FOXBOROUGH, Massachusetts – They stood on opposite ends of the field, in the rain, both familiar with their actions: Bill Belichick with his arms crossed and watching his team. Tom Brady throwing a ball with precision. There are so many records, memories, and words spoken and unspoken between them. And despite that, there was nothing either. Not a greeting, at least in public view. Not a hug. No recognition from the greatest coach of all time to the greatest quarterback of all time, or vice versa, before they met for the first and probably only time.
And what about Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots? That was different. He saw Brady in the bowels of the stadium long before kickoff and in front of the cameras, he hugged his former quarterback with both arms and gave him an affectionate pat on the back of the neck. While the team owner supported his coach in imposing a cap on contract negotiations that in 2019 laid the groundwork for Brady’s departure, few wondered if they would even speak. They are friends, virtually family. Kraft texted Brady after he won the NFC championship game last January.
In the two weeks leading up to game of the year, Brady and Belichick seemed to use the same praise book (even if Brady has gone so far as to say that 90% of what he claims in front of the media is not true); the tone was different, though, at least on Brady’s part. There were some slight but notable tweaks: Tom Brady Sr. told NBC Sports Boston that his son “rightly so” felt vindicated after winning a Super Bowl. Alex Guerrero, Brady’s personal trainer and business partner, whom Belichick once came to restrict his access to the Patriots, confessing to the Boston Herald, saying that Belichick “never evolved” to recognize Brady’s unprecedented career, trying to a man close to 40 years old as a boy under 25.
Various media outlets came to believe that Belichick would approach Brady before the game to hug him; perhaps with the intention of disarming the focused quarterback, known for his laser beam concentration. When Peyton Manning first visited Indianapolis as a member of the Denver Broncos, the stadium board showed a tribute video, prompting Manning to shed a tear or two during warm-ups. On Sunday night, the Patriots did not present video tributes to Brady, although there were no tears either. Brady paused inside the tunnel, doing his best not to be aware of the situation except for a fleeting glance. He was as determined as ever. The last time he played a game at Foxborough, he ran out of the tunnel, approaching a sign that read “PLEASE STAY TOMMY.” Tonight, the banners had different phrases: “GOD, FAMILY, BRADY.”
Brady didn’t allow himself to smile. “He was behaving normally” all week, said Buccaneers assistant head coach and plays coordinator Harold Goodwin after the game. “Nothing regarding the week was different, with the exception of the rival. Everyone knew it was an important game and that we needed to win it. “
Then the encounter began. Both Brady and Mac Jones, the man chosen by the Patriots in the first round of the draft to be their long-term replacement, struggled to throw the ball in the rain. Everything went very professionally. When Brady broke the all-time record for passing yards set by Drew Brees, everything seemed to indicate that the umpires wanted to stop the game. Instead, Brady instructed the Buccaneers to quickly do their lineup on the attack line, as he tossed the ball to a prop, refusing to make a big fuss. He had the look of a match that a younger Brady would recognize. It looked like Belichick had dusted off an old playbook. Brady played the role of the superstar quarterback and Belichick’s defenses, with different fronts and coverage, were unable to stop Tampa Bay. Although he was able to contain it, especially in the red zone. Jones acted like the Brady of 2001, throwing mostly safe and fast passes and moving the chains. At halftime, the score was 7-6 in favor of the Patriots.
Late in the third quarter, the Buccaneers finally managed to complete a march and took a 13-7 lead. Afterward, the Patriots did what they always did when Brady played them: respond. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels put together his best gear of the season, and New England took the lead 14-13 with just under 15 minutes to go, taking another 17-16 lead with 4:34 left on the clock. Belichick winced, as if he knew there was too much time left. And there was Brady: trashing the Patriots, beating a pass interference penalty, using all the knowledge Belichick helped him amass to bring the Buccaneers to field goal range. At third and seven, Brady hit a deep pitch to another former Patriots member, catcher Antonio Brown, who couldn’t hold her across the goal. The field goal was good: 19-17.
Jones moved the Patriots down the field; however, his third down pass to a wide receiver ended up deflected at the attack line and Nick Folk’s 56-yard field goal attempt crashed off the post. The Belichick and Brady Patriots won many games by a few inches, and this meeting could not be decided otherwise. Brady found himself in a familiar location again: in the winning formation at Gillette Stadium.
“It was something very, very special to him,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians later said. “He held it in for the entire week, and he’s probably letting it all come out right now.”
They all flooded the land. Cameras raced to tackle Brady as he hugged his former teammates and smiled. Would this be the moment? Would Belichick and Brady finally meet? We had a feeling Belichick won the battle against Brady, limiting him to just 22 completions on 43 attempts and 6.25 passing yards, just one touchdown in four trips to the red zone, all despite losing the game. Although Brady also triumphed in battles: he only suffered one capture and never lost the ball. Arians would testify after the match that he was frustrated to see that everyone seemed to believe that the match was just a fight between Brady and Belichick, when there were two teams colliding on the ground. Finally, and quickly, Belichick approached Brady. The hug lasted a thousandth of a second, stating that they would meet again after the game.
Belichick left the field, leading an 8-12 team since Brady’s departure; while the quarterback was on the field that he left trotting past all kinds of fans wearing every imaginable version of Tom Brady jerseys, and he pointed skyward before disappearing from view of those present in his former home. . He gave the ball of the match to Guerrero. Belichick gave a press conference that lasted a few minutes, feeling comfortable between eerie silences and short, crisp responses.
After appearing before the media, Belichick surprised everyone with the exception of Brady: he entered the visitor locker room, and for 20 minutes, he and Brady exchanged words. They left together. It was a meeting; not in the presence of the world, but between two men. The conversation between the two, Brady claimed, was personal. He seemed to be relieved.
And from that surprising encounter came a surprising revelation. Before leaving the stadium (the home where he played for the Patriots, claiming to have an aspiration to retire there as a player), Brady said that if the opportunity arose to sign a one-day contract, he would retire playing with the same team that took it. in the draft: “There could be a chance to come back here.”