While the world changes around him, Brady remains a constant
Brady says he's going to play 'until they tell me they don't want me anymore'
The inspiring story of an undrafted defender who's trying to catch on in NFL
Has the concussion crisis peaked? Plus Ten Things I Think I Think and more
Different column this week, stretching from Foxboro (Tom Brady) to San Diego out West (Dan Fouts), from an unhappy Dolfan in the Southeast (Daniel Tosh) to Russell Wilson in the Land of Opportunity in the Northwest (Seattle), from a hotel in Oakland to a bar in D.C., from a hockey rink in New York to the busiest building in North America (Staples Center in Los Angeles) ... well, let's just get on with it.
Last of the (New England) Mohicans, and he's not planning to leave anytime soon.
Matt Light retired the other day. Peyton Manning plays for Denver now. This means that Tom Brady is the lone member of an exclusive club.
Sept. 30, 2001. Ninety players dressed for the first start of Brady's career, against the Indianapolis Colts, at the rickety old Foxboro Stadium on a cloudy and windy Sunday afternoon. Eighty-nine played. And Tom Brady, 34, is the only man who suited up that day who still plays for the Patriots, and one of just two left from that game overall, with Colts long-snapper Justin Snow the other. (Notes for you sticklers: Reggie Wayne was inactive that day, and he still plays for the Colts. Kevin Faulk had 11 touches that day, but he's an unrestricted free agent and doesn't play -- yet -- for the Patriots this year.)
Look at the turnover, less than 11 years after the first start of Brady's career. It's Brady and Bill Belichick against the world now.
"Well,'' Brady said Thursday afternoon, trying to figure out what it meant but not sounding at all surprised about it, "Matt called me a while ago and told me what he was planning to do, and I've called him every week since then trying to talk him out of it. He had such a great year for us. But there was no way I was going to be able to talk him out of it. He'll be a tough player to replace. But, you know, every year in this game, there's a lot of change.''
Except with one guy. One guy living a bicoastal life, married to one of the most famous women in the world, with two kids, and with a coach who's not very concerned with all of that stuff.
Who can know now, but it's going to be interesting to see if Brady outlasts Belichick. Because Belichick has been coaching in the NFL since Carlton Fisk willed the 12th-inning home run fair in the '75 World Series -- actually, he's been coach a few months longer than that -- and, amazing as it seems, Belichick is three years shy of 40 seasons as an NFL head coach or assistant. Not to get sidetracked, but this will be Belichick's 38th year as an NFL coach. Don Shula coached for 36.
Now, Belichick announced his new coaching staff last week, and it includes his son Steve as a coaching assistant. So Belichick, who just turned 60, will likely be around for a while to show the kid the ropes. But you get the impression talking to Brady that he'd like to be around longer than a while.
"My wife [Gisele Bundchen] said to me, 'When I met you [in 2006], you said you wanted to play 10 more years. How come that number never goes down?' It's that I love the game. I love the game. I'm going to play until they tell me they don't want me anymore.''
Coming off a season with 13 wins, a career-best 5,235 passing yards and 39 touchdown passes (second-best in his career), he won't be evicted from the lineup soon.
"I just met with coach Belichick this morning,'' Brady said. "I still feel like I'm in my first year trying to prove myself. There's no entitlement around coach Belichick. I've got to be the best guy for him to keep playing me. When I'm not, someone else will play.''
I've wanted to ask Brady about one play in the Super Bowl since the game was played. Early in the fourth quarter, with New England up 17-15, Brady escaped traffic in the pocket, faded right, and threw the ball 54 yards in the air, aiming for tight end Rob Gronkowski. The ball was underthrown by four to six yards, and New York linebacker Chase Blackburn intercepted it.
"Has anything happened to your arm, or your arm strength, that prevented you from throwing that ball where you wanted it?'' I asked.
"No,'' he said. "It was a bad throw. Bad throw. You hope your bad throws don't come at big times or really hurt the team, but that one did. Bad throw, bad decision.''
I don't think it was a bad decision at all. I thought it was a good decision and a good matchup -- the athletic Gronkowski on the not-so-athletic Blackburn. It was just underthrown. I could hear the disappointment about the play in Brady's voice, and I don't blame him for that. He had to watch that play on replay and say, Are you kidding me? Chase Blackburn in coverage and I can't get it over that guy's head?
"I can throw the ball today as far as I've ever been able to throw it,'' Brady said. "That's not the issue there. [Brett] Favre threw it great in his last year or so. Jamie Moyer's still getting people out. That's not a problem.''
Brady called the other day to discuss one of the things he's felt strongly about for years -- an organization called Best Buddies, a volunteer movement that promotes personal and professional relationships and work opportunities for intellectually and developmentally disabled people. Brady's been attending the major Boston fundraiser since 2002, and his support has helped the cause raise millions.
"This is not the hip, cool cause of the day,'' said Best Buddies founder Anthony Kennedy Shriver. "But Tom has been huge in helping us build our brand. I think he saw an underserved population, and he saw an organization with a commitment to help, and he's been there for us to help us grow.''
"Anyone who takes part is never the same,'' Brady said. "You can see how important this is in so many people's lives. It's a great feeling for me to be able to give back to a community that's been so wonderful to me.''
Brady plays in a touch football game on June 1 at Harvard Stadium, then takes part in the 100-mile bike ride from Boston to Hyannis June 2 with several Patriots and local celebs. Last year, Belichick made the bike ride. For free tickets to the Friday night game, go to hpchallenge2012.org/tickets, and for information on joining the bike ride, go to hpchallenge2012.org.
"For as long as I'm here in Boston, and beyond, I'll spread the message,'' Brady said.
As for how long that will be, Brady says all the right things -- he'd love to play his entire career in New England, but he's got to earn his spot every year. He saw what just happened with Peyton Manning, and he knows that might be something he faces one day. "That's a great example of how sometimes true professionals have to move on,'' he said. "Nothing surprises me anymore in the NFL.''
It's unlikely Brady moves on, but it's not impossible. Brady knows if it can happen to Manning, it can happen to him, especially with a bottom-line guy like Belichick making the calls.
This was a weekend for the Tryout Guys. Guys like Wayne Dorsey.
Imagine you've been playing football since you were 9. You're an inner-city kid, and you play basketball too, but you love football, and once you get to high school, you dream about one day playing in the NFL, not the NBA. You go to a junior college, then an SEC school, and the dream seems close. But you don't get drafted, as you thought you might.
You don't get signed as undrafted free agent, as you think you would. And you wonder: Is this it? The end of the line? Then you hear the NFL has expanded team rosters from 80 to 90. You hear most teams are having players in for tryouts, and at the end of the tryout, they might sign some of them to the 90-man roster, and 320 more players than a year ago will get to have their NFL dreams extended through a real training camp.
But there's a catch. At these three-day tryout camps, you won't be scrimmaging. You won't be playing full-speed with pads. You'll have helmets and jerseys and shorts and spikes, and you'll have to make the best impression you can without going live. At the end of the three-day camp, maybe you'll get signed. Maybe you won't. And if you don't, well, you can continue to work out and keep the faith that some team that liked you a little in college will call one day. In the back of your mind, though, you'll know it's probably time to start your life's work.
The Oakland Raiders had 30 of those trial guys at their weekend rookie camp, Thursday night through Sunday afternoon. One of those men was Ole Miss defensive end Wayne Dorsey, from the tough streets of Baltimore.
Dorsey started playing Pop Warner football in Baltimore when he was 9. "I was always one of the biggest kids,'' Dorsey said from his Oakland hotel Sunday afternoon. "So I was a defensive lineman then and stayed there through high school and college.'' He went to a New York prep school after high school, then to a Mississippi junior college for two years, then to Mississippi for two years.
This weekend was the Ole Miss graduation weekend, and he badly wanted to be there for his parents' sake as much as his; but he was about three weeks from finishing his final class toward his bachelor's in psychology. He'll finish, but in the last few weeks, he's had a few other things on his mind -- like doing everything he could to be an NFL player.
Dorsey, 6-foot-6 and 272 pounds, was a late-round prospect until last Oct. 15, when a freak accident happened in a game against Alabama. A teammate stepped on his arm and two bones were broken severely. He couldn't work out for several months, and by the time he felt well enough to work out, he was off every team's radar. "I believe I would have put up great numbers for the season,'' Dorsey said, "but I got hurt. It was disappointing, but that's how life goes sometimes.''
The only team he worked out for before the draft was Baltimore, but the Ravens didn't think enough of him to offer him a free-agent deal. Nor did any other team. But several teams were interested in offering him a tryout. Not that tryouts are totally new; the Patriots have done them for years, and invited a few players over the years to training camp. But this year, the numbers are way up because of the roster expansion. Tampa Bay called, and Dorsey went to the Bucs' rookie camp last weekend. After three days, the Bucs said thanks but no thanks; Dorsey went home to Baltimore.
Then the Giants called. The Saints called. He thought he'd go to New Orleans and try out. On Monday, Oakland called. New coach. New administration. Compared to the Giants and Saints, it seemed like the land of opportunity. Dorsey flew to Oakland Thursday. He took a physical and met the coaches Thursday. The Raiders gave him No. 94 to wear.
On Friday and Saturday, he had classroom work, drills on the field, and practice in the afternoon; the coaches wanted to see how much he could remember from what he'd been taught that morning. He studied at night. The final practice was Sunday morning at 11, and after that, coach Dennis Allen and GM Reggie McKenzie were going to call in the tryout guys who'd made it.
"I didn't know what would happen,'' Dorsey said. "A couple of times, coaches told me watching the film that I did the right thing, and I knew it could come down to whether I got my assignment right or not. I just tried all weekend to work hard, stay humble and play the game I love to the best of my ability. You think about things, and you know it's a numbers game, and you just think, 'I hope they have room for me.' ''
Dorsey and six other tryout players were brought into a room at the Raiders' practice facility. McKenzie told them they'd impressed the coaches, and the seven men in the room would be offered contracts and given the chance to make the team.
Seven dreams alive. Twenty-three dreams extinguished.
"Relief,'' said Dorsey. "That's all I felt. Relief that I'd have the opportunity to compete for a roster spot. You know, you always have the thought that creeps into the back of your mind that if this doesn't work out, what are you going to do. You talk to the other tryout guys, and it's a thought for all of us.''
Dorsey thanked Allen. He thanked McKenzie. Then he went to sign an NFL contract. Then he went to his hotel and called his mother, Cathy. It was, after all, Mother's Day. He had called his mom that morning, wishing her a happy day and telling her, "Hopefully my next call will come as a member of the Oakland Raiders."
His mom was at a family gathering for the holiday. When he told them, "I'm an Oakland Raider,'' there was much rejoicing in Baltimore. His mother said: "This is the best Mother's Day gift I could have gotten.''
And Wayne Dorsey, back in his hotel room, had work to do. Today the Raiders begin their Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and Dorsey would have to dig into his playbook to study a new defense -- a defense he apparently understood well enough to earn kudos in three days of weekend work. He'd survived the first gauntlet. The next one will be tougher. From 90 men to 53, when he was neither drafted nor a preferred free agent ... Dorsey knows the odds. He also knows all he ever wanted was a chance, and here it is.
"Today is the closing of one chapter of my life, the college chapter,'' he said. "Now it's on to the pro chapter. Now I'm going to try to make an NFL roster here. I'm going to remain humble, trust in God, work every day. This is the chance I've always wanted.''