 for the appointment) and he fixed it. All three of my sons have seen him for various sports injuries. He helped all of them.
So I’ve got a good relationship with him and respect for what he’s capable of. In going to Tampa, he asked that I stick to the “How is Brady doing this?” angle rather than plumb the circumstances of Brady’s departure from New England.
So I did.
Here’s the Q&A we had.
How is this possible? How is he doing this?
AG: We get the question all the time, Tommy and I. And it doesn’t seem like it’s that hard of an answer for us. We've been telling you guys for YEARS how we’re doing this. It's not a secret. And we're extremely dedicated, we work really hard at the same things all the time and we make sure our tissue’s always pliable and is able to support the force of the sport. So it’s pre-practice, it’s post-practice, it’s pregame, it’s postgame. It’s getting him ready so that his body can sustain the forces of the sport itself.
We’ve heard about diet, pliability, hydration. But how much of this is simple force of will?
AG: It's interesting when people bring up will and what I learned, over 30 years of practice is that an athlete's ability to perform at a high level over a sustained period of time has mostly to do with just how they feel.
I think will got them there. You know you play at this level, it’s not like you don’t have grit and determination and will. Willie McGinest taught me this when I started all those years ago. I remember it was year six, and he was in pain. And he hadn't finished any year, any football season, and it was hard for him. Football wasn't fun. And so when we got together and started to help him and his body recover and repair, he said, ‘Alex, you make football fun for me.’
Willie went on to play 16 years. So it really to me has a lot to do with how somebody feels while they're doing what they love. And if you're, if you're feeling good and your body can recover your ability to sustain that over time is easy to me. It’s not hard.
So when we talk about different generations, players who were done at 30 years old, what did they not have?
When I started 30 plus years ago, the whole concept of manual therapy and tissue pliability wasn't even an idea. No one was doing that. I mean if you think I'm crazy today, people then really thought I was crazy. People like Joe Montana and Steve Young and all those greats, had they been able to incorporate more pliability into their lives at the time ... hydration, diet, sleep, those are all amplifiers to me. Those things are just a given. That's not the reason why anybody is able to sustain their peak performance.
There's a lot of people that eat right. There's a lot of people that hydrate well. There's a lot that get enough sleep but they still can maintain and sustain their peak performance over long periods of time. You see some of the best athletes today they'll go and exercise and lift do all these things and probably eat right, see a nutritionist and do all the right things and yet, week one, they go and they injure themselves in week one and it's a soft tissue injury. Whether it's a groin injury or a hamstring injury or shoulder injury, but to me it's like, pretty simple like the missing piece for them is pliability. The idea of creating new neural pathways of behavior, getting the body to the muscles to be long and unrestricted, so that they can support the forces that are being placed on them.
Has Tom’s pliability been reduced or do you have to work harder to get him ready now than you originally did?
Yeah that's true we do spend more time with it. Early on in Tom's career, and this is our 16th year together, I could see him three days every other week, for example. I could come out to New England and I would treat him six days a month. Six days a month turned into every day. And now it's twice a day.
When do you do see him on an ordinary day?
Early in the morning here at facility around 6:30 or 7 and work for about an hour, hour and a half. We'll do an evaluation, see how his body's feeling in the morning, and then it'll consist of pliability treatments through his legs, hips, hip flexors, obviously his arm, and then he'll go off to his meetings and he'll come back in for, right before practice, we make sure his arm is firing at 100 percent all the muscles that correlate to his throwing motion are firing evenly together. Then he goes out and practices for two hours and as soon as practice is over, he's back in. We do full body pliability treatments again because the idea is to get the brain to create neural pathways of behavior.
What’s that mean?
So the brain and the body are very closely connected. Your brain doesn't know right or wrong, it doesn't know good or bad, it just knows what you teach it. So, for example, if Tom goes and throws 200 footballs every day, I need to create neuro pathways from his brain through his nervous system to the muscles to be able to support throwing footballs 200 footballs every day without being sore.
So his brain goes, ‘Okay, I understand this is how you want me to function. I'm gonna throw 200 footballs a day’. We're not gonna have any swelling or inflammation, because we never allow the body to get into a negative neuromuscular state. So, when he goes and does the load of a lift. I work his muscles getting ready for the lift. He goes and does the heavy load of his lift. I work his muscles right after the lift. So his brain is always wiring long and unrestricted regardless of what the movement is, regardless of what the load is.
Same thing with throwing. I know you’re gonna throw 200 footballs today so we're gonna work all the muscles that correlate to your throwing motion. We're gonna keep them long and unrestricted. As soon as you come in from practice, we will keep them long and unrestricted so the brain goes, ‘Okay, this really isn't a heavy load for me.
So if you weren't doing the pre and post, he’d go out and during those 200 throws he’d feel tired. And then it would be sore. And then it would swell as it tries to heal. …
Then you get an inflammatory response and now you have compensation issues and you're brain begins to wire in compensation. It knows you have to go throw so maybe this muscle has to work a little harder because that one’s not firing at 100 percent. Or this one's a little inflamed today so let's compensate with this other group and that's how you begin to have joint load. That's how you begin to have soft tissue issues, and that's how you see aging quarterbacks who don't have the arm strength anymore.
Tom’s arm strength is the same. His mechanics haven't changed. Other quarterbacks who haven't been able to sustain and going into their late 30s, early 40s and they start to lose velocity. There's only one reason why. And it’s not because your mechanics change.
Every sport is really kind of the same. If you look at the way a baseball player swings, it's all inside. It’s generating ground forces and staying. Golf, it’s the same, staying inside, a thrower the same, stays inside. All the sports really are about the same thing; it's generating ground force, creating torque and letting the torque create the power.
How much of a trailblazer do you think Tom will be because of what he’s doing?
It's an interesting question because a lot of what you hear in the media and everywhere else is that Tom is just an outlier. He's just different than everybody else so we'll just put him over here, and we'll talk about everybody else will be over here.
And it's funny to me because he's not an outlier, he's just like everybody else. He’s not an enigma. He cuts and he bleeds and he breaks and we just put him together. And so if other athletes can't see what he's doing and be inspired by that, then it goes back to your ‘will’ question. Then I think they just don't have the drive, the dedication, the will to want to be that great.
So now I say, ‘Are you tired, or are you uninspired?’ Because I think professional athletes just get tired. Or are they uninspired? Whether you're uninspired because your body doesn't feel good anymore, now are you just uninspired, or are you really tired? So I look at some of the guys playing today that are older and I'm thinking, ‘Wow, we provided them with all this information and why aren’t they using it? They think like they can go change their diet and play like Tom.
No, it has nothing to do with his diet, it has to do with how much time we put into recovery through pliability. Now if you don't want to do that, you're just uninspired and don’t have the will or the grit or the determination.
So how much has coming South re-inspired Tom?
You oftentimes hear people say change is good. And you don't know that when you're in a place and it's good where you're at because it was good there. They were winning and when you're winning it's good there. And so, you don't really understand change is good until change happens.
And the change here, you know when it happened and we came here it was good. It was good. And you realize, wow, like, good can happen in more than one place. You can be good in multiple places. I mean ownership here is great, and the coaching staff here is great. The players are great. The whole atmosphere has been great, Tampa’s been great.
How much of that is that it’s new and fresh?
That could be an element of it, but you know even Gronk. I’ve been taking care of him for a lot of years now and he's clearly a different player now.
How has Gronk been able to get back to the point where he is now?
It's the same. Everybody focuses on Tom but the reality is, Gronk is equally as dedicated as Tom. Gronk gets pre-practice treatment, post-practice treatment, he is treated two to three times every single day, and he gets it. So, he's TB12 method 100 percent. He eats right, he hydrates right, he rests right. He gets the pliability treatments. He just never goes a day without them.
So again when you think about creating the neural pathways of behavior that I talked about it's sustainable over time which is what I've always said. If I see an athlete at point A and I get them the point B. And the next time I see them they're back at point A, that's bad treatment in my opinion, it's not sustainable treatment. So I want to take it from A to B, B to C, C to D and over the course of time I'll create enough new neural pathways of behaviors so now Gronk’s brain is rewired to be able to move and play the way that he does.
The brain understands, ‘OK, I understand that you want me at 265 pounds in these directions, carrying these loads, this long. No problem, I can do that, because again, your brain doesn't know right or wrong or good or bad, it just knows what you teach it.
Are you as proud of what you’ve accomplished with Gronk you are with Tom?
I don't know that I'd say proud. I use the word happy. I'm extremely happy for Rob, because when we sat and we talked (after injuring his back in 2016), I knew he had a love for the game again, his body just hurt. He got good at doing it bad. And when it finally clicked for him, he realized, ‘Okay, there can be a better way,’ and when we finally got to the point to where he did some activities and woke up the next day and had no pain he's like, ‘Oh! This is what Tom feels like every day!’ He's like, ‘I like this!’
So there is a very physical, mental, emotional component to what we do at TB12. It's not just a physical thing, it's a very emotional and mental thing as well so we work on those things we call it the triangle of wellness here.
What’s the triangle of wellness?
It’s being physically fit which will drive you to being mentally strong which will drive you to be emotionally sound and that will keep you physically fit. If you're hurting it's tough to overcome it. Then you start to feel emotions and wonder, ‘Can I do this anymore? How long can I do this?’
The motion of that sets in and then that negative emotion starts to affect you physically because you feel like, ‘I don't get it. I try to go out and get treatment and I still don’t feel any better.’ And it's a vicious cycle.
Is Tom looking forward to that game?
I would say this: we approach every week the same. We really do. The idea of winning is, is, you know there's a certain energy and emotion that comes to the idea of winning. And people say, is winning that game more important than winning this game? At the end of the day, it's winning. It isn't about who the better team was on the field that day. At the end of the day, who won?
It really isn't about like, ‘Hey Tommy need to play your best.’ I don't even know what that means. I really don't. We are going to prepare and prepare the body so that you can try to feel the perfect pass every time. Try to get your players in the best play every time. You shouldn't be thinking about, ‘Oh, my arm is a little sore or my back. I just want to be able to eliminate that variable, so that he can focus on what he needs to focus on, which is really trying to win a football game.
From my perception from what I see, because I'm with him for six to eight hours every single day, I don't see him prepare that way. I don’t see him saying, ‘Yeah, this game means so much more to me than the other ones.’ It's never that way, which is really a credit to his ability to put himself in a mental space to really focus on what he needs to focus on which is to be the best quarterback for a team that he can possibly be. And I do feel like he can't be the best quarterback in Week 3 if he’s thinking about Week 4.