The Media Column: How Brady's secret 3-year flirtation with the Dolphins came to light

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The inside story of Brady's secret flirtation with the Dolphins

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Sports Media Mayhem
Boston Globe's Ben Volin on his Brady-Dolphins reporting
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The news of Tom Brady’s sudden retirement seemed suspicious from the start. Without any warning, news leaked out on the Saturday before the Super Bowl that Brady was hanging up his cleats, only for Team TB12 ™ to aggressively push back on ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington.

Then just 40 days later, Brady suddenly announced he was returning to the Buccaneers — shortly visiting Tampa Bay’s owner, Jay Glazer, at a soccer match for his Manchester United. About two weeks after that, Bruce Arians stepped down as head coach of the Bucs, despite not providing any forewarning.

And the whole time, Brady was carrying out a secret three-year flirtation with the Dolphins.

The NFL confirmed this wild story of courtship Tuesday, when it released the findings of its inquiry into the Dolphins for tanking and tampering. Investigator Mary Jo White found that Brady’s conversations with Miami started in August 2019, and continued through this winter.

But we caught whiff of Brady’s surreptitious dealings with the Dolphins months ago. Boston Globe NFL writer Ben Volin was one of the first journalists who publicized the surprise saga, culminating his reporting with a juicy feature story: “A secret plan, a bombshell lawsuit, and a soccer match: Inside Tom Brady’s un-retirement.”

On this week’s “Sports Media Mayhem” podcast, Volin detailed the timeline from when he heard whispers to when he started writing.

“When he retired, I heard some good juice that Brady had something cooking, that he wasn’t going to be sitting around for long — that this wasn’t really a retirement,” said Volin. “It was good info, and every word ended up being proven true yesterday by the NFL. But I didn’t have two sources on it, and I didn’t feel comfortable really going with it early without more corroboration. And that’s a story that’s tough to corroborate: ‘Hey Tom, are you going to the Dolphins? Hey Don Yee, can you confirm this for me?’ So I sat on it for a while.”

There was a drip-drip effect to the story. Brady’s connection to the Dolphins first surfaced in early February, when Brian Flores sued the Dolphins. In the suit, Flores said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross tried to get him to tamper with a “prominent quarterback” during the winter of 2020.

Shortly thereafter, Joe Schad of The Palm Beach Post reported that quarterback was Brady.

Away we went.

About three weeks later, ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio added another dimension to the exhilarating tale: the Dolphins were still talking to Brady about playing for them in 2022, and bringing in Sean Payton as their new head coach.

But the plan got scrapped when Flores filed his lawsuit.

That added more context to Brady’s strange retirement. Former Patriots offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger, among others, reported that Brady and Arians’ relationship was souring. As it turns out, Brady’s temporary decision to walk away wasn’t about spending more time with his family.

It was all about leverage.

At that point, it wasn’t challenging to figure out that something was up.

“Some of it is just following along and knowing how to piece the narratives together,” said Volin. “You didn’t need sources to know Brady was going to the Manchester United football match, and they’re owned by the Glazers.”

The portion about Brady initially joining the Dolphins as a minority owner — a clever way for him to ride out the last year of his contract with the Buccaneers — came to focus with another Florio report in early April. Volin added that Brady’s position would’ve been “high in the Miami front office.”

Miami’s Brady chase reminds us that ulterior motives are everywhere. Finding out Brady’s took some shrewd dot-connecting, coupled with good ol' cynicism.

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Will the Watson mess hurt the NFL?: The NFL’s kangaroo court is back in session again. After judge Sue Robinson suspended Deshaun Watson six games for serial alleged sexual harassment and assault — citing the NFL’s weak precedent for disciplining players accused of sexual misconduct — Roger Goodell, who originally wanted Watson suspended for an entire season, filed an appeal.

Now, he could hear his own appeal (though reports say he'll select somebody outside of the league office).

Still: what a mess.

The NFL hasn’t gotten much better at handling cases of domestic violence and sexual misconduct since the Ray Rice saga in 2014, and that’s because there are no repercussions. Sure, the league takes a public relations hit, and that’s important.

But it’s also temporary. History shows that off-field criminal scandals don’t affect ratings, ticket sales or interest. Whenever Watson returns he’ll receive a pop from the home crowd, just like when he first showed up to training camp.

Now the question is, which buffoon NFL analyst will try and frame Watson’s comeback as a redemption story?

Ortiz’ “Hoes:” David Ortiz was spotted walking around Boston last week with Mayor Michelle Wu sporting a hat with the following misogynistic quip: “Hoes Made.” He also wore it the day before his Hall of Fame induction.

The phrase, “Hoes Made,” connects to a song by the rapper Famous Dex. The song, according to a promotional website, talks about Dex’ “disdain towards women who expect him to be committed to a relationship.”

Ortiz was lightly criticized for his headwear, with the Globe’s Joan Vennochi penning a critical column about the message that Dex’ lyrics send. (For what it’s worth, an Ortiz spokesperson said Big Papi didn’t know what the phrase means.)

Ultimately, wearing a hat with some risqué song lyrics isn’t a big deal. The fact that Ortiz wore it around Boston’s first female mayor indicates he actually might not have known what the words mean.

But ignorance isn’t an excuse. If Brady was caught wearing a “Hoes Made” hat, we would be excoriated. The same standards should apply to Papi.

Congrats to the Mut Man: After a multi-year wait, sports betting is now legalized in Massachusetts. Congrats to the Mut Man, who kept the pressure on.

Now, we can’t wait to follow his advice for legal bets in our great home state. Who’s ready to lose some dough? (I kid, kid.)