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Football and family intersect for Tom Brady in long-awaited Bay Area return

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Let’s start with the picture, the 4-year-old boy in the San Francisco 49ers jersey with his mother at Candlestick Park.

“That was ‘The Catch’ game, a pretty joyous moment when the 49ers pulled that one out and finally beat the Cowboys,” relayed the proud father, Tom Brady Sr. “It’s just funny to have caught that picture. As joyous of a moment that was, the whole first half of the game Tommy wanted one of those foam fingers, and I’m thinking, ‘This is just a waste.’ He finally stopped crying when he got it.”

It’s a story the son now reflects upon with a good laugh.

“My dad bought me one to shut me up for the entire second half,”New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, now 39, said.

Stories like these are poignant for the Brady family to revisit this week, as Brady returns to play against the 49ers for the first time in the Bay Area in his 17-year NFL career (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Levi's Stadium). He would have done so in 2008 at Candlestick Park, but that was the year he tore his ACL in the opener and missed the rest of the season.

For a player who puts a high priority on family and football, this is a week he is already savoring. Brady has never handled as many ticket requests as this week and said he’s happy to do so.

“I may never get the opportunity again, so it’s nice to have all the support, and I’ve had a lot from the Bay Area over the years,” he said. “My high school, my elementary school, I still have so many friends from growing up, and coaches. My aunts, uncles, cousins ... it will just be a lot of fun to be out there.”

Some of those friends have become accustomed to fielding calls from inquiring media about their pal “Tommy” over the years.

Dean Ayoob, the athletic director at Brady’s alma mater, Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, had a feeling for what was coming this week in advance of Brady’s return to his roots.

“Usually when they’re going to the Super Bowl, we get a lot of requests. It would be about him in high school, where he came from, those types of things,” he said. “With how often they make Super Bowls, we kind of dubbed it the ‘The Annual Tom Brady Super Bowl Media Blitz.’ Everyone around here is happy to accommodate simply because of how great Tom has been for us.”

For example, when Brady was named Super Bowl MVP in 2004 and was awarded a Cadillac, he had teammates sign the trunk and then donated it to Serra as part of a raffle. Soon enough, the Catholic high school was fielding calls from people across the country asking how they could purchase a $25 raffle ticket.

“Our phones got shut down. That’s how many people were buying raffle tickets,” Ayoob recalled, estimating that $225,000 was raised.

Then there was the time Brady was the keynote speaker at the high school’s annual financial aid fundraiser, not long after the Patriots’ loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI after the 2011 season. School officials noted that $800,000 was generated from the event.

“It is a huge sense of pride for this community to see one of our own go out and be one of the best ever in the NFL at quarterback,” Ayoob said.

There are other reminders of Brady’s Bay Area roots, such as his alma mater’s football field, which is called the Brady Family Stadium. At St. Gregory’s School, which he attended from kindergarten through eighth grade, Brady's generous donation made a science laboratory possible.

St Gregory’s ... Junipero Serra ... the 49ers ...

“This is his home,” Brady Sr. said, “but he doesn’t get back here very often because his life is on the East Coast.

“We had season tickets for 24 years, so we were 49er fanatics. Typically, we’d head off to church, head up to Candlestick, tailgate and watch the first game Sunday morning, go in and see the 49ers play, then come home and replay the 49er game.”

When Brady was the second-string quarterback on the freshman football team, one of his go-to receivers was John Kirby, who now serves as the school’s assistant athletic director. That team was 0-8 and “we got smoked by everybody,” Kirby recalled.

Stories like those figure to be rekindled this week.

“The thing that makes me the most proud of Tom is that he’s exactly the same person now that he was in high school, with all the fame and everything. None of that has changed him one bit,” Kirby said. “He’s the same Tom, or as we like to call him here, Tommy.”

Brady himself has enjoyed reflecting on that time in his life over the past week.

“I’ve never had a chance to play in front of my family and friends like this,” he said. “Growing up in the Bay Area and loving football, it was a great time for me to see the success of the 49ers and the great quarterbacks, Steve [Young] and Joe [Montana], and what they were able to do.

“I always remember being at all the Super Bowl rallies and my mom [Galynn] taking me out of school and banging pots and pans on the El Camino after they would win Super Bowls. Those memories never go away.”

As for the old 49ers foam finger, Brady said it got lost at some point, but he has a different one that was sent to him, and he keeps it in his office.

While that is a daily reminder of his roots, this weekend promises to provide another reminder as his three sisters and their families are planning to be back in the Bay Area together. To Tom Sr., that type of gathering “the weekend before Thanksgiving is perfect, because we all have so much to be thankful for.”

It’s a homecoming they’ve long talked about.

“It will be fun,” Brady Sr. said. “We’ve been on the road a lot of weekends these last 17 years. This is the first time we’ll never have to take a road trip. We’ve traveled a lot of miles, but this one is only about 15 miles from our doorstep.”