During the second half of last season, Alex Guerrero, Tom Brady’s personal trainer and a business partner, did not travel on the New England Patriots’ team plane or appear on their sideline. Guerrero previously enjoyed both privileges.
The banishment helped make public what was reported and rumored to be a rift between Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, who supposedly preferred Patriots players used team athletic trainers. As speculation ramped up whether Brady would retire, the battle was a classic NFL soap opera. In the end, after lots of banter, nothing happened, Brady returned and last weekend, Guerrero was even back on the team plane.
Still, it was newsworthy and any person with knowledge of how the media works would know that it was newsworthy when Guerrero was back in the apparent good graces of Belichick and the Pats.
That’s what made Brady’s appearance Monday morning on WEEI’s “Kirk and Callahan Show” so strange.
No one in the NFL prepares better than Brady, not just for his opponents each week, but everything in his life. He can probably tell you what he’s going to have for breakfast, what time he’ll go to bed and what exercises he’ll do the first Wednesday of October. That’s why he’s not just still playing at age 41, but is the reigning MVP who threw for over 500 yards in the Super Bowl. Guerrero is a big part of that.
Yet on this, Brady acted surprised the subject was broached and wasn’t ready with a prepared answer that would’ve brushed the controversy/non-controversy aside. He had to have known that given the intrigue over his relationship with Belichick, and by proxy Guerrero’s relationship with Belichick, that this question was coming in one form or the other.
Instead, he stumbled through a fair line of questioning by host Kirk Minihane.
Minihane: What changed in him not being on the team plane last year and this year? Was that just communication back and forth, or was that an understanding of other things? What led that to being able to happen this year?
Brady: Yeah, I am not getting into all that.
Minihane: OK, when I ran into him at the Super Bowl last year in Minneapolis, I remember talking to him at the time — when I talked to him there, he had said in his opinion that all this stuff had been overblown, and he and [Bill] Belichick had a pretty good relationship even then. Would you say that is true?
Brady: I said I don’t want to get into it. … Everyone knows, it is well-documented the work he and I do together.
Minihane: I understand that. I am just trying to figure out because I saw the reports this weekend that he’s traveling with the team. Was he on the sideline Friday?
Brady: Yeah. All right, guys. Have a great day. I’ll talk to you later.
And dial tone.
Look, Brady has the right to answer or not answer any question he wants. He’s the quarterback, not the president. That isn’t the issue.
He chooses, though, to go on WEEI every week. It’s a paid gig, although the money hardly matters. This is how he chooses to convey information to fans (there is also an NFL obligated weekly news conference and, of course, postgame availability). He likes it. He stuck with WEEI even after a different host criticized his daughter earlier this year.
Brady is a smart guy. He understands media and messaging. He is entering his 19th NFL season. He is well aware that the drama about he, Belichick and Guerrero is a major topic of conversation among fans and media.
This wasn’t some sneak attack question. This wasn’t some random interviewer. How he wasn’t ready for it, or why he feigned shock that anyone would bring it up is puzzling.
How can someone who sees everything coming keep pretending he doesn’t expect questions about Guerrero, who is a massive part of his football life?
Earlier this year he ended a news conference when asked about Guerrero and his work with wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was suspended for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Again, it wasn’t that he declined to answer, but how he declined to answer. The more Brady makes these things so dramatic, the more times he isn’t ready to diffuse the subject, the bigger it gets.
And the more reasonable it is to ask why the subject of Alex Guerrero is so problematic?
That’s what hanging up on Monday did. The questions and speculation and discussion didn’t end. They got bigger. And they’ll get bigger still as long as Brady acts and answers in a very non-Tom Brady fashion when it comes to this specific person, a strange blind spot for a guy who otherwise has none.