It was Tom Brady on the line Tuesday, and only the questions about the new climate and moving his family made it much different from the Brady we've heard for the last 20 years.
In his first comments to reporters since he upended the NFL by signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, there was a reassuring sameness to Brady on the conference call. "No Risk It, No Biscuit" is the mantra of his new coach, Bruce Arians, but Brady is still relentlessly on message, as controlled as most of his passes.
That's bad news for reporters, hoping for insight into what went into his decision to leave New England -- it has been, he said, "very emotional" talking to some of his former teammates -- but likely good news for the Bucs, who hired Brady to be exactly what he has always been: demanding of his teammates, focused on his work, capable of elevating an entire franchise around him.
The Bucs are one of the NFL's most anonymous franchises and have not been to the playoffs in the past 12 years, making Brady's selection of them to finish off his career all the more stunning. For this move to work for everyone, for Brady to bring fresh luster and bunches of victories to Tampa Bay the way his friend Peyton Manning did to the Denver Broncos, Brady will have to do more than just play at a high level. He will have to condense the installation of the culture he and Belichick instilled in Foxborough over their two-decade partnership into a few months. The Bucs and Brady certainly want to win a championship together. Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht talked about the "transformative effect" Brady will have on the locker room, an indication that the team also hopes Brady leaves the franchise in a few years in a place where winning championships will be the expectation even after he is gone.
He may have to do a lot of that attitude-adjustment from afar.
Brady spent most of his time talking about how much he needs to catch up -- on the opponents in the NFC South, on knowing the players around him and on the terminology of Arians' offense. That is unfamiliar territory for Brady, whose offense in New England was his. He has watched Arians' teams for years, Brady said, and noted how many different quarterbacks have enjoyed success in his system. He, like everyone else in the NFL, likes offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But there is an inevitable learning curve ahead for Brady -- not having that curve was one of the most logical arguments by those who thought he'd stay in New England -- and the uncertainty of nearly every facet of this offseason due to COVID-19 makes it steeper. Nobody knows when teams will be able to gather, although at least one owner believes it will not be before training camp. Brady did not try to sugarcoat how difficult this offseason will be.
"There's a lot of things for me to focus on and a lot of time and energy is going to be spent on getting up to speed with the tactical things about how I can do the best job I can for the team," Brady said. "Anything outside of that is really, in essence, not a high priority for me. Not to say that things are unimportant, it's just I gotta be able to prioritize my time and energy so that I can learn what I need to learn and go out there and do a great job for this organization."
If you didn't know Brady any better, you'd think he might be trying to lower expectations. The expectations for this marriage are high, but a championship is not even close to assured. Drew Brees' New Orleans Saints are a far more daunting division opponent than any Brady had in the AFC East. That Brady's football life, at least in the short term, will be more daunting seems obvious.
The challenges, though, seem to be part of the point for Brady. He gave only the smallest peek behind the curtain Tuesday, but what he allowed to show dovetails with an idea that emerged in the weeks before free agency started. As much as money or contract details, Brady was seeking a fresh start, to experience something new -- free agency -- to, in the final years of his career, see what else is out there. That things might have grown stale in Foxborough should not be a surprise. That it took 20 years to get stale remains remarkable. That a change might be energizing for Brady makes sense.
"I just think life continues to change for all of us," he said. "Just having the opportunity for me to continue to play football and lead a team is something that I love doing. I loved playing this sport since I was a kid, since I was throwing footballs in the parking lot at Candlestick. And I still love doing that today. I train hard. I try to keep my body as physically fit as possible. Mentally, I try to stay sharp, although it's going to be a different challenge this year in learning. I'm going to do everything I can to do the best I possibly can. And I'm just excited to embrace this opportunity and see it for what it is."
Brady has made the most unpredictable move in the most unpredictable offseason of all. The six-time Super Bowl champ's single-minded drive will be the same. Nothing else will.