The text messages would come in late, maybe 10 p.m. Maybe 11.
“Tom Brady,” the phone would read, and even though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been his teammates through an entire season, even though they were accomplished NFL players themselves, well, there is still something jarring, something that makes you sit up, when in the days before the Super Bowl the greatest quarterback of all time has something to tell you.
“We will win this game,” Brady was texting, according to teammates.
That was the message. The Bucs were going to win the Super Bowl. Forget what was getting said on television or in Vegas. Forget Kansas City’s 16-2 record entering Sunday’s game or its Super Bowl victory last year. Forget Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill.
We will win this game.
And if Tom Brady, who had won six of them, believed it, then who were they to argue?
“He made us believe,” running back Leonard Fournette said.
And then they went out and dominated the vaunted Chiefs 31-9 to win Super Bowl LV.
Brady wasn’t just offering some empty pep talk, either. He knows better than that. There were further details in the texts and in conversations as the Bucs prepared for the game.
Fournette, the 228-pound runner, said Brady’s message to him kept harping on how Kansas City was ranked 31st in the league in yards allowed after contact. That meant they were soft. Fournette, of course, is anything but.
“He was on point, he was telling us what to expect,” Fournette said. “He was telling us they weren’t very good at tackling.”
Put your shoulder down and break them. That's what Brady saw. Now if he could only get Fournette, and the others, to see it too.
Fournette rumbled for 89 yards on 16 carries against the Chiefs, including a back-breaking 27-yard touchdown scamper that all but put the game away. He was joined by Ronald Jones, who had 61 yards on just 12 carries to give Tampa Bay a balanced, clock-grinding offense.
Meanwhile the defense, in particular the pass rush, manhandled Kansas City, leaving Mahomes to run for his life in the backfield. (NextGen stats said he scrambled for 497 yards prior to passing the ball or being sacked, the most of any quarterback this season).
In a league that sometimes trends toward finesse, this was an old-fashioned mauling, the tougher team physically and mentally prevailing.
Brady threw three touchdowns while completing 21 of his 29 passes for 201 yards. He avoided turnovers and was sacked just once. He played brilliantly.
It told just part of the story, certainly not the biggest part. There will almost always be players who put up bigger numbers. There may never be one who understands how to get a team to win like Brady does – whether converting a losing organization like in Tampa Bay, or maximizing a winning one previously in New England.
With the Buccaneers, they needed to realize how good they could be.
“It was an organization that was ready to win,” said tight end Rob Gronkowsi, who spent nine season with Brady in New England before coming out of retirement to join the Bucs. “I was really shocked they didn't go to the playoffs the year before with what they had. It was just cool to see how much talent there was.”
They needed a leader. They got the best there ever was.
From informal offseason workouts in local parks (the team facility was closed due to COVID restrictions) to late-night texts, Brady was relentless.
These guys had grown up watching Brady win Super Bowls. They’d sat in living rooms as kids and dorm rooms as college stars and even on opposing sidelines as envious rivals and watched him win and win and win. Whatever he says holds an outsized significance.
In this case, he even played a dual-purpose role as advocate and recruiter for talent, working the front office to sign players he believed would deliver, while in turn convincing them to give this thing a shot.
Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette.
“He hit me up and was like, ‘Will you come down?’” Gronk said.
Who scored the Bucs’ touchdowns on Sunday?
Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, Leonard Fournette.
“He has a certain eye for those players,” said Fournette, who while in Jacksonville lost an AFC championship game to Brady’s Patriots. “He’s battled against me. AB too. He knows what we bring to the game.”
“Great to see,” Brady said. “Big-time players making big-time plays.”
In an odd way, Sunday was Brady’s career in a nutshell. In an improbable goal somehow accomplished with a surprising dash of ease. It’s how a sixth-round pick becomes a seven-time Super Bowl champion.
And it is how you, at 43 years old, take a new franchise that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002, and wind up winning three postseason road games en route to hammering Mahomes' Chiefs.
“I think everybody believed we could win,” Brady said. “I think all year we believed in ourselves. The coaches believed in us and we believed in ourselves.”
Maybe. Or maybe he kept telling them to believe until they did, one late-night text after the next.
“I think we knew this was going to happen tonight,” Brady said to his teammates while standing on the podium.
New team, same story. Tom Brady, champion again.
Super Bowl LV from Yahoo Sports: