At 42 years old, Tom Brady has earned the rare privilege of being old enough to still be an NFL star, and also remember when cell phones didn't have color screens.
App Store? Touch screens? Back when Brady was a rookie, the best most could do was a Nokia 3310.
Byron Leftwich knows a little bit about that. Back when Brady was in just his third professional season and attempting to defend his Patriots' unlikely 2001 title, Leftwich was being carried by his offensive linemen down the artificial surface at Akron's Rubber Bowl, gutting his way through a broken leg to try (in vain) to will his Marshall Thundering Herd to a Mid-American Conference victory. Leftwich entered Brady's NFL in the following spring, but that was before it was Brady's NFL.
It became Brady's (and Peyton Manning's) NFL while Leftwich was playing for Jacksonville, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. It's still Brady's NFL to some, though the torch also has the hands of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson on it right now. And while Brady tries to keep some sort of foothold on the NFL's upper echelon, Leftwich is standing on the sideline with a headset, ready to help the legend in any way he can.
After all, 15 years ago, they were counterparts.
"We're pretty close in age so we from the old school version of football," Leftwich said Tuesday, per NFL Network's Mike Giardi. "Me and him talk a lot about the old days when you did seven, eight, nine days of two-a-days, we're from that era of football in this league. We can talk old school, things that happened in '08, '09, things that are still relevant in this league. The history that he understands, the history that I understand, the ability for us to be able to talk top-level football, high-level football. ...
"We're never really on Football 101 when you have Tom. You have a guy that's been there, seen it all, and just the conversations that me and him have, it's exciting. It's going to be exciting to work with him to put him in position to try and play his best football. It is -- he is a little older than me -- we can talk a lot (of) football from the past 30, 40 years. We just communicate in that way, try to learn each other, figure each other so we can be at our best."
Perhaps this isn't as much a player-coach relationship as it is a partnership. Brady won his second Super Bowl in the same season in which Leftwich made the PFWA All-Rookie Team (Brady's center, Dan Koppen, also made that team). Brady even outdueled Leftwich in a game that season, completing 22 of 34 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 103.6 in a 27-13 win over Leftwich's Jaguars (Leftwich's line: 21-40, 288 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 63.3 passer rating).
They met in the playoffs two years later, an easy 28-3 win for Brady's Patriots. The final scoring play was the most crushing for Leftwich: Asante Samuel picked him off and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
All of that is water under the bridges that span channels in downtown Tampa. They're together now, working with mutual respect gained from facing off more than a decade ago with one shared goal on their minds: bringing a championship to Tampa.