Tom Brady has found something in Tampa Bay that eluded him for 20 years in New England: “Fweedom.”
Or as the rest of us would say: “Freedom.”
The principal of freedom rests at the bedrock of the American experience. Freedom allows the best and brightest among us to succeed and the rest of us to keep trying. In its purest form, freedom permits joy, wealth and happiness. But without responsibility, freedom can quickly descend into anarchy.
Brady has achieved what Aristotle called the “golden mean” between freedom and anarchy in Hillsborough County. He’s been freed from the Patriot Way, dreary cold weather, Belichickian Mind Games, sky-high taxes and needless lockdowns. He’s playing as well as ever as his Bucs prepare for the playoffs. He’s also avoided getting into trouble while racing up and down Tampa Bay in his snazzy, cobalt-blue, James Bond villain speedboat.
In the world of pro football, concepts like “freedom” are counterintuitive. You have to play to earn the right to choose where you can play. NFL players with four or more accrued seasons can be “unrestricted free agents” and sign with any club without the old club getting compensation via the draft.
Ponce de Leon allegedly landed in La Florida seeking the Fountain of Youth. Brady brought it with him after he and the Patriots freed themselves of each other last March.
By relocating to Florida, Brady found himself in the midst of history’s 21st Century Great Migration. “God’s Waiting Room” is SRO these days. Census estimates showed the Sunshine State’s population grew by 420,000 people between 2019 and ’20. Florida now has more people than New York.
United Van Lines recently released a study documenting the obvious — people are shipping out of the Northeast as quickly as its trucks can roll south on I-95. The company said 57% of its Bay State moves in 2020 were outbound. Massachusetts sits at No. 8 on the list of “Moved From States” in 2020.
More than 60% of all 2020 moves in the Northeast were outbound, the company said. The other 40% were simply lost.
Brady’s move uncoupled his family from Massachusetts’ state income tax. Gisele Bündchen and her bubby also just closed on the $36.8 million sale of a five-bedroom condo in Tribeca in New York. You have to get out of the Big Apple these days while your wallet is still intact, even if your combined net worth is $600 million.
Florida Man Brady triggered a Thundersnow storm in December when he spoke lovingly of being emancipated from crappy winter weather.
“I’ve loved just being outside every day,” he said last month. “You won’t catch me dead living in the Northeast anymore. I’m loving the warm weather and it’s been a great feeling.”
Those words metaphorically burned both the Zakim and Tobin bridges.
Like the other 21.9 million residents of Florida, Brady enjoys day-to-day liberties denied to so many elsewhere. Exciting and thrilling experiences like sitting inside a restaurant to eat, going to the movies or shopping at small businesses occur daily.
Even on Sundays.
Speaking of Sundays, the Bucs had fans in attendance this season. This correspondent was among the 15,950 who witnessed first-hand Brady and Patrick Mahomes sling it for a combined 807 yards and six touchdowns on Nov. 29. The allowed crowd was 24% capacity of 65,618.
Raymond James Stadium plays host to Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7. Whether Brady becomes the first QB to play such a game in his home stadium will be determined starting on Saturday. The 11-5 and No. 5-seed Bucs visit the NFC East champion Washington Football Team in Game 3 of Super Wild-Card Weekend.
On the field, Brady initially struggled with the pros and cons of his newfound liberty from Bill Belichick. His relationship with Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians endured a wobbly start. The Bucs’ offense stumbled early and had all the chemistry of Donald Trump and Joe Biden ice dancing.
Time, practice and the weather repaired those issues. Brady finished the regular season as the top passer in the NFC. He threw for 40 touchdowns and 4,633 yards at age 43. In his past eight quarters, Brady covered 1,067 yards passing and connected for 10 TDs. The Bucs rallied four times from double-digit deficits to win this season.
The QB enjoys newfound input in Tampa Bay when it comes to creating game plans beforehand and more independence to change plays during games.
“I feel like we have a great relationship,” Brady said of Arians Wednesday. “I certainly appreciate all the insight he gives me and the way he coaches and leads.”
Brady continues to bask in his 2020 landslide runoff victory over Belichick. The Bucs finished third in the NFL in total points and seventh in total yards. The Patriots were 27th in each category, their worst such ranking of the Belichick era. The Bucs are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007. New England missed the playoffs and failed to win the AFC East for the first time since 2008 — a season Brady missed (save for one possession in Week 1) due to injury.
After a season of being Florida Man, Brady hasn’t lost all of his New England predilections. His weekly remarks featured the same reassuring tone that comforted Patriots’ fans each January for almost two decades, albeit amid warmer weather.
“I think over the year you have to deal with a lot of different things that have kind of come up with me being in a different place,” he said. “Today, for example, it was 60-plus degrees at practice for a playoff game, so I haven’t had too many of those — even in 20 years. I just think it’s a different newness, but still the same excitement to be ready to go out there, take a bunch of teammates, and going on the road in the playoffs is a tough thing to do.”
Spoken like he never left.
Bill Speros (@RealOBF) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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