By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Sunday's game in Indianapolis was billed as one of the most important games of Tom Brady's life. It was the night when he could avenge the most frustrating, embarrassing, and draining year of his life, when he could stomp on the throat of the franchise that sought to tear down everything he had worked so hard to build. This was a game that meant as much to Brady as any anything else in the world.
In reality, that was a bit of an oversell, but the fact remained that there was plenty of truth sprinkled throughout the hyperbole.
Yet when he took the podium after the victory, Brady acted as if it was just another game. He looked the same as he would after a September win against Tampa Bay. In fact, he actually looked less enthused than that.
It was Brady's poker face.
But when you watch someone for a decade-and-a-half, you can pick up on his tells.
So make no mistake about it: Tom Brady was -- and is -- an angry man.
The person at that podium was fuming. He was unwilling to say anything of substance. By now, he has the platitudes and clichés down to a science, to the point where he can essentially flip on autopilot and zone out during his press conferences before uttering "thanks guys" and heading off the stage to live his life in private. But typically, somewhere in that process, he makes the effort to throw in a smile, to pal around with the media, to show the charm that earns him millions upon millions of dollars in endorsement deals. But not this time.
This time, Brady couldn't even admit to keeping the game ball, which the TV broadcast clearly showed him handing off to a staffer after the game.
This time, Brady wanted to give the media absolutely nothing. And that he did.
It's not new, per se, this Brady being angry thing. I recall quite vividly a game against Baltimore in 2010, a game which the Patriots won in overtime. Brady threw one touchdown and two interceptions in that game, and he notably got in a screaming match with linebacker Terrell Suggs at one point. That was Brady's Season of Flowing Locks, and the verbal spat may have stemmed from Brady enduring some unwanted tugging of his mane throughout the day.
(Remember that hair? That was a weird phase.)
In any event, I was in the Patriots' locker room after the game when it was announced that Tom Brady was heading to the podium. I took a step in the direction to head to the doorway when someone stepped right in front of me. It was, naturally, Tom Brady. I yielded.
He had the game ball sitting atop his gym bag, and he wore a steely look. There was no joy in Brady after that win. He was still seething. His heart rate probably hadn't dropped back to normal. He looked like a boxer entering the ring.
He was pissed.
But then he crossed through a doorway, walked on the little stage, and put on a smiling face. He spoke at length about being reunited with Deion Branch, about the thrill of making a comeback at home, and about the influence of the veteran captains on the team. He politely ended his press conference and made his way off the stage.
I never made it too far into that room, so Brady came by me again. The on-camera smile had quickly disappeared, and he once again assumed the look of a man who was very, very angry. He walked down the hallway, game ball in tow, and headed home.
Another story, this one more recent. It was the night of Feb. 1, 2015. Brady had just put together a perfect fourth quarter, going 13-for-15 for 174 yards and two touchdowns against an all-time defense. His own team's defense appeared to have blown the game by allowing Seattle to drive 79 yards in a minute-and-a-half before Malcolm Butler came out of nowhere to provide the most insane ending in Super Bowl history.
Brady's reaction was, as expected, one of pure ecstasy. But the feeling was short-lived.
Not too long after the Butler pick, after Brady accepted his third career Super Bowl MVP trophy and after he held his press conference in an unremarkable room in the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, he made his way across the back of one of the end zones to get to the NFL Network set.
Mind you, this was a man who had just endured two full weeks of "scandal" talk and who had just won the Super Bowl. But as he walked across the back of the end zone, with dozens of photographers and media members clamoring for his attention, with fans screaming his name and chanting "M-V-P!", with the utter joy of winning a Super Bowl not even an hour old, Brady looked ... angry. He looked mad. He looked ready to play another game right then and there.
I pulled out my phone in time to catch the end, which gives you at least a partial representation of Brady's non-euphoric demeanor.
They're not incredibly revelatory stories, obviously, but they show that when he wants to hide his anger, he can. But after the Super Bowl and again this past Sunday night, he either made no effort or possessed no ability to conceal his anger. In Indy, he couldn't even admit to keeping the game ball.
It was small, but it was nevertheless an interesting peek into the inner workings of the most demanding and successful quarterback in NFL history.
Brady, of course, has always played with a chip on his shoulder. He might be the only person on Earth who can rattle off the names of Giovani Carmazzi, Tim Rattay, Chris Redman, Tee Martin and Spurgeon Wynn without consulting Wikipedia. The sixth-round pick snub drove him early in his career, and it remains on his mind even now, when he's wearing shirts that say "199" in commercials.
But over the course of the last 10 years or so, finding real motivation might have been legitimately difficult for Brady. He was at the top of his craft, revered as one of the two best active quarterbacks in the league, living a pretty swell life. It wasn't often that the quarterback had the opportunity to feel slighted.
But he got that -- and then some -- with the DeflateGate "scandal." Putting aside the issue of whether or not he ordered a low-level game-day employee to sneak into a bathroom and let a negligible amount of air out of footballs, Brady unfairly became the target of intense national scrutiny. National news anchors -- national news anchors -- spoke with gravity about the "cheating scandal," cable news networks swarmed, and the cesspool that is the Internet showed how ugly and ignorant it can be.
If Brady was looking for friends in the quarterback club, or in the NFL lodge, he found himself mostly on an island. The folks willing to go on record and back Brady were few and far between, and Brady didn't need to look very far to see people lining up with pitchforks to cast aspersions on his character and his legacy.
That included many active members of NFL teams. Frankly, they should know better.
Just this week, Hall of Fame quarterback and current Broncos GM/executive VP John Elway admitted the story was overblown, and he said Brady's performance this season is a result of the avalanche of criticism.
"The last thing you want to do is poke the bear," Elway told Peter King. "The bear got poked, and this is what happened."
Too little, too late, Jack. It's a true statement, to be sure, but Elway failed to acknowledge that he poked the bear himself.
"I think the integrity of the game is number one,"Elway said back in May, when Brady was suspended. "I support the commissioner 100 percent."
Elway was of course just one voice in a chorus of thousands who were quick to cast at least some level of darkness on Tom Brady … over the PSI in a football. It will go down as one of the most bizarre eight months in sports history.
But for Brady, it's rather difficult to find any humor or relief from a stretch of time when his character was torn apart from all sides.
And Elway is right; this is the result. Tom Brady is pissed. It's allowed him to reach a level of focus he's never before tapped into, and it's allowed him at age 38 to lead the league in passer rating, to start the year 5-0 with 14 touchdowns and one interception, and it has him on pace to perhaps top his performance in 2007, which may have been the best season a quarterback has ever had.
Tom Brady is pissed. If they're not already, everybody in the NFL should be very, very worried.
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