MINNEAPOLIS – Last year, on the eve of the Super Bowl, Tom Brady released a photo via Instagram. It was from the New England Patriots Super Bowl picture day, where the team, in lieu of a practice, allows players to bring family to the floor of the stadium and snap mementos of the moment.
That one featured Tom’s mother, Galynn, surrounded by Tom on one side and his father Tom Sr. on the other. Each man was planting a kiss on one of Galynn’s cheeks.
It was, at the time, a rare glimpse into Brady’s personal life, and it was one full of meaning. Tom had revealed that week, that Galynn had been battling cancer. No one knew if she would be strong enough to travel to Houston for the Super Bowl. The picture, which included Galynn wearing a scarf over her head to conceal the effects of chemotherapy, was, all in its own right, a victory. It conveyed thankfulness and love.
“Sandwich kiss for Mom,” Brady wrote.
On Saturday, Brady again released a Super Bowl eve Instagram picture, this one more in the traditional vein. It featured his entire family – his wife and kids, his sisters, their husbands and their children and of course, dad and mom. There are 18 in all. He sent a similar one last year too, but this was different. Everyone is smiling. There were outstretched arms. You could practically hear the laughter. And Galynn was beaming, her hair grown back. It was a mood of celebration from the floor of U.S. Bank Stadium.
One year, two games, two entirely different moods for the face of the NFL.
“Family and Football,” Brady wrote.
To see Tom Brady show up on your Super Bowl broadcast year after year is to almost assume he and the New England Patriots are machines. Sunday’s matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles is Brady’s eighth appearance overall and third in four years.
Far, far more goes into it than that, though, and not just finding a way to beat the Steelers or the Ravens or whomever Peyton Manning was playing for at the time.
Life happens, even for the rich and famous and ultra-successful.
One year is the tractor-pull of dealing with a sick mom and a four-game suspension, each of the unrelated acts leaving Brady feeling helpless. The next it is something like a cherry-on-top trip to the state where a now healthy again Galynn grew up and Brady spent so much of his youth, all while on the wrong side of 40.
It’s part of why they take those family photos. Maybe the rest of America takes the Patriots reaching the Super Bowl for granted, but the Patriots sure don’t.
“The families go through so much,” coach Bill Belichick said Saturday to a pool reporter. “They sacrifice so much for all of us and the time that we spend away and the strain that a season puts on them. So it’s great to have them all here and it’s great to give them an opportunity to be with their sons, daughters, husbands and to bring their family in and take pictures on the field and just kind of enjoy the day.”
Belichick treats Super Bowl Saturday as a normal Saturday – no practices or walk-thrus. If there is a road game, the team would travel but that’s it. So picture day is a day for fun.
NFL rosters are constantly in flux and careers are painfully short. As such, for many players, even on the Patriots, this is a one-time thing, or a first-time appearance, or, everyone knows, perhaps a last time appearance.
“Football is such a physical sport,” Brady said. “Every game really could be your last game.”
Getting to the Super Bowl is the culmination of a lifetime of work and sacrifice and dreams. Players take pictures with the parents that pushed them through youth sports and with children so young they can’t understand the stage. Each one is a treasure.
For Brady, it’s become something of a milestone in life.
What looked tense a year ago, looks relaxed now.
That probably doesn’t mean much when it comes to Sunday against the Eagles. Certainly Galynn’s ailing health and her presence in Houston was top of mind for Brady last year.
“We talked at his locker before the game,” Patriots owner Bob Kraft said after the victory over Atlanta. “This [was] the first game his mother [had] been at. She [had] been going through a lot. And he said, ‘Let’s win this one for her.’”
That certainly provided a different motivation for Brady last year. It’s unlikely it served as extra motivation. Brady has also won four others with Galynn in perfect health, after all. And no one thought he didn’t try in his two defeats. Everyone can expect the same old focused, relentless, competitive Brady on Sunday.
This was Saturday though. And for the second consecutive year, Tom Brady sent out to the world a photo that expressed his precise emotions at this exact moment in time.
This year, Galynn Brady looked strong and beautiful, her family looked loose and joyous and appreciative. No matter what happens here in Tom Brady’s eighth Super Bowl, that’s one powerful image to celebrate.
Tom Brady happily surrounded by his family the day before his Patriots take on the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. (Instagram/@tombrady)