SATURDAY MORNING, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick alone, one last skull session before game day. This was about 10 years ago, during the decade-long New England championship drought, when the Patriots were trying recapture lost magic, back when we first started to consider that maybe Brady was getting up there. Belichick was watching film of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and zeroed in on a particular play. Sanchez was rolling right, chased by defenders, off balance and trying to survive, and he had a receiver open downfield -- 65 yards deep and 10 or so diagonal, on the opposite hashmark. It was a throw only a few quarterbacks in history could attempt, much less complete -- a fact that seemed lost on the greatest coach in modern football history.
"Just throw it," Belichick said. "You're not going to get any more open than this."
Brady sat in disbelief. I couldn't throw it 85 yards! he thought.
"Just let it go," Belichick added.
Let it go? Brady thought, laughing to himself. The ball would go 15 yards if I threw it.
Years after Brady told me this story, it stays with me. It's not just because it's rich to picture a lifelong defensive coach failing to grasp -- or refusing to care about -- the degree of difficulty on a near impossible throw. It's because of what Brady told me after he described the moment: "When I see a play, I see it within my own limitations."
BRADY'S WORDS WERE hard to buy then, and they're harder to buy now. Throughout most of his two-decade career, it's seemed to both his fans and his detractors that, for Tom Brady, anything is possible. After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knocked off the Green Bay Packers to go to the Super Bowl, Bruce Arians put it best: "The belief he gave to this organization that it could be done -- it only took one man."