ATLANTA — Tom Brady lives for those desperate moments when the world is watching and he has the ball in his hands, and his team turns its lonely eyes and asks him to unleash the winner within.
Because that is when the killer within surfaces.
And the killer within does not fear the consequences.
“It’s not like you’re going to the death chamber if you lose the game,” Brady said.
If Brady has the ball at the end of Super Bowl 53, if he needs a two-minute drive to beat the Rams, he will feel no pressure to go get that sixth Lombardi Trophy.
“I feel like at that point, the game’s kinda declared, so you’ve got 58 minutes of understanding of kinda how the rush is, how the coverages are playing, where huge matchups are,” he said. “You gotta be at your best. Our team has always embraced that. We practice it every week, multiple times. If you’re not behind, how could you ever have a comeback?
“And I’ve always looked at it as a great challenge. Last week to be behind like we were, I felt like, ‘Where would you rather be? This is what you dream of.’”
He is 41 years old, and he long ago learned how to tame the beast inside him that tormented him as a boy.
“I definitely broke some remote controls when I was a kid,” he said, smiling. “I was a very poor sport. I just remember taking the remote, slamming it down, over and over. And if my kids do that today I don’t know what the hell I would do but I wouldn’t be happy. I remember punching a hole in the wall in the house.
“One day we were going up to see the [San Francisco] Giants play, with my Little League baseball team, and we went out and played nine holes before the game started. And about the sixth hole, I hit a bad shot, and I took my club and I just started slamming it to the ground. And my dad took me off the course, brought me to the car, he said, ‘If you ever do that ever again, you’re never coming up here and you’re never playing.’ I was crying, I was so sad.
“Went to the Giants game, and I think that probably hurt my dad to do that as a parent, you know? After the game, he said, ‘All right, we’ll go back and we’re gonna play again.’ I learned a great lesson.”
He credits his family for encouraging him and his sisters to always shoot for the stars, and he’s back shooting for the stars again on Super Sunday.
“I think some people are born with great height,” Brady said. “Some people are born with great size, great speed. And some people are born with other things that I would say are more intangible. I think competitiveness and the ability to compete has been a great attribute for me, and it started when I was young. It’s definitely in our family’s DNA to compete and to want to just play to win … I still shoot for the stars, and I’m doing something I love to do.”
No one ever compared him to LeBron James, that’s for sure.
“We’re similar athletes, LeBron and I,” Brady joked. “Both great size and speed, jumping ability, shooting … not quite. No, he’s a much better athlete than me.”
It was Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law who saw the first hints of greatness in Brady at the start of his second training camp.
“I had made a lot of progress, I think, with my physical ability,” Brady said. “And I remember Lawyer and Ty Law came up to me and said, ‘Man, you really worked hard. You’re doing a good job, man, keep it up.’ And it was really cool … that gave me some confidence.”
It wasn’t long after Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe into the hospital and out of New England with a sheared blood vessel in his chest. The Brady Era began with a coach — Brady doesn’t remember who — saying: “Drew’s done. You’re going in.”
Months later, Brady marched the Patriots down the field so Adam Vinatieri could kick the field goal that beat the Greatest Show on Turf Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI to start the dynasty.
“I played at a big college,” Brady said. “We played on the road at Ohio State, we played on the road at Penn State, went to Michigan State, we had 110,000 fans in the Big House. Played in the Orange Bowl. It wasn’t like I was playing for Kent State like Julian [Edelman] was, you know? I had a chance to kinda understand what those big games are about.”
Saturday will be meaningful for him.
“To celebrate with your family and your support system at the Super Bowl, on the field the day before the game, before the chaos of the game and the stands get packed, I think it’s just really cool to have a moment with everybody and take some really special pictures … all we got is our memories and try to make some special memories that we’ll always have,” Brady said.
He dares not take winning the Super Bowl for granted.
“The older you get, the fewer chances you’re gonna have. When I was a young player, everything happens so quick, I didn’t realize how much you struggle when you don’t make it. … I don’t think you take it for granted, but you don’t appreciate how challenging it is,” he said. “And then we went a long time before winning again. … What’s happened the last four years has been so much icing on the cake.”
He has been devouring film so he can play fast.
“This game’s gonna be as challenging as any game we’ve ever played,” Brady said.
He’ll be ready for the challenge.
“Usually, whoever has the ball last you’re a little bit worried about in this game,” Brady said.
Especially if it’s him.