TAMPA, Fla. — Not long before he turned 44 on Tuesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady took a handoff out of the backfield, tucked the ball and dashed forward. He then mimicked Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott‘s spoon-to-mouth “feed me” gesture as he jogged back into formation.
It was a mere run installation and Brady wasn’t even practicing, let alone in the correct position, but his enthusiasm was palpable, despite it being his 22nd NFL training camp, and the crowd of several hundred onlookers noticed.
“I’d probably give him a seven,” running back Ronald Jones joked of Brady’s running back impersonation. “How many rings he got? I’d give him seven out of 10.”
Teammates have long been privy to Brady’s slew of dad jokes and friendly trash talk, laced with humility that often teeters on self-deprecation. Those serve as a stark contrast to intense outbursts on the sidelines, like the one he’d have two days later when he shouted, “F—!” after failing to account for Devin White dropping into coverage for an interception.
They’ve known there’s a warmer, funnier side to the seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, who once crashed his offensive line’s barbeque night and outdrank the entire group. But fans are seeing more of it now.
“I don’t know what ya’ll paint the guy as, like he’s an alien or something,” left tackle Donovan Smith joked. “He has a sense of humor. He’s human. He likes to have fun. I mean, who doesn’t? Everybody likes to have fun, joke around.”
In his first year in Tampa, Brady peeled back the curtain on his life. He wasn’t afraid of what people might think, how it might affect his image or even if it ruffled a few feathers. Was it a matter of leaving coach Bill Belichick’s buttoned-up locker room in New England, or is there something more to it?
“Tom’s very comfortable in our locker room and with our coaches and our fans,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said. “I think that personality is showing more and more. We love seeing it.”
Brady stood next to President Joe Biden at the White House, dubbed himself “Sleepy Tom” and trolled election deniers by saying, “40% still don’t think we won the Super Bowl.” He then challenged 11 White House interns to a scrimmage on the south lawn, promising to “run up the score.”
Tom Brady jokes around with President Joe Biden as the Buccaneers celebrate their Super Bowl win at the White House.
On HBO’s “The Shop” the week prior, he admitted, upon learning a team he was interested in last spring decided to go in another direction at quarterback, that he quipped, “You’re sticking with that motherf—er?!”
Then there was the infamous trophy toss and avocado tequila moment at the Super Bowl parade. After, he joked on “The Late Late Show with James Corden” that his 8-year-old daughter, Vivi, was “the voice of reason” that day.
There have also been countless memes posted on social media, like one likening his matchup with Drew Brees to a History Channel special. In team media availabilities, which typically have involved discussing only that week’s opponent, he has opened up about losing his jet skis in his first tropical storm, and he has done hilarious impersonations of longtime friend Rob Gronkowski.
Brady’s gone from being a Patriots player his now-QB coach, Clyde Christensen, was afraid to talk to when they were on rival teams to cracking with him about pumped-in crowd noise at the RCA Dome, where Christensen’s former team, the Colts, used to play.
Brady acknowledged the metamorphosis and said it has been a combination of his new environment, getting older and a desire to create a more authentic relationship with fans, whom he now contacts directly using a text messaging service.
“It’s nice that I’ve found my voice more,” Brady said. “I really enjoy being around my teammates, my coaches — it’s been a different environment. [I’m] just really enjoying the experience of playing football, playing with this group of guys.”
Then, sensing he wasn’t giving as detailed of a response as reporters were hoping for, he said, “You guys are catching me on a bad day today. We had a really s—ty practice. I’m not feeling great about what we did today. It is what it is.”
Gronkowski, who has seen a more loose Brady in Tampa since their days together in New England, said he appreciates the candor.
“It’s great that he’s showing that side,” Gronkowski said. “It’s great for football, it’s great for the fans. It’s great for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When you’re playing a sport, you don’t want to be uptight. You want to always be loose and ready to go, and it’s just cool to see that side of him, doing all that activity, all the little silly comments, the jokes. It keeps everyone loose and on their toes. And it’s fun too.”
“Tom’s a great guy, a fun guy to be around,” wide receiver Scotty Miller said. “It’s probably a little tougher for him, he’s around a bunch of 20-year-old kids. He’s almost like our dad [laughs]. But no, he’s great, he’s fun to hang out with.”
“To me, he’s always been a loose guy from the first day I met him,” White said. “He’s just like one of us. He jokes around. He does all the things we do. He eats in the cafeteria with us. I’m still seeing the same person. I think I’m seeing a better person on the field. He’s more comfortable.”
Some would suggest Brady’s public change started well before he left New England for Tampa Bay for the 2020 season, with his better-late-than-never arrival on social media — first with Facebook, where his social team, led by business manager Ben Rawitz, posted everything from vacation cliff diving to his old resume from 2014.
“I was extremely shocked, because he’s a very private guy,” former Patriots teammate Donté Stallworth said. “I think a lot of it was him wanting to show who Tom Brady really is. He’s a funny dude, and a lot of us have known that over the years.”
Then in 2019, Brady joined Twitter, where, in his first tweet, he unceremoniously pulled off the best/worst April Fool’s joke of all time, announcing his retirement. Stallworth immediately tweeted, “Welcome to hell!” and Brady responded, “I heard everyone’s really supportive around here?”
“He’s definitely loosened up a lot,” Stallworth said. “I’ve just kind of sat back and enjoyed it all. It’s something that I’m personally glad he was able to do. .. People are able to see him for who he is while he’s a player. Because it’s different when you retire. … When you can show the public your personality during your playing days, during the season and the offseason, it just matters more. It means a little more.”
Former Patriots teammate Damien Woody, now an ESPN analyst, agreed.
“He was under the microscope for so long — and I can understand he wanted to keep the private life private and keep everything to football,” Woody said. “But I just think Tom is at a point now where, listen, his legacy is made. In my opinion, he’s the greatest quarterback ever. And I just think that as you get older, you’re kinda like, ‘Screw it. I’m gonna do me. Just do me. And damn everything else.’ That’s where Tom is right now.
“He knows that the clock is ticking as far as his career … so why not just enjoy the ride? Why not just enjoy this latter part of his career and have fun? That’s the way you’re supposed to do it. … I’ve just really enjoyed the trash talking, the memes, the cracking jokes — that’s who he is. That’s really who he is.”