BY CHRIS GODWIN
It’s so amazing that a team that had all the change we had last year, with all the turmoil of COVID, could win it all. When free agency started, COVID started in the country that same week, basically. No one knew exactly how it was going to impact sports, let alone life. Then on top of that, we didn’t bring back Jameis, so who was gonna be our quarterback?
At a time like this, players are just like you. We didn’t know who we’d get. We heard chirping about Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater. Then I saw on ESPN it was down to Tampa and the Chargers for Tom. And I was like, well, it’s gonna be weird seeing Tom in a Chargers jersey, after seeing him with the Patriots for so long. He’s from California. Maybe he wanted to go home. I mean, both teams have a good set of skill players. They have Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and they had Hunter Henry. They had some good players. I thought there was no shot he’d come to Tampa. What would really draw him here?
Then I saw we’re agreeing to terms with Tom. I got a notification on my phone. Still I didn’t believe it. I went on Instagram to see if there was any other news on it. I saw a direct message notification. It said it was from “Tom Brady.”
I was like, no, no, no, no, nah, nah. This can’t be the real Tom.
It was the real Tom.
Let me pull it up on my phone. March 17. He said he was excited to play with me, he’s watched me a lot over the years. He even threw a college joke in there: “I won’t hold it against you that you’re a Penn State guy.”
Then he said congrats on your engagement.
I had just gotten engaged. And the greatest player of all time is DM-ing me wishing me good luck with my engagement and saying he’s excited to play with me! That was just shocking to me. I get drafted by Tampa, never thinking I’d ever have a chance to play with Tom Brady, and now, in the prime of my career, he’s gonna be my quarterback.
I told you earlier that some of the best people I’ve met are such positive people. A few of the receivers started catching balls from Tom at this local school, Berkeley Prep, in the spring. I walk up at 7:15 that morning. Is Tom gonna be a Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan-type, super-locked-in from the minute he gets out there? A real no-BS guy? But I walk up and he’s the friendliest guy. For someone who’s so accomplished and as highly regarded as he is, he was humble and receptive to the thoughts and opinions of his new teammates. We helped teach him the playbook, and he was super-receptive.
I remember thinking, “He’s out here to earn our respect, to show that he was here to work. No one’s gonna be given anything.” That message was received loud and clear. He never said anything like, Do what I say! Very cool for me to see someone so accomplished to be working as hard as he was, but also like just a normal person who wanted to be one of the guys.
The COVID restrictions really hurt teams trying to get important guys ready to play early. The first time we ever got in a huddle with Tom, the first time he worked on cadence with us, was a month before our first game. What you saw throughout the season was us having growing pains. We were figuring everything out on the fly. It sucked that we had to find out a lot of the ugly stuff in front of the world. But we kept working, and we figured it out.
For me, it was such a weird year. I got a concussion in week one, missed week two, injured my hamstring in week three, missed two weeks, scored a touchdown against the Raiders and broke my finger, missed another game. The rest of the season I played basically with eight fingers, because I had to tape two of them together to protect my broken finger. And then we got to the postseason, and that first game, in Washington, I dropped four passes.
What I’ve really grown to appreciate about sports, and being on this team, is that if you work hard and you’re trusted, you’re going to get more chances. We went to Green Bay for the championship game, and you know Florida teams aren’t supposed to win in Green Bay in January. It was freezing. But it was a day Tom kept coming to me. The trust was there, which was huge to me. I caught five passes for 110 yards. But the play I’ll never forget was actually a running play.
This was our 19th game of the season. I had not run the ball once. We were trying to run out the clock with a 31-26 lead at the Green Bay 43-yard line. Third-and-five. We had a five-wide personnel grouping on the field. I said to Mike Evans: “Mike, what are we doing? We got no running back on the field!” We cannot throw this ball. It’s insane to throw it. An incomplete pass would stop the clock, and we’d have to punt back to Aaron Rodgers.
So the play-call came in, and it was a play we hadn’t run in a game . . . a two-point conversion play. I would never have thought they’d try it with five yards to get, at a crucial point of the championship game. But the call was a toss-pitch to me. So let’s go.
I went in motion. Everything felt normal. But when Tom tossed me the ball, everything was in slow motion. Once I caught it, I looked and . . . you know how the first-down marker’s a yellow line on TV? I was seeing the yellow line on the field of where I needed to get to. It was like this weird phenomenon of being in slow motion, seeing the graphic on TV, like the yellow line, and then moving in slow motion. Then I took a couple steps and I finally reached the first down. We needed five yards. I got six.
I had this rush of emotion of like, Oh my God, we’re going to the Super Bowl. Nothing they can do about it. From what I had been through—not only the entire year but specifically through the postseason and those struggles—it was so incredible for my coaching staff to have the faith in me in that moment. They put the ball in my hands to send us to the Super Bowl. It was surreal for me. Then we won the Super Bowl, and there’s nothing more surreal than that.