FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- “I didn’t think about that. Time flies.” -- Tom Brady
The New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL’s season opener Thursday night, which comes exactly nine years to the day when the teams last met in the first week of the season. It was a 2008 game that produced one of the toughest moments in the decorated career of the Patriots’ longtime starting quarterback.
No one in New England needs a reminder of what unfolded that day, the result of Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard blitzing and lunging toward Brady’s left knee as running back Sammy Morris attempted to block him.
“It was sickening,” said Herm Edwards, the current ESPN football analyst who was then in his final season as Chiefs head coach. “When it happened, you don’t know how bad it is, and you’re just hoping he’s OK. It wasn’t intentional by any stretch. Then you find out the severity and it’s, ‘Wow.’ You just feel bad for him.”
Brady tore his ACL nine years ago to the day of this 2017 NFL opener. The dates serve as bookends to highlight his many accomplishments in between. It's something he said he hasn’t thought about, only acknowledging how fast it seems those nine years have flown past.
The 2009 Comeback Player of the Year and 2010 NFL Most Valuable Player, Brady has led the Patriots to a 107-34 record (including playoffs) since the injury, engineering 22 victories from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. Another stat of note: zero games missed due to injury.
Super Bowl championships after the 2014 and 2016 seasons, of course, were the pinnacle.
It’s as authoritative a comeback from a knee injury (15 offensive plays into a season) -- and subsequent infection in the knee that added to the challenge to his recovery -- as could be written.
“Players have to find a way, and Tom did that, which is why he will go down as the greatest quarterback of all time,” Edwards said. “That’s who Tom is. He’s played with a chip on his shoulder from day one, never satisfied with the result.”
A significant part of what aided Brady's comeback is what he kept repeating to teammates on the sideline during Super Bowl LI: “Laser focus.” So it was no surprise he had little interest in looking back at the previous Patriots-Chiefs opener.
Instead, when asked about how he views the comeback, he redirected the discussion to Thursday's game.
“It’s great that we’re here,” he said. “I think all the players look forward to this weekend. It’s a long offseason, a lot of preparation for this game. When the schedule comes out, you’ve got this first game, it’s the only one you’re really looking at, and all the preparation, everything is building for this week. I’m excited to see if all the hard work we put in could amount to something.”
Brady’s mindset has been shaped, in part, by what he had experienced in the 2008 season. It added a new layer to his perspective on the game.
In one of his first extensive interviews with reporters upon his return to the practice field in 2009, he had said, “When you sit on the sidelines for an entire year, you realize how much you love it. Not that you need that to happen to be grateful to play, but you experience things in a much different way that I never experienced as an athlete.”
He also said, “The reality in this sport, you really never know ... any day could be your last day in football. I don’t think about the end too often. Hopefully this is still, relatively, in the early part of my career. I guess you will have to talk to me in a few years.”
It’s been nine exactly.
There’s still plenty to talk to him about, including another Patriots-Chiefs opener.