FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prepares for his 38th career playoff game, several of his younger teammates reminisced this week about where they were when Brady first carved out his reputation as a clutch postseason performer.
Their accounts offer a reminder of how the 41-year-old Brady has not only defied Father Time, but also worked hard to build relationships with teammates who are decades younger.
“We were down in Disney World and my dad took me to the hotel bar -- I think it was Goofy’s hotel -- to watch the Super Bowl against the Rams. My dad let me sit at the bar with him, which I thought was so cool,” recalled reserve offensive lineman Ted Karras, who was 8 at the time. “It was the first time I remember thinking, ‘This is the Super Bowl. This is it.’”
That game also represented the first time many viewers really locked in on Brady.
“That was one of the first Super Bowls I remember, going up against the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ and nobody really knew who he was. I remember getting Pizza Hut,” said long-snapper Joe Cardona, who was 9 as he watched at home.
“It was the first Super Bowl I watched, we were at my house. I just remember him as the underdog,” added linebacker Elandon Roberts, who turned 6 that year. “Thinking about it now, he’s still the same humble guy, still has that mentality.”
Some took notice of Brady a few weeks before in a divisional-round win over the Oakland Raiders.
“In the blizzard,” said 24-year-old safety Obi Melifonwu, a Massachusetts native who was 7 at the time. “I was young, but that’s when I was like, ‘He’s going to be special, man.’”
“The snow game. I was 10 years old,” said reserve offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle. “I remember watching that game because down in Texas, I hadn’t seen too much snow. It looked so cold.”
Cornerback Keion Crossen, a 2018 seventh-round draft pick from Western Carolina, doesn’t have a recollection of that game. He was only 5 at the time.
“Mine was when I saw him play against Pittsburgh in the playoffs [in the 2004 AFC Championship Game]. That’s really when I got into football,” he said. “Pittsburgh was my team. We lost, and I was like, ‘Who is this quarterback?’”
Now the 22-year-old Crossen and his Patriots teammates know Brady in a much different sense. They said Brady works hard to build bridges with them to make the age gap seem much smaller.
“The first time I shook his hand, my heart was about to jump out of my chest,” said second-year defensive tackle Adam Butler, who is 24. “I didn’t know what to expect -- he was coming out of the weight room, I was going in -- and he said my name. It was so unexpected, because I’m not even a draft pick or anything. I thought maybe he’d make me earn my stripes, but he wasn’t like that.”
“He comes up and introduces himself to me, ‘Hi, I’m Tom Brady.’ In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Are you serious?’ It was impressive to me,” Van Noy relayed.
Those connections go a long way with teammates.
“I don’t think I can say enough about how good or cool of a guy he is,” said starting left tackle Trent Brown, who is 25. “That’s cool to me, because he doesn’t have to be that way, like a lot of other superstars out there. But he doesn’t even think of himself as a superstar, which may be why he treats everyone the way he does.”
Brown’s first meeting with Brady was a traditional meet-and-greet handshake after he was acquired in a trade from the San Francisco 49ers. Their relationship grew throughout the 2018 season.
“We have convos here and there. When he gets the opportunity, when he’s not working or watching film, if he sees the O-line or a couple linemen eating lunch, he’ll come sit with us and have a conversation, talk about old times,” Brown said. “Probably one of my favorite stories he told was the team when Randy Moss was here, the undefeated season [in 2007]. Randy Moss is my favorite; I feel like he’s the best receiver of all time.
“It’s cool to listen and hear from him, because he’s played through generations of teammates.”
Karras, the third-year offensive lineman, added: “To hear about all the guys that came through here, all the stories, the old film, the history of the last  years here, it’s a pleasure to be a part of that.”
Brady’s reach extends to all points of the locker room, including special teams.
“One thing that always stands out to me is how he takes a genuine interest in everybody’s hobbies,” said Cardona, the long-snapper. “One thing he always asks me about is my service [to the Navy] and what I’m doing. It’s one of those things where I think he has an appreciation for all his teammates for what they do and who they are, not just as players.”