Wwhat does it mean to change and challenge yourself again and again?
Whether it’s a month ago, last year, five or 10 years ago, the fact is that every person, and every athlete, has to face the changes. Everyone faces challenges. Whether physical, mental or emotional, they are part of everyone’s life. I am no exception.
Twenty years ago, I was a sixth round pick from the University of Michigan, which I wasn’t sure was going to be drafted. When the call finally came, I packed my bags and moved to the other side of the country. I didn’t know how long I would have played for the New England Patriots or if I would have had the opportunity to play for them too. (I was the fourth quarterback on the depth chart my first year.) I had no idea of spending the next 20 years in New England, or of founding a family there.
The same was true in 2008. I could not have predicted what would happen when, on the forerunner’s second album against Kansas City – on my 15th shot of the game – I destroyed my ACL and MCL, and I spent the following months to do surgery and rehabilitation on my way to full recovery.
Changes and challenges are part of life. They are part of the life of athletes. They should happen. They need happen sometimes.
These changes can also be emotional. As far as I remember, my career and football in general have been an extremely important and rewarding part of my life. But equally important, and often more rewarding, are the times I spend with my wife and children and the joy I experience watching my children grow old. In my case this means always checking with myself and with them to make sure my priorities are in the right place and, if not, make changes.
Changes and challenges are part of life. They are part of the life of athletes. They should happen. They have to happen sometimes.
There is not even a rule book. Finding a balance between the things and people you love and allocating time for both is how each of us grows. Benny and Vivian, my two youngest children, are now 10 and 7 years old. They are no longer children. This means that being a dad – and going to my kids’ soccer and hockey games, and being there for them – really matters to me. Finding that balance is an ongoing process. It also always changes. These days, for example, my older boyfriend, Jack, sometimes joins me on the field to train or throw the ball!
Twenty years ago, I came to New England from a different coast, a different part of the country and a different culture. Today I am moving on to another chapter of my life and career. It involves collecting all the things I have learned so far in my life and moving to a different coast, a different part of the country and a different culture. If it sounds familiar to you, there is a good reason why. Because that’s how it started.
My trip to New England for the past 20 years has been fantastic. It has been a long way and I would not change anything about it.
Photo Eric Gay / AP
When the Patriots enlisted me in 2000, I was 22 years old. I remember sitting in my parents’ house in San Mateo, California, less and less confident that the phone would ring. But at the end of the draft it did. By the way, in the sixth round it’s not like Coach Belichick himself was on the other side of the line – I think he was his assistant, Berj. “We just wanted to let you know that you were chosen by the New England Patriots,” said Berj.
In confusion with my excitement there was confusion. Aside from four years of college in Michigan, I had spent my entire life in San Mateo. I honestly didn’t have a clear idea of where New England was was. Was New England a real place? Once the draft was over, I flew east, landing not in Boston but in Providence, and then driving to old Foxboro Stadium. It was mid-April. In those first weeks, I remember trying to orient myself to a place that I had no idea that would be my home for the next two decades.
I didn’t know the east coast at all. It took me a while to orient myself, not to mention my sense of direction. The fact is that regardless of where you live in California, the Pacific Ocean is a direct hit to the west. It is almost impossible to get lost.
But on the east coast, everything was backwards. The Atlantic was due East, is west it meant something else entirely. This is basic stuff for New England, but it took me a little longer than most people would get used to. Once I did, I almost immediately got acquainted with the beauty and uniqueness of each region of New England, whether I was in Martha’s Vineyard, or Nantucket, or visiting Cape Cod, or in the Berkshires, or driving up to Maine.
It was the first time that I also lived all four seasons. Snow and cold weather I was aware of: Michigan winters can be harsher than New England, but I’ve never really been there in the summer. In New England I had the opportunity to fully experience spring (long, muddy), summer (beautiful, a bit humid) and autumn (my favorite time of year, as it coincides with the football season). I grew up to associate bare trees and a shiver in the air on Halloween, and the family reunion at our house for meals and holiday reunions. I fell in love with all seasons: good, bad, hot, cold, leafy, rainy, sunny, snowy and muddy.
Gilad Haas / Shadow Lion
I also got to experience New England as a husband and father. Jack was born in California, but spent a lot of time here, and Benny and Vivi were both born in Boston. Watching Benny and Vivi grow up as New England natives was an extraordinary experience for me. They will always think of themselves as New England. In a very special way, I will too.
But more than any other physical location, it is the relationships I have done in New England that I will miss the most. Of course, it starts with the entire organization of the New England Patriots and Robert Kraft and the whole Kraft family. It extends to countless other people who have played such a valuable role in my 20 years as a patriot. Teammates and coaches, past and present. Old friends, new friends, the neighbors with whom we went to trick or treat every year. But above all, I will miss the fans.
If there’s one thing anyone can say for sure, it’s that the New Englanders understand what fandom is about. New Yorkers really love their sports. Maybe because Boston seems less a big city than a big city compared to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Even if you don’t know everyone in Boston, you do feel as if you knew everyone. Fans feel part of our team and my teammates and I have experienced the same thing for them.
The support and love of New England fans has always been unconditional. So many fantastic moments stand out for me: the full training camps, the victory parades, the tens of thousands of supporters who came to visit us at the airport every time we boarded the plane for the Super Bowl. Win or lose, the same number of people would be there to greet our plane when we got home. The Gillette stadium hosts around 70,000 people and I have never done so not I played in a sold out stadium during my career as a patriot. How lucky am I?
“Tomm-eeee! Tomm-eee! ” I felt it echoed through the stands, and it always meant a lot to me. Support has sometimes gone deeper. Recently a friend told me that her sister was pregnant with her first child, a boy, and that she intended to name him Brady. He was telling me this, he told me, so as to realize the impact that my playing for New England had had on so many people’s lives. Upon hearing this, I felt so humiliated by the idea that when some people think of me, it is with a warmth in their heart or spirit. There is no better legacy that comes to mind.
Above my desk in my Brookline office is a poster of Joe Montana, my growing hero. Next to the photos of my children, dressed in Patriots shirts, he cheers me in person at the Gillette stadium or at home in front of our large TV. Children will always make room for heroes and few things could honor me more than I am told that I played that role for someone’s son or daughter.
Life is constantly evolving and in any decision you take, or direction you choose, there is an opportunity. Choosing to leave New England and the only team I’ve known for 20 years, joining a new football team is a great opportunity, a big change is a great challenge.
Sometimes people ask what motivates me. The answer is simple. I love my sport. I love doing what I do. I want to keep doing it until I don’t want to do it anymore. Playing football is also not something you can do alone in a courtyard. Football is a team sport and having the opportunity to collaborate with my teammates is one of the main reasons why I was attracted to the game in the first place.
Gilad Haas / Shadow Lion
I was fortunate to grow up in a wonderful family, with loving and supportive parents and siblings. I left San Mateo and flew 3,000 miles across the country and eventually raised my family outside of Boston. Now I’m moving on to another chapter, another experience.
When you play for a team for two decades, the change is exciting. It is also challenging. Just pack the bags you’ve accumulated over the years, it’s natural to ask, Where will I put it in my new space?
When you pack things up, you realize that some things fit perfectly and others don’t fit anymore. Either you leave behind what no longer fits or you make an extra effort to do it make fits.
The changes and challenges that I am facing now are physical, mental and emotional – and the only way is through. I am taking all the things I have learned so far as an athlete in this new chapter as I continue my journey as a husband and father with my family. The most important thing? Enjoying every moment. Because it passes so quickly.
For me, playing football won’t last another 10 years. In the remaining time, the question is: How can I continue to maximize what I do, put everything I can into it, make it the best it can be? At this point in my career, the only person I have to prove anything to is myself. Physically, I am able to do my job like never before. Now I want to see what More I can do. I want to see how big I can be. I want to hear other people say, “Go on, man. Now that is what we missed. That is what we need! That is what we were looking for! “After all, I know what I can do. I know what I can bring. Now I want to see it in action.
My training and conditioning have not changed over the years. Now it could be the low season, but it seems to me that the season has already started. It’s like preparing to run a race. You are not thinking about the race or the finish line. You are getting ready, put on your sneakers, run on the spot, shake everything, find your rhythm.
When it’s time to start the race, put one foot in front of the other. The rest is not up to you. Everything will happen at the rate that has to happen. You cannot know how it will be until then. So why not enjoy and enjoy the trip?
Images by Kevin Terrell / AP
I have had so many friends and teammates over the years that they have come and gone. I’ve always been the only one who never had to move. As I said before, playing for a team for 20 years has been an incredible experience and experience. But doing the same thing year after year brings its challenges. A family rhythm can be comforting and grandiose. But it can also make you lose sight of other rhythms, the most recent ones that remind you of all this she has not still been done. One is not necessarily better than another: they are different, that’s all. Playing for the buccaneers of Tampa Bay is a change, a challenge, an opportunity to guide and collaborate, and also to be seen and heard. And I know that my time will be surprising in its own way like what happened before.
It will be different – this goes with the territory. Different trainers. Different players. Different programs. Right now I have no idea how to get to Raymond James Stadium, where the meeting rooms are located or where everyone sits. It will be a learning curve, in the same way he remembered that the Atlantic Ocean is always eastward.
However, I am excited. Above all, they are motivated. I want to deliver for my new team, my new coaches and my new teammates. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. I am going to give everything I have.
The welcome and warmth I received from the Tampa Bay players and coaches was so rewarding. For my part, I loved meeting a new group of young players.
They welcomed me as one of them. They want to hear what I have to say. I am thrilled to be fully embraced for what I can bring to the Bucs. In turn, I am ready to fully embrace a team that is confident in what I do – and what I bring – and is willing to do this lap with me.
I am ready to fully embrace a team that is confident in what I do – and in what I bring – and is willing to do this lap with me.
Here’s another great thing that happens as you get older: you want to see other players succeed. A lot of veteran players have mentored me during my years as a patriot. They were there for me when I signed a second contract. They were there for Super Bowl wins and when I got married. They saw me develop, grow and finally found a family. Along with the opportunity to win leagues, supporting older teammates is an incredible part of playing for a team. Doing everything I can to help younger players evolve while people and players matter a lot to me. I have learned so much during my 20 years in New England – and I want to bring these things into a new team.
Right now, though, I have things to do to demonstrate to myself. The only way is through. If I don’t try, I will never know what I could have accomplished. Wanting to do something is different from really doing it. If I was on the bottom of a mountain and told myself that I could climb the highest peak, but then I didn’t do anything about it, what’s the point?
I’m trying to do things that have never been done in my sport. It’s fun for me too, because I know I can do it. When a team gives you the opportunity to do those things with them, well … if not with them, then who?
At some point, you have to throw your whole body into what you are doing. You have to say, We ride. Let’s see what we got.
I want to show everyone what I have.
In collaboration with Under Armor.