Opinion: There’s a lot to hate about New England QB Tom Brady but a lot to admire, too
ATLANTA — Hating Tom Brady is easy.
The deflated footballs. The smug smile. The good looks. The supermodel wife. The yucky diet. The agelessness.
And, of course, the rings. So, so, so many rings.
For everyone but New England Patriots fans, this is a week to alternate between white-hot rage and grudging respect. But mostly rage. While most other 41-year-olds have resigned themselves to the Rice Krispie-esque symphonies that emanate from their bodies, Brady has dragged a team that was limited throughout the regular season to yet another Super Bowl. New England’s third in a row and fourth in five years, for those who’ve been trapped under a rock without internet for the last 10 days.
While fans in Pittsburgh and Kansas City and Baltimore lament another year without a Super Bowl title, the folks in New England have already started mentally making space for yet another Lombardi Trophy, thanks to ol’ Tom Terrific.
And, yet, if you spend any amount of time around Brady this week, it’s hard to maintain the hate. Brady has played the game — literally and figuratively — long enough to know the drill of interviews and media sessions. He has perfected the art of saying much while giving away little.
But there are enough glimpses here and there to reveal the person beneath the robo QB, someone who is not only relateable but actually likable.
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This is one of the most famous and successful athletes in the world, yet he bragged Tuesday about his niece committing to UCLA and name-checked his older sister’s softball coach at Fresno State. When someone gave him photos from a trip to Asia two summers ago, Brady flipped through them with a grin on his face, reminiscing about the incredible time he and his older son had.
And when someone asked about the roots of his famed competitiveness, Brady’s answer gave perhaps the best window into what drives him to keep playing when there is absolutely nothing left to prove.
“Some people are born with great height. Some people are born with great size, great speed. Some people are born with other things I would say are more intangible,” he said. “I think competitiveness and the ability to compete has been a great attribute for me. It started when I was young. And it was really a part of my whole family. Everyone was the same way.
“I think I was always encouraged to do that,” Brady continued. “My parents never said, `Look, we should really think about what you want to do, your goals.’ My parents always just encouraged it. `Let’s go for it. Let’s try to go to these camps with these other kids that are really talented.’ That was just a great thing my parents were able to instill in me. You shoot for the stars. You try to do the best you can do.
“I just grew up that way, and I still feel that way now,” he added. “People think, `You’re 41, what are you doing?’ I’m shooting for the stars. I’m doing something I love to do.”
Sports allegiances are inherently tribal, and it’s almost impossible not to loathe those athletes and coaches who aren’t part of your team. Or resent those whose success outshines everyone else’s. Brady and the Patriots certainly qualify, and they haven’t exactly gone out of their way to change the negative perceptions of them.
It was just a few days ago, in fact, that Brady was riling up some 30,000 Patriots fans by saying no one expected them to be there and that they had defied all the odds.
But Brady gave a bit of insight into that part of his mindset, too. He might get the accolades and attention, but he is well aware it is a team game. Part of his job is to set the tone, knowing that the rest of the team will follow.
This was not a season without challenges; Rob Gronkowski was limited for much of the year, and Julian Edelman missed the first four games. But if Brady had acknowledged those concerns or shown any sign of doubt, the Patriots might as well have packed it in.
Instead, he styled them as underdogs. Rather than be dragged down by their own limitations, Brady fired up the Patriots to prove the haters wrong. Look where they ended up.
“I think I’ve found a balance between when I’m competing and when I’m not,” Brady said. “It’s not like that 24-7, every single day. I pick my moments.”
And that’s what so often gets lost with Brady. It’s very easy to hate him.
But he makes it hard not to admire and appreciate him, as well.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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