Belichick and Brady’s odd dy­namic

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - SALLY JENK­INS sally.jenk­ins@wash­post.com For more by Sally Jenk­ins, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/jenk­ins.

Given that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have led the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots to seven Su­per Bowls over 17 years, you might ex­pect to find some emo­tional com­plex­ity at the heart of their part­ner­ship, if not a bond. But by all ac­counts the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the quar­ter­back and coach is straight­for­wardly trans­ac­tional.

Belichick treats Brady the same way he does ev­ery other player: with that dis­tant, flat, emo­tion­less voice straight from the cat­a­combs.

“They have never even gone out to lunch or din­ner,” Brady’s fa­ther, Tom Sr., said. “That’s not what they do.”

Can it re­ally be true that two men who have shared so much pure win­ning are so im­per­sonal? Or are they hid­ing some­thing? Surely, be­hind the scenes, the re­la­tion­ship warms to a nice rap­port; there must be an affin­ity,

the gun­slinger af­fec­tion of Butch and Sun­dance. Or at least the du­el­ing ban­ter of James Bond and his black ops quar­ter­mas­ter, Q.

Q: “I’ll hazard I can do more dam­age on my lap­top sit­ting in my pa­ja­mas be­fore my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field.”

Bond: “Oh, so why do you need me?”

Q: “Ev­ery now and then a trig­ger has to be pulled.”

In­stead, the repar­tee be­tween Brady and Belichick is largely com­prised of highly tech­ni­cal, heav­ily op­er­a­tional talk. Ex­cept when Belichick is blis­ter­ing Brady for some­thing in prac­tice, which he does pe­ri­od­i­cally for the ben­e­fit of the team. The suc­cess of their col­lab­o­ra­tion rests on two sim­ple un­der­stand­ings, nei­ther of which is par­tic­u­larly deep.

First, they share a worka­holic ab­sorp­tion in the te­dium of foot­ball strat­egy, a love for cat­a­loging ten­den­cies and al­most mech­a­nis­tic work habits. Last Fe­bru­ary, Brady had a dig­i­tal clock in­stalled in his work­out room at home that ticks down the days, hours, min­utes and sec­onds to the 2017 Su­per Bowl, so that he would know “he had ex­actly 11,325 min­utes and 14 sec­onds to go,” Tom Sr. said.

Sec­ond, they share an in­stinct that self-dep­re­ca­tion is the heart of real lead­er­ship. One of the mar­vels of their col­lab­o­ra­tion is that they have been able to fight the cor­ro­sions of star­dom so con­sis­tently and build a cul­ture that, for all of its dis­parate per­son­al­i­ties, is es­sen­tially ego­less and sub­li­mat­ing. As Brady re­marked on his weekly ra­dio show this week, the Pa­tri­ots are “brain­washed.”

“We have a sign on our wall that says ‘Do­ing the right thing for the team when it may not be the right thing for you,’ ” Brady said. “And that’s just putting ev­ery­thing aside and ig­nor­ing the noise and all the pos­i­tive things that peo­ple may say about you, all the neg­a­tive things peo­ple may say about you and just be­liev­ing in your­self and not mak­ing ex­cuses . . . . I think our coach does a great job of never buy­ing into that B.S. He never makes it about one player; he never makes it about one play. He never makes it about one call or one sit­u­a­tion . . . . And he never lets his foot off the gas pedal, so re­ally, when you come to our team, it’s just, you’re brain­washed. It’s just the way it goes.”

But if Belichick is a brain­washer, Brady has been the lead hyp­no­tist. Ac­cord­ing to close ob­servers, the Pa­tri­ots’ ethos be­gins with Brady’s fun­da­men­tal ac­qui­es­cence to Belichick’s author­ity, even when it hurts.

“Play­ers learn from play­ers, and when you walk into that place and watch how Brady con­ducts his busi­ness, you know that’s how you do it there,” says Da­mon Huard, who served as a backup quar­ter­back for the Pa­tri­ots from 2001 to 2003.

Brady will­ingly lets Belichick use him as the ex­am­ple, in ev­ery­thing from rene­go­ti­at­ing cap-friendly con­tracts to ab­sorb­ing Belichick’s scathing sar­casm for mis­takes. One team in­sider notes that no mat­ter how bril­liant Belichick’s game­plan­ning and per­son­nel de­ci­sions, “If Brady had a dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity and didn’t buy in and wasn’t this type of leader, it would be dif­fi­cult.”

Ac­cord­ing to some­one who knows both men, the tone was set dur­ing Brady’s rookie sea­son, when he sat im­pa­tiently in meet­ings that would halt while for­mer starter Drew Bled­soe left the room for a bath­room break. Brady de­ter­mined then not to be a quar­ter­back who could make a room re­volve around him, even un­in­ten­tion­ally.

For­mer play­ers cite ex­am­ple af­ter ex­am­ple in which Brady has served as Belichick’s com­pany man, with­out re­sent­ment. Gary My­ers doc­u­mented in one of his books, “Brady vs Man­ning, The Un­told Story of the Ri­valry That Trans­formed the NFL,” how Belichick would in­ten­tion­ally re­sist prais­ing Brady for in­di­vid­ual records, fi­nally re­lent­ing only when he sur­passed 50,000 yards. For­mer Pa­tri­ots cor­ner­back Aqib Talib told ESPN of one day in prac­tice when Brady threw an in­ter­cep­tion on a seam route and Belichick ex­ploded at him in full view of ev­ery­one, “You got 130 ca­reer in­ter­cep­tions, and half of them are on this route. You keep do­ing the same s--- over and over, and this is what hap­pens.”

His fa­ther cites an in­stance when Belichick told Brady with­er­ingly af­ter an in­com­ple­tion, “You’re sup­posed to be an all-pro, and I can go down the street to the lo­cal high [school] and find a quar­ter­back who could com­plete that pass.”

The mes­sage is that Belichick de­mands from all play­ers equally, and Brady has been se­cure enough to ac­cept it — though not with­out feel­ing as if he has taken, as Brady’s fa­ther puts it, some “pierc­ing shots” from Belichick, even at 39.

“When you’ve been do­ing this a lot of years, you don’t ex­pect to keep tak­ing shots,” Tom Sr. said. “On the other hand, there is a process to team-build­ing. If any player on the team holds him­self out to be bet­ter than some­body else, then the team-build­ing is not solid. If you can shoot the big dog, all the other dogs in the pack are go­ing to pay at­ten­tion . . . . And the play­ers love it be­cause it sig­nals that they’re all in this to­gether . . . . When he gets knocked down, they all kind of revel in it.”

Brady has told his fa­ther that he aims to be “the per­fect sol­dier.” That doesn’t mean he al­ways has un­der­stood his or­ders, or that there haven’t been clashes. If there is a fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween the two men, it’s in tem­per­a­ment: Brady is fierce, Belichick fa­mously de­tached. Brady has strug­gled to un­der­stand some of Belichick’s cooler ros­ter de­ci­sions, how he could dis­card play­ers who seemed es­sen­tial or with whom Brady was close, such as Lawyer Mil­loy, Deion Branch and Lo­gan Mank­ins. It was ap­par­ently hard for Brady to see how it was for the bet­ter­ment of the team to trade Mank­ins, his best of­fen­sive line­man, just be­fore the 2014 sea­son, over fi­nan­cial cal­cu­la­tions.

“When trades are made or changes are made, they im­pact Tom emo­tion­ally,” says Tom Sr. “Bill is not the emo­tional leader of the team. He does not make emo­tional de­ci­sions; he makes in­tel­lec­tual de­ci­sions, fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions, strate­gic de­ci­sions. He is in­volved with those ra­tio­nal parts of team-build­ing, whereas the play­ers have to con­nect emo­tion­ally. When Bill makes de­ci­sions, he knows what’s be­hind Door No. 2 or Door No. 3, whereas play­ers are deal­ing with it more my­opi­cally.”

The re­la­tion­ship works, ob­servers say, be­cause they have a mu­tual re­gard for the other as the ab­so­lute best in the NFL, and a tacit agree­ment to stay out of each other’s back yards and dis­agree with­out blow­ing up the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“It wouldn’t work this long if it wasn’t a fun­da­men­tally healthy re­la­tion­ship,” Huard said.

Belichick has made it clear he be­lieves Brady is the best of all time, and Brady has learned to ad­mire Belichick’s abil­ity to build and man­age highly flex­i­ble ros­ters that with­stand losses to in­jury, “his in­ge­nious way of putting the team to­gether and hav­ing so many mov­ing parts that can ad­just to any oc­ca­sion,” Tom Sr. says.

It’s an odd dy­namic: an im­per­sonal re­la­tion­ship that has nev­er­the­less steadily de­fined them per­son­ally over the years, un­til each has be­come sharply de­fined as among the great­est ever. A shared de­ter­mi­na­tion to build a face­less, ego­less or­ga­ni­za­tion has made each of them, in his own way, the un­mis­tak­able frozen-in-time face of the fran­chise: Belichick, hooded and in­scrutable on the side­line, Brady so poised un­der cen­ter that he seems al­most pen­sive.

“Book­ends,” Tom Sr. said. “Com­ple­men­tary book­ends.”

Sally Jenk­ins

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