There’s one fact about Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s relationship that’s gotten overshadowed amidst the years of palace intrigue: it was the most successful partnership in NFL history. While Brady may have tired of Belichick’s austerity at the end, he thrived under it for two decades. In the latest episode of “Man in the Arena,” he explains why.
The third episode of the series chronicles the Patriots’ 2004 Super Bowl championship, the victory that cemented their dynasty in the early aughts. The Patriots won their first seven games of the season, extending their winning streak to 21. Then they lost a two-score beatdown in Pittsburgh. Brady says the defeat gave Belichick an opening to clamp down on players’ egos.
“After that game, and Pittsburgh, it give him all of the reason he needed to come in and get pissed off at the team,” Brady said.
Tedy Bruschi, who co-narrates the episode alongside Brady and Mike Vrabel, says the key to thriving under Belichick is a strong sense of self-confidence.
“It’s a hard life to live that way. You better have thick skin, you better have mental toughness, and you better see why he’s doing it,” Bruschi said. “If you do it that way, you can accept it easier.”
We’ve heard for years about Belichick jabbing at players with the line about how he could find somebody from Foxborough High to make a routine play they missed in practice or a game. Midway through the episode, Brady delves into a Belichick impression — sardonic baritone and all — and gives some more examples of criticism Belichick might direct towards his team after a tough loss.
“Coach Belichick has a way of needling,” Brady said. “He’s going to say, ‘F— 3-for-11 on third down, and they’re f— 9-of-14. I mean, what the f—? Couldn’t score in the red area, couldn’t do s— in short yardage. Give up a f— touchdown before halftime. I mean, that’s f— bullshit.”
The 2004 Patriots responded to the needling. One of the more unique aspects of that team was that most of its star players were still young and single, including Brady. They didn’t have families or other outside obligations, allowing them to fully dedicate themselves to the weight room and practice. Vrabel explained it as a culture of “edging.” If players weren’t putting in the extra work, they would hear about it from their teammates.
And therein lies why Belichick’s style was so effective: his players bought in.
“He’s right, and that’s the competitor in him,” Brady said. “The one thing about hard coaching: it’s only as good as the players’ abilities to receive it. We had built a locker room and culture of people who were willing to receive it.”
Brady’s enthusiasm may have changed, but that stayed true until the end, and could be happening all over again.