Tom Brady meant so much to so many. Careers were built off Brady's work. Legacies were created. But through it all, even as his fame launched him into a different orbit, the quarterback was a beloved teammate.
That's not to say he was easy to be around. He demanded perfection. But it's why so many sought him out long after their time in New England was over -- or, in Matthew Slater's case, when Brady returned to New England as a Buccaneer in early October of 2021.
"I won't touch on what was said, but it was important for me to find Thomas," said Slater, the Patriots special teams ace who played with Brady from 2008 to 2019, the day after that Week 4 game, when asked why he ventured into the Tampa Bay locker room postgame. "I can't say enough -- he's been such a great friend to me, he's been a mentor. He's shown me what it looks like on and off the football field. Anytime you get a chance to see one of your really good friends, you want to go say hello to him. I'm glad I got a chance to do that.
"I don't know if him and I will ever share a football field again, that's just reality. I wanted to cherish that a little bit."
With Brady announcing his retirement after 22 seasons, I wanted to take a look at the 10 players and coaches who had the biggest impact on Brady over the course of his career. Note that this is not meant to be a list of the best Brady ever worked with; rather, I wanted to highlight the relationships that were both fruitful on the field and seemed to make a real difference to him personally, based on my observations from covering Brady and the Patriots over the years.
1) Bill Belichick, head coach
Brady's coach: 2000-2019 with the Patriots
The greatest marriage between coach and quarterback ever. Nearly two decades of unprecedented success. Division titles (17). Conference championships. Super Bowls won (six) and lost (three). Never done before, and likely never again. Was the relationship frayed at the end? Of course. Like any other relationship, theirs included highs, lows and in-betweens. But Belichick was like Slater back in Week 4, seeking out his old quarterback following that 19-17 Patriots loss at Gillette Stadium. The hatchet was buried. The respect for each other, which had never dissipated, was re-solidified.
"We got a personal relationship, you know, for 20-plus years," said Brady in the post-game press conference. "He drafted me here. We've had a lot of personal conversations that should remain that way and are very private.
"I would say so much is made of our relationship. You know, as I said earlier this week, from a player's standpoint you just expect the coach to give you everything he's got, and I'm sure as a player that's what he was hoping from me."
2) Rob Gronkowski, tight end
Brady's teammate: 2010-18 with the Patriots; 2020-21 with the Buccaneers
Brady's mere presence in Tampa Bay was enough to get Gronkowski to come out of retirement, a year after saying he no longer had the passion for the game and that his body was broken. With the exception of Randy Moss (closer to the end of his career than the beginning when he joined the Pats), Brady never played with a more talented player, and the results showed. The duo combined for 105 touchdowns, second-best all time, behind only Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison.
But beyond that, I'll remember the loyalty Gronk showed Brady in 2014. The Patriots lost to the Kansas City Chiefs early in the season, and Brady was seeing ghosts. He was replaced at the end of the game by rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. That prompted the "We're on to Cincinnati" comments from Belichick. Then, after the Pats and Brady answered questions about their demise, they routed the Bengals the following weekend, prompting an emotional response from Gronk.
"I told my brother before we came to the game, 'I'm going to make 12 look like Tom Brady again today, baby!' " Gronkowski said. "And I went out there with my teammates, and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week, the fans, everything."
3) Julian Edelman, wide receiver
Brady's teammate: 2009-2019 with the Patriots
There was a big brother-little brother element to this relationship. Two California kids, both late-round draft picks, identifying in each other an insatiable work ethic and passion for the game. Not only did Brady advise Edelman on how he wanted routes run, but he offered counsel for Edelman off the field, as well. Their bond translated on all levels, but especially in the postseason, where Edelman is second all time in receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,442), trailing only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice (151 and 2,245).
4) Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Brady's coach: 2004-08, 2012-19 with the Patriots
One can't mention Belichick and without also talking about Brady -- and maybe we ought to consider putting Josh McDaniels in that conversation, as well. With the exception of a three-year hiatus, McDaniels, who is one year older than Brady, coached Brady for most of Brady's time with the Patriots, first as the quarterbacks coach and eventually as his offensive coordinator. The two often refer to each other as great friends, and Brady said they're "brothers for life." Brady's record-setting 50 TD passes in the 2007 NFL season helped vault McDaniels into the national spotlight, and he eventually cashed in to become the head coach of the Denver Broncos. After that went awry, McDaniels returned and called plays in three more Super Bowl victories.
5) Wes Welker, wide receiver
Brady's teammate: 2007-2012 with the Patriots
Maybe the most forgotten great receiver of the last two decades, Welker came to New England in a sign-and-trade deal with the Dolphins and vaulted into the record books with five 100-plus-catch seasons over his six years with the Patriots. The one season he didn't reach that number was 2010, when the shifty slot returned from a torn ACL suffered at the tail end of the 2009 campaign. He still managed to haul in 86 passes. Brady referred to him as a "golden retriever" for his willingness to keep running routes and catching the ball.
6) Danny Amendola, wide receiver
Brady's teammate: 2013-17 with the Patriots
Brady has a type. Danny Amendola fit that. Tough. Fearless. Clutch. Amendola never racked up the kinds of stats the Pats expected when they signed him over Welker in free agency -- largely because of an injury and Edelman's emergence -- but Amendola worked his way into the quarterback's good graces and stayed there for the better part of five years, delivering some late-game and postseason heroics. Amendola took less money year after year to stay with Brady, and it wasn't too long ago that he said, "When you see 'Patriot Way' in the dictionary, it's gonna have Tom Brady's name next to it."
7) Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins, offensive linemen
Brady's teammates: Light: 2001-2011 with the Patriots; Koppen: 2003-2011 with the Patriots; Mankins: 2005-2013 with the Patriots
Yeah, I'm cheating. That's three guys for one spot. Too bad. Brady had a unique relationship with his offensive line from the early days, establishing himself as one of them, and more likely to hang out with the big guys than the more diva-like little guys. There were pranks, there were T-shirts featuring Brady holding farm animals (from a GQ Magazine spread) and there was intense loyalty, with Brady going so far as to grow a beard after Belichick traded Mankins to Tampa in 2014. There was also excellent play, and maybe somebody will pay attention to Mankins, a seven-time Pro Bowl guard, as a legit Hall of Fame candidate.
8) Kevin Faulk, running back
Brady's teammate: 2000-2011 with the Patriots
The running back became a fierce Brady loyalist, and that was rewarded by Brady showing up at Faulk's Patriot Hall of Fame induction wearing the RB's No. 33 jersey. The two played 12 years together, and Brady lauded Faulk at that ceremony, saying, "Kevin, we love you. You're an amazing person, an amazing teammate. As great as a player as Kevin was, he's a better friend."
9) Chris Godwin, wide receiver
Brady's teammate: 2020-21 with the Buccaneers
Mike Evans may have caught more touchdowns from Brady than Godwin over two seasons in Tampa, but Godwin and Brady were developing a similar connection to the one Tom had with Welker and Edelman in New England. There was a trust that Godwin would be where Brady wanted him to, and Brady stayed the course with Godwin even when the wideout had a case of the drops late in what turned out to be a Super Bowl-winning season. Brady was visibly upset when Godwin injured his knee late in the 2021 season after recording 98 catches in 14 games.
10) Bruce Arians, head coach
Brady's coach: 2020-21 with the Buccaneers
Arians didn't get to be a head coach in this league until he turned 60, and he had a fair amount of success in Arizona from 2013 to 2017. But when he stepped away from the game following the '17 season, his résumé lacked a Super Bowl to call his own. A year into Arians' coaching stint with the Bucs, Brady made the decision to leave New England and join Arians in Tampa. Eleven months later, Arians and the Bucs were champs, helping to enhance Arians' coaching legacy and giving Brady his first ring outside of New England.