Tom Brady and Bill Belichick – they became the football version of Darth Vader and The Emperor. Together, they built a powerful empire with the New England Patriots that ruled over the NFL for 20 years. And they seemed destined to rule it forever.
The duo made nine Super Bowls and won six rings together. They grew to be the villains of the NFL, building one of the greatest dynasties in football along the way. And they were as close as it comes to being the sports version of “the Empire.”
But the Brady-and-Belichick Empire didn’t fall to a small group of rebels with lightsabers. No, this one imploded from within. What was one of the greatest player-coach duos in sports history came crashing down when Brady left the Patriots in free agency.
To outsiders, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick appeared to have built perfect chemistry over their 20 years of dominance. But on the inside, they were more like a father and son trying to get along. Brady was the high-achiever who wanted approval and acceptance. And Belichick was the cold, stern father who only cared about results. And after 20 years together, Brady finally wanted out – to be independent, to be free.
Tom Brady was a great teammate in New England. His fellow players heaped praise on his leadership. They loved how approachable he was, and Brady wanted to have trusting friendships with everyone in the organization.
Bill Belichick was a great coach. But, he was always about the bottom line – never giving a second thought to cutting a “fan favorite” who was starting to decline. Belichick was at the top of the NFL mountain, and wanted to stay there forever. And while he praised various Patriots players over the years, including Tom, he never fully credited him for his accomplishments.
They were always formal and polite when they talked about each other in interviews. It was symbolic of a distance between the two that only grew wider over time.
The tension built over the years, but the drama really ramped up in 2017. For a good chunk of his career, Tom Brady had been working with his personal trainer, Alex Guerrero. Together, they created the TB12 Method, which helped Brady perform at a high level late in his career – something very few NFL players have ever done. Whatever Guerrero was doing worked – Brady has played at a high level into his 40’s, winning more Super Bowls along the way.
Guerrero seemed to have the magic formula of durability, so other Pats players flocked to him. Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski were a few who sought help from the great Guerrero.
But Bill Belichick watched from afar, and he didn’t approve of what Brady was doing. Belichick didn’t like that Guerrero was working closely with other players. He didn’t like that his players were spurning the team’s actual trainers. And he especially didn’t like that Brady brought a friend in who was disrupting how they ran things.
So in true dad form, he had to put his foot down. In late 2017, Belichick banned Guerrero from coming on any team flights, from sideline access during games, and from working with any Patriots player beside Brady in the stadium.
If a player wanted to follow Brady and disregard team protocol, they’d have to go out to the nearby TB12 training center to do so. And most of all, Belichick constantly emphasized that Guerrero was not part of the team’s official staff.
Let’s pause for a second. Now, just who is Alex Guerrero? And why was this move by Belichick the beginning of the end for the greatest dynasty in football?
Alex Guerrero was Tom Brady’s body coach and his personal trainer. But more than that, he was a trusted friend.
He controlled all of Brady’s workouts every day and was in charge of anything related to Brady’s health–even down to working with Brady’s personal chef.
Guerrero met the Pats QB back in 2006, and he helped the quarterback recover abnormally quickly from an ACL injury in 2008. From then on, Guerrero was Brady’s go-to guy.
Guerrero’s methods, though, were filled with question marks from the outside world. A lot of his treatments were unproven in science, and Guerrero even got in trouble once for trying to sell a product he claimed would cure cancer.
But Brady was his prized pupil. And Guerrero has been able to help him prevent long-term injuries and keep him playing at a high level into his 40’s.
Because of this “TB12 Method,” Tom Brady really believed he’d play until age 45. And he wanted a contract from the Patriots to back him up on that.
Bill Belichick, though, scoffed at the idea. He is known for cutting loose great players just as they start to decline, and Brady would be no different. Not one to be sentimental, Belichick could foresee an end to Brady’s career, so he drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in 2014 to be their heir to the throne.
Actions speak volumes, and Belichick’s love for Garoppolo irked Brady. It sent a strong message that the franchise didn’t believe he could really play until he was 45. It was a public disregard for the TB12 Method, for Guerrero, and for Brady himself.
Pats owner Robert Kraft was much more of a father figure to Brady than Belichick. And Kraft believed in him. So when Kraft met with Belichick in 2017, it was to hash out their touchy QB situation.
They were at odds – Belichick wanted to keep Garoppolo, believing he could win a Super Bowl with Garoppolo one day. But Kraft wanted to keep Brady happy until whenever he wanted to retire.
In a power struggle between coach and owner, the owner always wins out. So in October 2017, Belichick begrudgingly traded Jimmy Garoppolo to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2nd-round pick.
But Belichick was never ready to commit long-term to his aging quarterback. Brady longed for a long-term contract that signified the franchise’s commitment to him. But Belichick preferred year-to-year deals with incentives – ready to move on if there was a sharp decline in body or skills.
The rift kept the two apart, and while Brady was always polite about it in public, the seeds of discord had been sewn.
In March 2020, Tom Brady finally left the Patriots, never getting the long-term contract he wanted from them. He fled south to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a more player-friendly coach in Bruce Arians, more offensive weapons, and the nicer weather didn’t hurt either.
In the end, Brady longed for the Patriots’ acceptance and approval of him and the TB12 Method. But the Belichick Method won out, and Belichick never gave him the approval or commitment he wanted late in his career.
At this point, it wasn’t even about winning. It was about being wanted.
And when a son gets fed up with his unrelenting father, he moves out, finally searching for an identity away from home. In New England, the prized son has finally moved out, seeking acceptance from the outside.
The rest of the NFL can breathe again. The Empire is finally over… at least until Emperor Belichick finds his next apprentice.