Before his eventual departure in free agency last year, there was speculation about a potential rift between the architects of the New England Patriots’ dynasty: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady were rumored to be at odds when it came to the future together. The latter leaving the club after 20 years and six Super Bowl wins was seen as a confirmation of sorts that not all was behind the scenes as well as it appeared on the surface.
And yet, when Brady took the virtual podium during Monday’s Super Bowl media day, he had nothing but praise for his former head coach. The veteran quarterback, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an 11-5 record and three road playoff wins in his first season, was asked if he would have a message for Belichick.
In true Brady fashion, he did not take the bait to deliver some potentially inflammatory remarks.
“I have a great relationship with him,” the 43-year-old said about Belichick. “I’m just incredibly grateful for what he’s meant in my life as a coach. He was everything you could ask for as a player. I loved my time, I had two incredible decades there. My football journey took me to a different place. I certainly could never have accomplished the things in my career without his support and his teachings.
“He’s an incredible coach and mentor for me. I’ve had a lot of those in my career, but obviously he’s at the top of the list.”
Brady and Belichick spent two decades together, and along the way built the Patriots from a mediocre-at-best franchise into the NFL’s only dynasty of the salary cap era.
After Brady was elevated to the starting position during the 2001 season, he was instrumental in the organization winning seventeen division and nine conference titles as well as the aforementioned six Super Bowls. Due to their unprecedented success together, the two men secured their future spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and established themselves as the greatest their respective positions have ever seen.
And while it is a popular endeavor to ask who of the two carried more responsibility in the Patriots’ dynastic run — especially on some media outlets in the Boston market — the truth, as always, is more nuanced than this binary perspective would make it seem: Belichick and Brady fed off each other, which allowed them to build a powerhouse in New England.
Brady’s statements on Monday reflected this line of thinking. Of course, however, he and Belichick enjoyed different levels of success during their first season apart.
While New England finished its 2020 campaign with a 7-9 record and out of the playoffs, Brady turned the Buccaneers from a seven-win team to Super Bowl participants. On Sunday, he and his new team will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs; for Brady, the game presents an opportunity to earn a record-extending seventh Super Bowl ring and add to a résumé that can already best be described as legendary.
Along the way, he will also try to prevent the Chiefs from doing what was last accomplished by the Brady/Belichick Patriots: defend the title. Not since New England did it in 2004 has a Super Bowl champion been able to hold onto the crown for another year.
Sustaining success is near impossible in the NFL and yet Brady and Belichick were able to do just that year-in and year-out during their time together.
“I think what makes it such a challenge is it’s hard to win one Super Bowl,” said Brady when speaking about just that. “That just is something that... It’s difficult because it’s tough to win one Super Bowl. Every year, you know, 32 teams at it, every team can only spend the same amount of money, everyone drafts, everything’s meant to be 8-8. There’s salary caps. You just can’t go buy a football team. You have to develop players, develop processes, put good processes in place, and you can be consistently a great football team.”
The Patriots with Brady and Belichick leading their fortunes were just that. Between 2001 and 2019, the Patriots finished above .500 every year, and made the playoffs but twice. Brady’s consistently impressive play at the quarterback position was a major reason for that, and so was Belichick’s coaching and roster construction.
The two may or may not have different opinions on that outside of the public, but the results still speak for themselves. It’s called the Brady/Belichick era for a reason, and they both were responsible for building it and keeping it going for almost 20 years.