You know you have a lot of respect for a person when he does something you adamantly oppose and it doesn't bother you one bit.
I believe strongly in the player-coach relationship as it has been traditionally treated for years at the lower levels of football. The coach is an authority figure, and the player gives him the respect that he deserves. Sure, those lines can become a little more blurry at the professional level, but for the most part they remain in place. That chain of command typically allows things to run smoothly.
That's why I couldn't condone most of the player-coach conflicts I saw during my time in the NFL. On one occasion, during a midweek walk-through, a veteran player and the offensive coordinator got into a shouting match and into each other's faces for no apparent reason other than late-season fatigue during a disappointing season. The exchange escalated to the point that the coordinator told him, "The biggest mistake I made this year was leaving you on the roster." The player told the coordinator, "I've been here since before you got here and I'll still be here long after you are gone."
I've also seen a veteran player scream and belittle a position coach during a morning meeting because the coach asked him to pay attention, and, evidently, the player was in a bad mood. That was very harmful because there really wasn't anything that precipitated it; it was just an ornery vet looking to show the position coach who was boss.
The Brady spat was different for a number of reasons. First, Brady is among the most intense, passionate, and emotional players I have ever been around. It's a big reason that he's so great. Everybody on the team knows that and respects how dedicated he is and how much he cares, despite the fact that he is already a surefire Hall of Famer with plenty of money and accolades.
They also know that he is harder on himself than he is on anybody else, and that's probably why he was so emotional Sunday. My guess is that he was mad at himself for making a bad throw, and he didn't need O'Brien to tell him about it. It wasn't personal, unlike the encounters that I detailed from my career. That's just how Brady is with everyone on the team, because he expects as much from them as he gives himself.
Given the way Brady and O'Brien hugged at the end of the game after Jerod Mayo's interception, and Brady's comments about the incident, it seems like all is well in New England. Heck, maybe it will even make their relationship stronger, like two brothers getting into a fistfight and then realizing that they are family and need each other. Deep down Brady probably likes it that he has a coach like O'Brien who challenges him.
From the inbox
Q. No doubt that Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are playing winning football, but I can't help but wonder how this team will fare when it comes up against an elite run defense unit like the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers etc. It may not be that easy for Tebow to stiff-arm Terrell Suggs, James Harrison or Patrick Willis. Is that not the ultimate problem with Tebow and the Broncos? John Elway wants to build a championship winning team, and with Tebow they will undoubtedly win games, but they will be the new Chargers of the AFC West -- playoff games but no championship.
David from Cape Town, South Africa
A. You might ultimately prove to be right, David, but the Chicago Bears have the 10th-ranked run defense in the NFL, and Tebow and the Broncos still found a way to beat them Sunday. I do agree, however, that unless Tebow makes significant strides as a passer, it is hard for me to imagine his leading the Broncos to a Super Bowl someday. In fairness, however, he has been much better the last couple of weeks, and perhaps he can make even more improvement with a full offseason under his belt.
Q. What is the difference between the visitors' locker room and the home team's locker room in most stadiums? If I were building a stadium, I'd want to make the visitors' room as bare-bones as possible, while stocking my guys' locker room with all sorts of luxury. Is that what happens?
Clint from Colorado Springs, Colo.
A. Not really. While there are definitely some stadiums where the visitor locker rooms are worse than the home team's, that is more the exception than the rule. That's especially true in all of the newer stadiums, in which both locker rooms are nice. I understand your reasoning, but keep in mind that it is a professional environment and every team has to play eight away games each season. If a team consistently treated the opposition poorly, word would quickly spread and they would receive the same treatment on the road.
Q. What kind of adjustments does an offensive line have to make when shifting from a right-handed quarterback to a left-handed one (or vice-versa). The Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles come to mind.
Jim from Lufkin, Texas
A. The offensive coordinator might call some different protections or "flip" a lot of their normal protections to ensure that the quarterback's blind side is taken care of. They do this by "sliding" the line in the opposite direction, which basically just means the center helps out the two linemen to that side and creates a 3-on-2 situation in which both the guard and tackle know that their inside gap is being protected.
Q. Did any of the QBs on the teams you played give you anything good (gold watch?)?
Darryl from Fullerton, Calif.
A. End-of-the-year gifts like that typically only go to starters along the offensive line. The two coolest gifts I ever got while starting were both from Drew Bledsoe when I was a member of the Buffalo Bills. In 2003, he gave all of us two free plane tickets that were good anywhere in the United States. I ultimately used them for a honeymoon trip to Hawaii. In 2004, he gave us brand new Motorola Razr phones -- back when they were the newest phones out there -- and paid our phone bills for an entire year. Drew was a very generous guy. He would also give us all $500 cash every Monday after games in which we didn't give up a sack. That was always a nice added reward.
Ross Tucker, who played on the offensive line for five teams in a seven-year NFL career, writes regularly for ESPN.com.