Tom Brady was leading a tour through a set of fat binders that he keeps in his den, with each one devoted to one of the 18 seasons he has played in the NFL. This one, marked “2016,” began with a particular memento.
That would be the missive he received from 345 Park Ave. informing him he would be sidelined for the first four games of the 2016 season for his role in the still-hard-to-believe football air-pressure “scandal” known as Deflategate. As the camera focused on Brady, his face became stuck in a smile that could be characterized as something between goofy and satisfied (and with the whiff of a smirk).
“Thank you,” Brady said, to whom it was not clear exactly. He turned the page, and next thing you know he was winning another ring.
The scene transpires early in the first installment of a new documentary series, “Tom vs. Time,” which will be posted later this month via Facebook’s mobile video platform, Facebook Watch. The series follows Brady not just as he has pursued his sixth Super Bowl championship in 2017, but also — as the title indicates — as he conducts his ongoing subversion campaign against the actuarial tables of quarterback longevity.
Filmmaker Gotham Chopra was granted sweeping access to Brady in an array of intimate settings that the inscrutable signal-caller would normally be loath to allow. There is extensive footage of Brady at his Brookline, Massachusetts, home, with his children, with his wife, Gisele Bündchen, on family retreats to Costa Rica, on a bro-trip to Montana (with teammates Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola), on a summer tour of China with his son Jack, and in the car during Brady’s commute to and from work in Foxborough.
The sequence of the Brady children singing along to Vance Joy’s “Riptide” while dad drives home from the stadium after a November win over Miami is, to use the artistic term, rather precious.
One venue where Brady is barely seen: Gillette Stadium, or pretty much anywhere in the Patriots’ facilities. For a player who has been the epitome of the Patriots team-first philosophy, Brady would seem an unlikely candidate to open such a close-up lens upon his off-field self, especially during the season — and especially for a project set to drop during the playoffs. A player not placing undue attention upon himself would constitute a first principle of coach Bill Belichick’s colorless “Do Your Job” collectivism. That is one of the many remarkable aspects of “Tom vs. Time.”
It is unclear if Brady has even told his coach about the project. The Patriots spokesman Stacey James said the team was nominally aware that a Brady documentary was in the works, and tried to be helpful in providing credentials on the few occasions Chopra sought access to home games. Beyond that, the answer of how much Brady’s bosses were informed about “Tom vs. Time” remains shrouded in some Patriot-esque mystery.
This takes on some added resonance in light of an ESPN report last week describing deep tensions between Brady and Belichick, the twin pillars of the NFL’s 21st Century dynasty. No doubt “Tom vs. Time” could provide more grist for the distraction mill that NFL teams avoid so strenuously, nowhere more so than Bunker Bill, this famously locked-down football enclave between Boston and Providence.
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In addition, Belichick is almost completely absent in the series. His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, rather, is portrayed as Brady’s ever-present coaching foil, making cameos via speakerphone (or video chat) as Brady pores through game film and brainstorms ideas for new plays for upcoming games.
Chopra, son of the prolific New Age author Deepak Chopra, grew up a Patriots fan in Lincoln, Massachusetts. He spent several years working as a television journalist around the world before settling in Los Angeles, where he met Brady though mutual friends nearly a decade ago.
Chopra had become interested in exploring the spiritual side of sports and competition, the deep connections drawn and emotions elicited around the games we play and watch. He had spoken from time to time with Brady about this, and for years had been trying to get him interested in some kind of film treatment around his obsessive relationship to football.
After the odyssey of last season — with Brady’s Deflategate suspension, his mother’s battle with cancer and the Patriots’ surreal comeback win in the Super Bowl — Brady finally agreed to participate in a film about his offseason training regimen.
“We thought it would be fun to record what an offseason of training looks like for a 40-year-old athlete,” said Brady, reached by email Monday night.
The offseason ended, but Chopra and his camera stuck around into the season. “Tom is not a sentimental guy, necessarily,” Chopra said. “But I do think, as we talked, he was sort of discovering parts of himself. It’s like therapy. It’s the process of saying it and giving voice to it.”
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Putting aside any significance the series might hold in the broader Patriots Kremlinology, “Tom vs. Time” is pure candy for football geeks, celebrity lifestyle voyeurs and pretty much any NFL enthusiast curious about one of sports’ more enigmatic superstars. In the fifth installment (“The Spiritual Game”), Brady ruminates on the karmic satisfactions he derives through sports.
“I do want to know the whys in life,” Brady said. “I do want to know why we’re here, where we’re going; trying to find that deeper purpose. To live it, through sports in a very authentic way, makes so much sense to me.”
Later in the fifth episode, Brady and Bündchen sit for a joint interview in which Bündchen, a Brazilian model, describes what it is like to have to share her husband with his “first love,” football. “It really is his main love,” Bündchen says, going further. “Frankly it’s true.”
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She mentions that when she and Brady first met, he said he only wanted to play 10 years and would have been happy to win one more Super Bowl. But of course, love dies hard.
“It’s effortless because it’s so synonymous with my being,” Brady says of football. “In front of 70,000 people, I can be who I am. If I want to scream at somebody I can scream at somebody. I can be who I am in a very authentic way.”
As Brady says this, it is impossible not to extend the thought a beat further — and then he does so himself: “That is hard for me when I walk off the field.”
One of the more fascinating scenes involves Brady’s staring like a zombie at a computer screen, intense and serene. It is as if he is neutrally linked to the game film he is watching.
“I could literally watch football all day,” Brady says. “I could go four or five hours without getting up from this chair.”
He begins watching plays from what might be the most difficult loss of his career, the New York Giants’ victory over the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2008, New England’s only loss that season.
“You’re becoming a failure in front of everybody else,” Brady says, using an odd second-person construction while reliving the dormant nightmare in real time. “It’s a talent show you did when you were a kid. And you’re a failure.”
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Given some of the events of this season — both around the league and with the Patriots — the first 4 1/2 installments that were available for viewing by The New York Times contained some big elephants that go unmentioned to this point.
There is no discussion, for instance, of the player protests around the national anthem that dominated much of the early season. (President Donald Trump, who ignited much of the discord around the protests, took every opportunity during the 2016 campaign to mention his close friendship with Brady.) Nor is there any mention of the midseason trade that sent Brady’s backup and possible heir apparent Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers; or, for that matter, of Brady’s polarizing “body coach,” business partner and best friend, Alex Guerrero, who was reportedly told by Belichick that he was no longer permitted to work at the stadium.
(There is no discussion of this friction surrounding Guerrero, though he appears several times in the film, mostly as we watch him put Brady through the so-called “pliability” treatments that the two men developed as the cornerstone of their sports training and lifestyle business, “TB12.")
Chopra said he most likely would cover some of that material in the final installments, though much of it depends on the Patriots’ playoff trajectory. “There’s still some ground to cover and a lot of the story left to unfold,” he said.
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Facebook said the release date for the series is uncertain; it depends on when the Patriots’ season ends. The team hosts Tennessee in a playoff game this weekend.
Another NFL quarterback no longer alive in the playoffs steals one scene. Brady is at home being put through some massage by Guerrero when his oldest son, Jack, walks into the room. Jack tells his father about some NFL fantasy or simulation game that he and a friend are engaged in.
“Who’s your quarterback?” Brady asks.
His son is decisive and cold with his answer. “Cam Newton,” he says.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.