The following originally appeared on the website http://www.985thesportshub.com on February 4, 2022.
By Bob Socci
There’s a good chance any one of three questions will come up when others discover that mine is the voice they hear when putting the Patriots on their radio.
“What’s it like to work with Zo?”
“How is it dealing with Belichick?”
“Do you know Tom Brady?”
Regarding the first, there’s a standard response, punctuated with a smile. “Exactly as you’d imagine.”
As for the second, it’s usually asked in a tone that tells me they mean ‘Bill in post-loss, press-conference mode.’ It gets a two-part reply. “Great,” I’ll say, before pre-empting the presumed follow-up. “But I don’t have to ask him the tough questions others do.”
The third has a shorter answer. “A little bit.”
But this of all weeks, that one deserves a little more reflection.
Certainly, I knew a lot about Tom Brady when I was hired by 98.5 The Sports Hub in the spring of 2013. Back then, while I was a virtual unknown locally, Brady had long been both football star and celebrity.
He hadn’t met Gotham Chopra yet and shared his life in a docuseries, but much of it was already an open book. If not magazine. Who can forget the famed baby goat ad for GQ? What may not be remembered is the accompanying story by David Kamp, and the headline: “The Best There Ever Was?”
To think, it wasn’t far-fetched to ask, even then…in 2005!
Brady had just won his third Super Bowl alongside teammates who watched him grow up. But he was also still nine years away from the first of four more he’d win alongside teammates who watched him as they grew up.
The substance of Brady’s early football ascent is something I’d admired for some time. I’d even drawn from it. You know, sixth-round pick. Fourth quarterback on the roster. Gets his shot, wins the Super Bowl — once, twice, a third time.
I was a long way in my own career — calling college sports and Class A baseball — from my first Super Bowl when Brady appeared in his first, Super Bowl XXXVI.
When he set up Adam Viniateri’s title-clinching kick by spiking the ball and casually catching it in his left hand, I was watching from a cramped apartment above a contractor’s garage on the outskirts of Annapolis, Md. Seeing the underdogs on my screen and the kid quarterback chief among them triumph as they did, I took it as a dose of inspiration to anyone grinding toward a goal.
Seven years later, I moved to the Boston area to join my then fiancée. On my first full day here, I went out to pick up lunch. While waiting in the food court at Quincy’s Common Markets, I glanced at the TV just as CBS replayed Kansas City’s Bernard Pollard diving at the left leg of you know who.
Thankfully, Tom came back, and I got to stick around.
In preparation for my first broadcast, from Philadelphia in the 2013 preseason opener, I picked up the Patriots Media Guide, turned to Brady’s bio and found 18 pages full of milestones and minutiae from a career already worthy of a gold jacket. There was so much there, but only so much I could possibly use.
Somehow by 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, I winnowed the most relevant records and timeliest tidbits from all those facts and figures down to a dozen items to include with other notes on my spotting chart. Among them was the then 36-year-old Brady’s recently-stated intention to play “beyond 40.”
On Tom’s first six snaps, he handed off. In his next eight, he completed seven passes, including a touchdown to Shane Vereen. Thus concluded my first glimpse at the greatest from our radio booth at The Linc. Brady came out and Ryan Mallett went in before the opening quarter was over.
The regular season began in Buffalo, where Tom was needed to go the distance. Down four in the fourth, he drove the Pats to a pair of late field goals. The game winner by Stephen Gostkowski left only five seconds to spare.
I was just getting started, lucky that Brady was just doing his usual. It was, my chart confirmed, his 37th career comeback from a fourth-quarter tie or deficit.
There were more to come.
In mid-October, Brady beat the Saints with a time-expiring toss to Kenbrell Thompkins. In late November, he outperformed Peyton Manning on a frostbitten Sunday night, overcoming a 24-0 deficit vs. the Broncos. In December, he and the Pats doubled up, rallying in the closing minutes of consecutive contests to defeat Houston and Cleveland.
Imagine, all of this was amid a season ultimately deemed disappointing. For the team, and for Tom.
Early enough in the fall that the Red Sox were still playing, I joined Felger & Mazz at The Sports Hub’s remote studio near Fenway Park. Still unfamiliar to most in the market and unsure of my own words, I quickly got caught in a crossfire of criticism of the quarterback.
“Maybe,” I somewhat meekly suggested, “rather than looking for cracks in the armor of our aging sports stars, we should celebrate how good we’ve had it.”
Which in Brady’s case, despite a statistical drop-off leading a shorthanded group, was still pretty damn good. So I thought. Then I had the audacity to suggest that Brady might actually be getting better in some aspects. Smarter, perhaps?
Needless to say, the boys swatted that notion into the netting above the Green Monster, and I was laughed out of the studio. Wasn’t the first time it happened. Wish I could say it was the last.
The season ended at Denver in the AFC Championship, setting up more scrutiny in the spring. Belichick selected Jimmy Garoppolo and explained the choice by referencing “Tom’s age and contract situation.” To others, the implication was obvious on day two of the draft. Brady was on the clock.
At the end of September, we traveled to Kansas City for “Monday Night Football.” The Chiefs routed the Pats, fans at Arrowhead roared to 142.2 decibels, setting a Guinness World Record for loudest sports stadium, and the “window is closing” crowd turned up their volume as they increased in size.
What I recall as vividly as the red sea of Chiefs uniforms and partisan apparel in the stands on that evening are two images of Brady. One was captured by ESPN, of Tom on the sideline after being pulled. The other I stumbled upon in the post-game hours, of Brady sitting beside Vince Wilfork, each wearing the appearance of resolve rather than resignation.
It occurred to me during Chopra’s “Man In The Arena,” in the episode featuring Big Vince and focusing on 2014. Speaking of which, after losing to K.C., Belichick insisted the Pats were on to Cincinnati, Tom got untracked and together they embarked on the second iteration of their dynasty.
Along the way, Brady & Co. overcame a 10-point deficit in Super Bowl XLIX. It was the greatest comeback in the game’s history, until the next one in Super Bowl LI. With five titles, Brady’s bid for a sixth was delayed, despite 505 passing yards in Super Bowl LII; though not denied, as a winner in Super Bowl LIII.
In the six seasons since I started calling his games, Brady’s media guide bio expanded by 10 pages, up to 28 entering 2019. He’d added three more Super Bowl wins, six more AFC Championship appearances, two more Super Bowl MVP awards, a regular season MVP and a slew of all-time records.
Brady completed his 400th touchdown pass, a short strike to Danny Amendola, vs. Jacksonville in 2015, and his 500th, a 34-yard rainbow to Josh Gordon, vs. Indianapolis in 2018. Honored to chronicle both and everything else Brady accomplished, I realized over time that all the numbers and all the records found on all those pages didn’t begin to tell all of his story.
Nor could they convey what I’d come to appreciate most in my time talking about Tom.
Shortly after Brady’s final game with the Pats, a Wild Card playoff loss to Tennessee in Jan. 2020, I blogged about my experience as his team’s broadcaster. I wrote with an understanding that any acceptance I gained from listeners, especially at the outset, had more to do with the Pats’ success than how I sounded.
The hometown broadcast is always better when the home team wins. No player on this town’s home team had more to do with winning than the greatest quarterback of all time.
I’ve referred to Brady by those last six words for years. Even as I struggled to truly comprehend in the moment that I was the one calling some of the most important moments of his career.
As Brady’s Patriots tenure neared an end, I thought about the responsibility of delivering the last word on it from the radio booth. I never got that chance. Nor really, did Tampa Bay’s Gene Deckerhoff, who we now know did have the privilege of describing Brady’s final act at quarterback.
But that was a week before word of his impending retirement was reported, followed by a day of un-retirement, another day of official retirement and most of a week marked by hard feelings and attempts on social media to smooth things over after a statement of retirement.
Selfishly, I wish Brady had remained a Patriot.
But on the morning my phone buzzed with the notification he was officially a Buccaneer, other matters occupied my mind. Like not burning the pancakes as I made breakfast. And wondering how I was possibly going to manage remote learning for two kids, anticipating a school closure due to COVID.
Maybe such “distractions” made it easier for me to move on. I figured Tom had his reasons to say goodbye, so I should say goodbye too. Continuing to pull for him since — with one notable October exception — I remain grateful for the professional thrills he made possible. I feel the same way about his teammates.
Paying thought these past few days to the Brady I broadcast from 2013-19, I picture him bouncing on his feet in the pocket, passing with precision and punching his fist through the air as part of his pre-game warm-up. They are parts of what I appreciate most.
So is his act of playing catch and making it an art form. Same with the way he hurried from drill to drill throughout training camp practices, before arming himself with his resistance bands on the back field to re-shape the body of and reject narratives about a 40-something quarterback.
And especially how, win or lose, he was as tough as he was smart. Who else would absorb the all-game punishment he did at Denver in the 2015 AFC Championship and still scrap his way within an end-of-game, two-point try of tying it? Or rebound from a pick-six in the Super Bowl against Atlanta and rise up from 28-3 down to 34-28 in overtime?
Meanwhile, Brady showed the same deft touch with people as passes.
Take, for example, the way center David Andrews describes their first interaction. Andrews told me this week about his first day with the Patriots, as an undrafted rookie and roster long shot. Tom approached him and extended a hand.
“Hi Dave, I’m Tom.”
There’s a long handshake line of Brady’s teammates stretching out over two decades who’ve experienced the same. Others outside their football inner circle can relate.
Brady could often be seen making eye contact and heard saying “hello” to staff from every facet of the organization as their paths crossed in the Gillette Stadium tunnel. Every so often, I was on the receiving end. As silly as it might seem to you, such simple acknowledgement is rarer than you think.
And it’s consistent with another of Brady’s skills, as someone who commands a room’s attention — making someone else feel like the most important person in that room. That I observed in periodic Q-and-A’s we held for a team sponsor.
Outside of those sessions, opportunities to chat at any real length with Tom, formally or informally, were infrequent. So, I can’t tell you or anybody else that I got to know him any better than “a little bit.”
But I do feel I know enough to confidently consider Brady a nice guy who finished first the most in NFL history, as the best ever to play the most important position.
I’m also sure we should agree, we’re fortunate we got to enjoy it, while he did it for us.