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The fourth episode of the newly-released Tom Brady documentary, “Man in the Arena,” begins with its protagonist shaking his head in continued disbelief.
“You said earlier this one’s going to be like therapy,” an off-screen voice tells Brady as he contemplates recollections of the 2007 season.
Joining Brady in recapping the momentous events of that year are former teammate Randy Moss and ex-Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. Strahan, Brady’s competitor in Super Bowl XLII, is also fellow co-founder in Religion of Sports, the company that produced the series chronicling Brady’s career.
Here are some observations from Episode 4, “Goliaths.”
The 2007 Patriots set records for points scored—including several individual records for Brady and Moss—along with going undefeated through the regular season.
Brady offered his take on the team’s place in NFL history.
“When I think of my professional football career, this is the year I saw us at our best. In my mind, [it was] the greatest football team that ever played,” said Brady. “We were doing something that would be pretty impossible to match forever.
“If there was ever a team to be remembered, that would be the one,” Brady added.
Having emerged as unheralded backup quarterback to win the Super Bowl in his second season, Brady—and by extension, Bill Belichick’s Patriots—quickly journeyed from inspiring underdog to dynastic frontrunner over the next few seasons.
Following the Super Bowl win in 2005—New England’s third title in four years—the conversation around the team had clearly shifted.
“For me I always felt like [an] underdog. Our team always felt like we were underdogs,” Brady recalled. “By 2004, we were definitely the Goliaths, but we didn’t feel like it. We still felt like we were 14-point underdogs to the Rams.”
It was only after he lost a playoff game in 2006—ending a 10-game postseason win streak to open his career—that Brady discovered the extent of the Patriots’ public perception.
“I remember finally getting beat by Denver. That was the first time I’d lost a playoff game. I realized wow, everyone’s really rooting for us to lose,” Brady explained.
While he was still a member of the Raiders in 2006, Moss said that he traveled to Minnesota to meet Brady before the Patriots played a regular season game his old team, the Vikings.
“That night, I put an outfit on, snuck in the Patriots’ hotel,” Moss recalled. “Meet Tom Brady for five minutes.”
Brady noted that it was his “first real interaction with Randy,” and that Moss was pitching himself as a potential future teammate.
“I said, ‘Dude, things are not going right and I want to play with you,'” Moss remembered telling Brady. “That was it. I left.”
Reacting to the impromptu meeting, Brady said he was surprised by it, and didn’t quite know what to think. Yet when the offseason arrived, and Moss became available, Brady gave full support to a potential Patriots trade.
“I got a phone call from Coach Belichick and he said, ‘We’re thinking of trading for Randy, what do you think?’ And I was like, ‘What do I think? I mean, Abso-f******-lutely.'”
One of the major stories of the 2007 season was the “Spygate” scandal. Brady described how the team dealt with it behind the scenes.
“When it came out, Belichick called us in the next day and he said, ‘Look, none of you players had anything to do with it,'” Brady quoted Belichick as saying. “‘Just shout your mouth, focus on what your job is. None of you guys know anything about it. None of you guys have any information about it. I’ll deal with it how I need to deal with it, and you guys focus on your job.'”
Brady added that the players—having not known about the scandal—felt like they were “being attacked by everybody.”
“It was just another attack from the outside that we felt people were trying to pick us apart,” said Brady.
Both Brady and Moss added that the players were able to effectively ignore the media discussion that persisted around it.
“Once Bill said what he said, next thing you know, we start hanging up Ws,” Moss noted.
In the regular season finale against the Giants, with both teams electing to play their starters despite each having already clinched postseason berths, the game ended up being an unexpectedly dramatic back-and-forth matchup.
As New England battled in the fourth quarter to see out its bid for a 16-0 regular season, Brady and Moss barely missed a chance to score on a long touchdown in the fourth quarter. The score would’ve given both players single-season records.
“I forget the actual play, but I remember it was a right formation and we didn’t connect,” said Moss. “So I was like, ‘Oh that was it! That was it!’ Before I could even get back to the huddle, all I hear is, ‘Same play on one.'”
Given another chance, the two superstars didn’t miss, with Brady throwing a perfect pass to Moss for a 65-yard touchdown. The Patriots would hold on for a 38-35 win.
Strahan is featured prominently throughout the episode, chronicling the Giants’ parallel story from the 2007 season.
Having reached the Super Bowl, New York was not awed by the prospect of facing the Patriots. After almost toppling New England’s perfect run at the end of the regular season—all done “without a game plan,” as Strahan explained since New York had already clinched a playoff spot—the Giants felt confident.
Their motivation was helped by pregame comments made by Brady, who responded to the prediction from Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress that his team would win the Super Bowl, 23-17.
“We’re only going to score 17 points?” Brady replied when asked about Burress’s thoughts.
“We all watched it and replayed it,” Strahan said of the Giants’ view of Brady’s response. “It just pissed us off.”
“The audacity, the arrogance to just think that you’re going to come and put up 35, 40 points like it’s nothing,” Strahan added. “It was almost a dismissive laugh.”
Brady acknowledged that he “didn’t pick up on” the Giants’ confidence in that moment, while Strahan underlined that the comments “lit the match” for New York in the buildup to the game.
Late in Super Bowl XLII, with the Patriots clinging to a 14-10 lead, the Giants put together an improbable drive in which New England came close to intercepting Eli Manning on multiple occasions.
But with the game on the line, Manning scrambled away from an apparent sack to miraculously find David Tyree downfield. He caught the pass off of his helmet, instantly becoming one of the iconic moments in Super Bowl history.
But what was Brady’s viewpoint on the opposing sideline?
“I’m watching the ball flutter in the middle of the field. Rodney Harrison is right there on the play, goes up, hits the ball, hits the helmet, and the guy catches the f****** ball on his helmet,” Brady recalled.
“And right then and there I was like, ‘They’re going to score a touchdown,'” Brady glumly remembered.
The Giants did indeed score several players later, with Manning finding Burress for a 13-yard touchdown to take a 17-14 lead.
“You never count out Tom Brady though,” Strahan acknowledged as he remembered the final 29 seconds of the game.
The Patriots got the ball back, needing to somehow move into at least field goal range to try and extend the game.
On third and 20, Brady rolled out and fired the ball downfield for Moss.
“I threw the ball as far as I ever could,” Brady said of the play. “I think it was probably the farthest I ever threw the ball. Randy was probably one step behind them and if the ball had been maybe another yard further, maybe he catches that ball which gets us in field position.”
Moss said that the ball touched his hands before falling incomplete. He reflected on the moment, noting that his “philosophy as a wide receiver [is] if the ball touches my hand, that’s my fault.”
One interesting comment at the end of the episode is a thought Brady shared about how things might have been different if the Patriots had won Super bowl XLII and completed a perfect season.
“Had we won that game, I don’t know, I’m not a big hypothetical guy, but maybe the desire is a little bit different,” said Brady. “If you’re looking at a silver lining, maybe the desire to reach that point, maybe I would’ve been fulfilled not to stop playing at that time, but I don’t know. Maybe I’d play another seven or eight years and I’m fulfilled. Maybe not, but there’s not much I can do about it now.”
There was one thing that was clear in Brady’s mind from the aftermath of that season, however.
“I knew that if I ever won a Super Bowl again,” Brady noted, “I was going to celebrate the s*** out of that one.”
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