According to Brittany Brees, her husband played his entire 20th NFL season with a torn rotator cuff and ripped fascia in his foot. That’s a startling scoop, especially considering Drew Brees was on the sidelines from Weeks 11-14 in order to heal from 11 cracked ribs and a collapsed lung. You’d expect New Orleans Saints trainers and medical staff to have discovered that their franchise quarterback’s throwing shoulder was hanging on by just a few muscle fibers.
The news brought an extra dose of clarity to the NFL’s divisional playoff weekend, when Brees and the Saints were eliminated by the Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Similar to Brett Favre and Peyton Manning at the end of their careers, Brees simply couldn’t throw the ball down the field with adequate velocity and precision. Backup quarterback Jameis Winston (exacting revenge on his old team) completed what was easily the Saints’ longest completion of the day — a 56-yard touchdown pass to Tre’Quan Smith. Brees’s box score stats were anemic. He averaged under four yards per pass completion.
Lightning-fast delivery has always been part of Brees’s game. He works the flats, he peppers the middle of the field. There’s a reason Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas set the all-time record for most receptions in a season (149) a years ago. Bress has thrown nearly 400 more completed passes than any quarterback ever. But that offensive scheme relies on at least the theory that he might throw the ball past 20 yards. It’s clear now — and the 42-year-old, former Super Bowl MVP has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of — that his body won’t allow him to do that anymore. If this is truly the end, he gave it all he had left.
Brees’s imminent retirement will come on the heels of Phillip Rivers saying goodbye earlier this week. Eli Manning hung it up for good last year. Pittsburgh Steelers sportswriters are actively calling for Ben Roethlisberger to call it quits, too. A generation of elite quarterbacks is finally stepping aside. That’s to say, everyone except for the oldest and most successful of them all. Tom Brady, going on 44 years old, just won his seventh Super Bowl. He now has one more than the next closest franchise: the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tom’s widowed Patriots, which have six titles each.
Last month, a video went viral of Brady chatting with the Brees family on an empty Superdome field after the game. Brady congratulated Brees, hugged Mrs. Brees, threw a touchdown pass to one of his kids, then picked up his duffel bag and hustled to catch the team plane. The metaphor was almost too much. Brady, against all laws of nature, isn’t done. It invites an obvious query: How? How the hell is he doing this? Twitter had a lot of fun when Brady passed George Blanda, and became the oldest player to throw a touchdown in postseason history. At 43, Blanda looked like the Marlboro Man. Brady looks like a Peloton instructor.
It might be time, though, that we started taking the efforts fueling Brady’s second act (third act? fourth act?) a bit more seriously. In 2019, Brady said he could play until he’s 46 or 47. Is there any point betting against him anymore? Brady hasn’t pitched a perfect playoffs so far, and who knows, maybe his first January game at Lambeau proves a letdown. But he threw 40 touchdown passes this year — two more than Patrick Mahomes — and finished the year with a 102.2 QBR rating. There are football-specific Xs and Os at play, no doubt, and the Buccaneers are loaded with offensive weapons. But the key is that Brady’s always on the field to play with them. And his oft-maligned fitness-empire side hustle, TB12 Sports, deserves at least some credit for that achievement.
We’ve highlighted some of the issues with TB12 Sports in the past. They mostly revolve around Alex Guererro, the company’s co-founder. Guerrero and Brady are tight, to say the least. For 12 years, he’s been Brady’s “spiritual guide, counselor, pal, nutrition adviser, trainer, massage therapist and family member.” He’s even godfather to Brady’s son. But Guerrero is also a wellness world charlatan. He has a degree in Chinese medicine from a California school that no longer exists; he’s been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission twice, once for selling an additive called Supreme Greens that he (falsely) claimed saved the lives of 192 terminally-ill people over eight years; and he’s pedaled an “anti-concussion” nostrum called NeuroSafe, which feels especially exploitative, considering the NFL’s relationship with head trauma.
Since TB12 Sports launched in 2013, it’s faced an oddly uphill battle to legitimacy, considering it’s the lifestyle brand of one of the most famous athletes in the world. But it’s been hampered by its niche appeal (the last thing fans outside of New England wanted was more Tom Brady), Guerrero’s checkered past and a proclivity for Goop-like pseudoscience. Brady’s fitness bible, The TB12 Method, is full of fitness humdingers. He writes about optimizing his body to “disperse” the shock of sacks, why he doesn’t eat any nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and how post-outdoor workout hydration prevents sunburns.
It’s easier to focus on the nonsensical aspects of Brady’s claims. Frankly, it’s funnier. But it also feels foolish to not keep an open mind to his wellness regimen. He’s dismantling professional defenses at an age that most men start tapping out of the Thanksgiving touch-football game. There’s no explaining some of his claims — that sunburns tidbit is total bosh, period — but it’s worth looking past the headline-grabbing elements of his other practices. The no-nightshades diet, for instance, is predicated on Brady’s erroneous obsession with “balancing the acidity” in his diet. A cherry tomato is bad. But so are cheese, sugar and processed foods. Brady’s diet takes him down a strange avenue, but it’s also mostly vegan and favors organic ingredients. A devotion to that sort of healthy eating can work wonders for the body, particularly by preventing inflammation.
As for that “shock dispersion” concept, it hinges on another wacky idea: that athletes can benefit from crafting “long” and “soft” muscles. Pliability, Brady says, allows him to bounce right back up from a hit. Never mind that not a single medical journal has ever studied muscle pliability. It doesn’t exist. That said: the workout and recovery regimen Brady follows to get his muscles where he wants them to be is top notch. He hits resistance bands to build strength. He stretches to foster flexibility and encourage range of motion. He uses a massage gun to handle soreness. Brady is right to assume he doesn’t need to hit the bench at his age; he just needs to stay on the field, to let his experience and playmaking ability do the work, not his pecs.
It’s impossible to fully explain Brady’s longevity. As great as he’s been, luck and circumstance are huge factors. But his infamous wellness regimen deserves credit too, if only for the fact that Brady is so damn devoted to it. You never see a story about #12 showing up to training camp out of shape. He’s all in, every year, eating right, warming up and cooling down like he’s supposed to. The issue? Ironically, Brady just never figured out how to accurately “brand” that routine, how to communicate it properly to the masses. But while we can’t know for sure that his regimen would work for Mahomes, or Rodgers, or … you, it clearly works for Brady. Here at the end of a career that seems to have no intention of ending, he deserves for us to admit that at least that much is true.