The success of the relationship between Tom Brady and Bill Belichick was evident in six Super Bowl championships for the New England Patriots, but “how” and “why” were always questions the two preferred to cloak in mumbles and cliches — until Monday.
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“For me, there’s nobody I’d rather be associated with,” Brady said. “From my standpoint, I think it’s always such a stupid conversation to say ‘Brady versus Belichick’ because, in my mind, that’s not what a partnership is about. Coach couldn’t play quarterback, and I couldn’t coach.”
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The partnership was fueled in part by regular meetings between the two.
“Tom talks about how much I taught him in those meetings, but I learned so much from Tom because I never played quarterback and I never saw the game through the quarterback’s eyes,” Belichick said. “I saw it through a coach’s eyes, and what Tom would tell me — what he saw and how he saw it — it was incredible how he’d come off and I’d say, ‘What happened on that play?’ and he’d go through eight things that happened. ‘The tackle flashed in front of me. This guy slipped. I saw the linebacker drop wide. The safety was a little deeper than I thought he would be. Then this guy stepped in front and I kind of put it a little bit behind him because I saw this other guy closing.’
“And then you would go back and look at the film and every one of those things happened in the exact sequence that he explained it to you on the field coming off. I’m like, ‘This guy sees everything.’ He sees the rush, he sees the routes, he sees the coverage, he sees the depths, and he sees a lot of things presnap.”
The meetings covered more than just the basics.
“I remember so many situations that came up in games where Tom would refer back to, ‘Yeah, that’s what we talked about when we watched the Detroit-Atlanta game’ or, ‘Yeah, remember when they ran this play in this situation two years ago?’ I mean, the memory and the capacity that Tom had to remember plays, situations and finer points like hard counts and getting-out-of-bounds plays and things like that from years before in the exact same situation and time frame was remarkable.”
Belichick added that he learned “how to see the game as a quarterback instead of as a coach. Tom would say: ‘You know I can’t see that. I’m not really looking at that.’ Like, okay, I’m going to stop coaching that then because if you can’t see it, nobody else is going to see it. So let’s see how you see the game and let me learn from you.”
Brady was emotional at times during the conversation, particularly when co-host Jim Gray asked what Belichick did to bring out the best of a player taken with the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL draft. “I think it’s more, what did he not do?” Brady said. “You know, everyone always says I was just very lucky. I came into my career and got drafted by the Patriots. I was always joking I didn’t … know where New England was when I got drafted. I flew into Providence, which really confuses you coming from the West Coast. I’m like, Boston, Providence … and it was Coach Belichick’s first year there, and we came in there together.”
The two went to nine Super Bowls together and teamed up to win 30 of the Patriots’ 37 postseason victories, succeeding even as they faced teams eager to knock them off.
“I would say the one thing about Tom that was always impressive is how he was the target every week. He had the bull’s eye on his back every week, and every week he came through and delivered,” Belichick said. “It was similar to Taylor with the Giants. … Tom always found a way to make his players productive, so it didn’t matter who the receiver or the tight end was. He could understand what would make Rob [Gronkowski] more successful, what would make Troy Brown more successful, what could Wes Welker do, not, ‘What did I do with Troy that I want to do with Wes Welker?’”
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There was a quality in Brady that Belichick saw in another legendary Hall of Fame athlete from a different time and sport. “… Those players were all great players, but they were all very different and they had different skills and Tom could always bring out the best of their skills. … Very similar to what Bill Russell talked about in terms of using the other teammates on the Celtics, how to get those guys shots, how to get those guys points. … Ultimately, of all the things that Tom was great at, I think that was really his top quality: He made everybody around him better and utilized the skills that those players had and avoided the ones that maybe they weren’t as good at.”
Their 20-year run together ended when Brady left after the 2019 season for Tampa Bay, with whom he won another Super Bowl. After the Buccaneers beat the Patriots, 19-17, in a 2021 regular season meeting that was Brady and Belichick’s only head-to-head competition, the two met briefly at midfield, then privately for a few minutes later in a locker room.
“In my view, people were always trying to pull us apart.” Brady said Monday. “I don’t think we ever felt like that with each other. We never were trying to pull each other apart. We actually were always trying to go in the same direction.”