Opinion: With ‘pathological’ approach to his craft, Tom Brady remains elite entering NFC championship

When the clock ticked down to zero in the NFC divisional playoff game between Tampa Bay and hosting New Orleans and quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees embraced at midfield of the Superdome, renowned quarterback and pitching coach Tom House got choked up.

The future Hall of Famers had just shared what was likely their final encounter as opponents. House, who works with both, basked in the magnitude of the moment.

“It was top-three for me,” House, 73, told USA TODAY Sports. “Catching Henry Aaron’s 715th, hearing Nolan Ryan talk about me in his Hall of Fame speech and then this weekend, watching Drew and Tom Brady go after each other, knowing I had a coaching relationship with them, but even more importantly, a friendship and mentorship relationship with them.”

Saints quarterback Drew Brees, left, with Tampa Bay's Tom Brady in the moment their throwing coach, Tom House, says is one of his all-time memories.

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House was a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves and found himself in the bullpen with the ball descending toward him April 8, 1974, when Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Then in the ‘80s, he served as pitching coach for the Texas Rangers, where Ryan ranked among his charges.

In 2006, as Brees aimed to rebound from a career-threatening shoulder surgery, he enlisted House’s services. Roughly eight years ago, Brady also signed on with the coach. 

“No one is ever going to see that again,” House said of the Brady-Brees finale. “Never again in football is there going to be two 40-year-old Hall of Famers going against each other. It’s not that it couldn’t be done. It’s just the circumstances involved in sports right now, and the money involved, there’s no reason for anyone to play football that long. But what I was smiling about them is, they are two 40-year-old 12-year-olds. If you took everything away, they’d still be playing for the joy of competition and playing.”

Brees’ playing journey may have concluded, but Brady’s rolls on. 

This Sunday, when the Buccaneers face the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game, Brady will play in an astounding 14th conference title game and will be one step from his 10th Super Bowl appearance. 

He’s coming off a regular season that saw him record 4,633 passing yards (third most in the NFL and the fourth-highest total of his 21-season career) and 40 touchdown passes (tied for second most in the NFL in 2020).

At 43, Brady remains a marvel, outperforming players 15 to 20 years his junior. 

All this, according to House, is possible for a number of factors that are physical, mental and approach related.

Brady’s TB12 Method — his holistic approach to life, strength training and nutrition — is well-documented. Those practices have helped improve the quarterback’s durability and longevity. 

But Brady also is a scientific wonder.

“Brady might be 43 years old chronologically, but his biological age is probably, 34, 35,” House said. 

Coach Tom House in 2015

However, having studied and worked with Brady, House remains impressed with the quarterback but isn’t at all surprised by his continued elite production.

“We have ways to chart it. … They’re called windows of trainability. Your first window is neurological. Your second window is muscle. Your third window is skill acquisition. And your fourth window is skill retention. When these aging athletes get into that fourth stage, they literally go back and retrain their bodies like they were  8 or  9 years old again. So as they get a little older, they’ve got plenty of strength. They’ve got flexibility and mobility. But what happens is their nervous system starts to slow down a bit. So you work on speed in movement rather than strength in movement.

“If you follow the right process, there’s no reason you can’t do at 45 what you were doing at 25. … But you have to pay the price. To have longevity, you have to have a commitment to excellence. And that’s the last thing I’ll say about these guys that are superstars, Hall of Famers. Their commitment to getting better, to excellence, is pathological. Now, they still have fun doing it, but every day they try to get better at something.”

In the TB12 Method, Brady practices clean eating and unique strength training programs that focus on muscle pliability rather than bulk. The training with House focuses on executing pristine fundamentals along with the “speed in movement” aspect that House referenced.

Brady played it close to the vest when asked this week about the lessons from his training sessions with House.

“Tom has done a lot. … Tom is a great instructor,” Brady said, smiling. “He’s helped me a lot with my throwing mechanics over the years. He’s just been a good friend of mine. He certainly knows his techniques and fundamentals and I always get encouraging texts from him.”

House sheds a little more light on the tutelage he provides his clients, which include 24 of the NFL’s 32 starting quarterbacks as well as college passers. 

“What Drew works on in battles is a little different from what Tom Brady works on in battles, but there’s one set of rules and each athlete is personally adaptive to train differently,” said House, who also is in the process of launching a smartphone training app called Mustard, which is tailored to youth athletes. “It’s what I even tell Pop Warner quarterbacks: ‘GFF,’ which is ‘Go freakin’ fast.’ Keep your eyes level, keep your frontside firm and drag your back foot.

“The idea is quick feet equals quick release and you never want to be out of balance. You want to make sure that even when you’re being chased by four tons of human beings that are trying to tear your head off, you want to make sure that you get your target line and make sure you’re throwing the receiver open. … Get your body into position, throw the ball to the right place at the right moment.”

Brady works tirelessly to ensure and maintain his quick release, and although he’s not viewed as mobile in a Lamar Jackson or even Aaron Rodgers sense, House says Brady does indeed possess great mobility in the area where it matters most: maneuvering in the pocket and delivering throws with defenders bearing down on him.

But much of Brady’s ability to maintain top physical form and effectiveness stems from his mindset and the way he embraces going through the process and learning from it as much as he does winning.

This  season more than ever, Brady immersed himself in the process, which included leaving the comforts of New England, learning a new system and new coaches and teammates and working through the growing pains while simultaneously leading the Bucs to their most successful season in nearly two decades.

“He got very comfortable being uncomfortable, and when you can do that you realize you learn more from your screw-ups than you do your successes,” House said. “And these old veterans understand that the learning process requires a little bit of failure. The outcome might be booed by you and me, on the outside. But the learning — win, lose or draw at the end of that outcome — is what you pay attention to.”

And by maintaining vigilance in maintaining and mastering the finer details of his craft even after all these years, Brady has positioned himself to remain in contention for a Lombardi Trophy yet again.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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