BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – It was the first Sunday in February 2002 and down in Georgia, the parents of David Andrews were headed to a Super Bowl party. Young David, just 9 years old at the time, would have to stay home with the baby sitter.
After young David’s parents departed, the baby sitter informed him he would have to go to bed soon. Young David had other plans.
“You know, I’m going to stay up and watch this game,” he told the baby sitter.
Knowing what we do now, we can consider Andrews’ viewing of the New England Patriots’ first Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams a homework assignment.
“Really, that’s my first Super Bowl memory,” Andrews said.
It’s also his first memory of Tom Brady, who at age 24 won his first Super Bowl that night after replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe as New England’s starting quarterback early in the season.
Flash forward to 2015, and the Patriots veterans have just joined the rookies at the team’s practice facility in Foxborough, Mass. Young David is now 23 years old and nearly 300 pounds. He’s in the cafeteria when he sees Brady walking in the hallway. The two meet for the first time.
“Hey, David, I’m Tom Brady,” the future Hall of Fame quarterback with four Super Bowl rings says to Andrews, an undrafted rookie.
Andrews’ reaction: “Oh, my God, this guy knows an undrafted rookie’s first name. That made a huge impression on me, and it’s something I’ll always remember.”
Andrews now has three seasons as the Patriots’ starting center under his belt, a Super Bowl ring of his own and a strong relationship with Brady.
“Tom has been awesome to work with,” said Andrews, who will go against Fletcher Cox and the Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. “It’s kind of crazy seeing how young I was when he started and now I’m getting an opportunity to work with a guy like that. He’s just some kind of competitor, and he gets the best out of people. We’ve had an awesome working relationship and it has developed into a little friendship, too.”
In many ways, the Eagles are dealing with the same “awe factor” now that David Andrews encountered as an undrafted rookie in 2015. Like Andrews, the Eagles have players who were still in grade school when Brady won not just that first Super Bowl, but his first three, including the 2005 game against the Eagles in Jacksonville, Fla.
The major difference, of course, is that Tom Brady is the enemy this time and that there will be nothing friendly about what he will try to do to the Eagles.
“I’ve been a Tom Brady fan my whole life,” Eagles reserve quarterback Nate Sudfeld said earlier this week. “I think my first memory of him was the ‘Tuck Rule’ game [against Oakland]. I was pretty young, but I was rooting for the Patriots that year. [Brady] is from Northern California, not far from where I grew up, so I followed him.
“And I still do to this day. Obviously, the way he takes care of his body right now is just revolutionary. He’s doing some great things in that sense. His mechanics are just beautiful, and I love how he’s consistently working to improve.”
It is not just the young Eagles who have admired Brady from afar. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, 56, spent 15 years in the NFL as a backup quarterback and another 10 as a coach, and he is willing to admit he has never seen anything like Brady, who will attempt to become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl at age 40.
“Obviously, when you’re having discussions about the greatest of all time, he and a handful of other guys are at the top of that discussion,” Reich said. “What I’m most amazed about is his arm strength at 40 years old. It blows my mind, because I know how my arm strength diminished later in my career.
“My arm was about 75 percent of what it was when I was younger, but I don’t see his arm strength diminishing at all, so hats off to him for whatever he’s doing to make that happen.”
Brady is not keeping secrets about his diet in his advancing years. He acknowledged this week that he ate horrible things as a youth that would never get near his mouth now. He shared his diet in his recently released book – The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance – which found its way in front of Carson Wentz’s locker earlier this season.
What hasn’t changed is his desire to win. Brian Hoyer is in his second stint as Brady’s backup at quarterback, with the first one coming from 2009 through 2011.
“I noticed it the first time I was here, but his will to win is even more noticeable now,” Hoyer said. “His will to compete is incomparable to anyone I know. No matter what it is – a drill, a game, a practice – his competitiveness and passion for the game is unmatched in my opinion.”
And if Hoyer is ever winning one of those practice competitions, he knows it will not end with him on top.
“We’ll keep going until he wins,” Hoyer said.
That’s the way the Patriots last two Super Bowl trips have gone, too. It looked as if the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons might escape with victories, but the games kept going until Brady and New England inexplicably prevailed.
Now, it’s the Eagles’ turn to take a crack at the greatest quarterback in NFL history, and their Boston-born owner is aware of the challenge ahead.
“I love the almost-angry focus he brings to every single game,” Jeffrey Lurie said. “It reminds me of some great athletes I have had respect for, like Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. But they are a beatable team, just like we are. Every team is beatable. There is no magic in what anyone is doing.
“I think the whole week for us has to be 100 percent focus on us. I don’t think the word Patriots has been mentioned once in the last 10 days. It’s really about us and what we can do. That is what we have taken to every single football game, and we just have to keep doing that.”
That is the message that Eagles coach Doug Pederson has sent to his team, and quarterback Nick Foles seems to have received it. While acknowledging he has great respect for Brady, he refuses to say he has any special fixation on arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.
“He has done a lot of great things in his career,” Foles said. “A lot of younger players like myself watched him growing up, but you have to take your own path. Honestly, I didn’t watch a lot of football growing up. I just always wanted to play, whether it was basketball or football. The only games I really watched were the University of Texas, because I was from Austin. I know my dad would be laughing, because he always wanted me to watch him.”
Now, Foles cannot wait to play against Tom Brady’s team. As Lurie suggested, there is nothing magical about what Tom Brady does, but his body of work is majestic, and it shows no signs of ending anytime soon.