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Tom Brady's History Of Playing Through Injury Is Kind Of Incredible

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) -- For all of the praise heaped upon him for being the GOAT, Tom Brady is rarely if ever talked about as being a tough guy.

Perhaps that will now change.

With news breaking in the past 24 hours that Brady played the entire 2020 season on a torn MCL, the promise from February that the injury details would "build his legend even greater" has been realized.

He may not be full Logan Mankins, but make no mistake about it: Tom Brady is a tough guy.

While playing 20 games on a torn MCL -- throwing 40 regular-season touchdowns (second-highest single-season total of his GOAT-worthy career), starting all 20 games, taking all but 49 of the Bucs' 1,347 offensive snaps, winning his seventh Super Bowl and fifth Super Bowl MVP, being 43 frickin' years old -- is probably his most impressive feat of toughness, it's not necessarily new ground for Brady. The man has missed games due to injury exactly once during his career. And when you play in the NFL for 20-plus years, that means you've played while injured. A lot.

The MMQB's Albert Breer tried to quickly encapsulate this history, noting that Brady played in the 2011 postseason with a separated left shoulder, getting the Patriots to the Super Bowl. He also played the final two-plus months of the 2013 season and the playoffs with ligament damage to his throwing hand, a year which ended with an AFC Championship Game loss in Denver. And he famously beat the No. 1-ranked Jaguars defense in the AFC Championship Game and then set a Super Bowl record for passing yards with a ridiculously disgusting injury on his throwing hand -- an injury that Breer technically described as "a collateral ligament sprain to his right thumb."

That last one was notable, as Brady covered up his throwing hand with a glove for the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LII. That display, plus Bill Belichick's dismissal of Brady not playing through open heart surgery, led some people to believe he was playing up the injury for attention or as a distraction of some sort. In fact, the base of Brady's thumb ripped through his skin, and it didn't look like he'd even have a chance to play in that AFC title game. Instead, Brady had the sutures cut off his hand minutes before kickoff, and he played the whole game.

"I still don't understand how he played. It doesn't make any sense to me," Dr. Matthew Leibman, the Patriots' hand and wrist surgeon, later said. "He played with a surgical incision on his throwing thumb."

Tom Brady
Tom Brady with his taped up hand after the Patriots defeated the Jaguars in the 2017 AFC Championship Game. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

That was certainly a notable case of Brady playing while injured, but Breer's brief list only scratches the surface.

The basis of the legend of Brady was built in Super Bowl XXXVI, which was played just seven days after Brady suffered a knee injury on a dirty hit by Pittsburgh's Lee Flowers.

Brady did actually have to leave that game, a complete anomaly in his career. But he of course played the following week and beat the Rams to win the first Super Bowl in Patriots' history. (You'll remember that there was not the normal two-week gap between the championship round and Super Bowl that year, as the NFL had canceled all games following 9/11.)

Brady played with three broken ribs and a broken right ring finger in 2009, an injury suffered in Week 13. He didn't miss any games. That 2009 season -- his first back after missing all but a few minutes of the 2008 season with his torn knee -- also began with a crushing hit by Albert Haynesworth in the preseason.

Way back in 2002, he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 15, played through it, suffered a worse injury in the season finale, then played the entire 2003 season -- winning the Super Bowl at the end of it -- with severe pain in his shoulder. He underwent shoulder surgery following that 2003 season.

Brady suffered a high ankle sprain in the 2007 AFC Championship Game, requiring him to sport a walking boot and miss some practices, but he of course played (in a losing effort) in Super Bowl XLII. In that game, he was driven into the ground by Jay Alford just moments before delivering what some people might consider to be the most impressive physical throw of his entire career.

Tom Brady
Jay Alford sacks Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

While this one's not an injury per se, it's still rather insane that Brady took this massive hit from Elvis Dumervil and simply popped back up, led the huddle, completed a pass on the next snap, and led the team to a touchdown on the following drive.

Elvis Dumervil
Elvis Dumervil sacks Tom Brady in 2011. (Photo By AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen, said in 2017 that Brady suffered a concussion in 2016 and has suffered numerous concussions in his career, which certainly would be expected, given the inherent risk of the position. A closer look at his performance in Super Bowl LI showed that Brady's head smashed off Nate Solder's knee prior to Brady leading the 91-yard game-tying drive against the Falcons. (Brady completed a 16-yard pass to Chris Hogan on the next snap, Julian Edelman made his famous catch not long after, and the rest is history.)

While Brady's health and lifestyle brand likes to push a narrative that the man can and does avoid injuries through the miracle of hydration and pliability, the reality is that nobody plays in the NFL without enduring pain. Getting hit by enormous men on a regular basis tends to have that effect.

For Brady, despite being listed on roughly 6 million injury reports this century, those injuries really haven't kept him off the field. He started 111 consecutive regular-season games and 17 postseason games from 2001-08, before suffering the infamous torn knee. And since missing that 2008 season, from the age of 32 to 43 years old, Brady has missed zero games due to injury. Zero. He missed four games in 2016 because of a fictional football deflation scheme, but he's missed zero games due to injury.

In fact, as he's continued his career at ages where few men have even attempted to play, he's hardly missed a snap. Pro Football Reference's snap count data goes back to 2012, and outside of the suspension in 2016, a fourth-quarter benching in Kansas City in 2014, and a second half to relax in Week 17 of 2014, Brady has taken the field no matter what.


2012: 98.06% (1,215 snaps)
2013: 100% (1,197 snaps)
2014: 93.9% (1,063 snaps)
2015: 98.84% (1,103 snaps)
2016: 73.17% (818) (suspension)
2017: 97.98% (1,116 snaps)
2018: 97.59% (1,092 snaps)
2019: 98.78% (1,135 snaps)
2020: 95.43% (1,024 snaps)

He has also taken 100 percent of his team's offensive snaps in 21 of his last 23 playoff games. In the games where he fell short of 100 percent of the offensive snaps, he took 97 percent and 96 percent of them. Both of those instances took place in blowout wins for the Patriots.

Brady hasn't missed a postseason snap since the 2017 divisional round.


He's doing all of this, again, at an age where few men have even tried to play NFL football. Prior to 2020, the total combined starts at quarterback by 43-year-olds in the history of the NFL was zero. Goose egg. Nada.

Brady started 20 games.

To some extent, Brady has worked to diminish this narrative himself. Unlike, say, Ben Roethlisberger, Brady has not ever been eager to show the world that he's injured. In fact, the establishment of the TB12 method of eating/drinking/living/thinking has worked to the complete opposite effect, as Brady would seemingly prefer that people believe he's never injured. Sure, there is plenty of merit in Brady's methods allowing him to continue playing while the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning and a whole host of other quarterbacks have succumbed to Father Time and retired, we know that any notion of Brady being immune from injury is simply a myth.

Those who've followed his career more closely than others have known for some time that Brady's toughness and durability rank among his most overlooked attributes. The recent news of playing on the torn MCL merely lets more people in on the news that among being the best winner in football history, among being one of the best passers in NFL history, Brady is also as tough as they come in terms of playing while hurt. You don't start 344 games in the ultra-violent NFL if you're not.

In other words ... he's a football player. And now a lot of people are acutely aware of that reality.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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