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What Tom Brady’s jerseys have meant to him and lessons he’s learned along the way

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TAMPA, Fla. — Every jersey Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has worn in his 43 years bears significance — not only in his dazzling 21-year professional career that’s included six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, but his time as a fan in the San Francisco Bay Area, his high school years at Junipero Serra High School and his time at Michigan.

It was wearing Joe Montana’s jersey that helped launch his dream of playing in the NFL and in his Serra jersey that he began cultivating his talent. In the Michigan blue, he learned to dig deep, and in his Patriots jersey he learned to seize the moment — one that was not given to him, but earned. And now in his Buccaneers jersey, he’s learned what it means to start over and try something new.

ESPN sat down with Brady, as part of his new partnership with Fanatics Authentic, the collectibles and memorabilia division of Fanatics, which will carry Brady-autographed footballs, helmets and even game-worn jerseys as part of the collection. In this exclusive interview, Brady talked about his journey from football fan to icon and the significance and lessons he learned during each of those chapters of his life.

You’ve worn so many jerseys over the years, from the time you started playing, and even when you were a fan, all the way until now. I can imagine that there are different feelings you associate with each one.

Brady: When you’re a kid, you kind of pick your teams, and obviously it’s the team where you grow up. I had my San Francisco 49ers jerseys and I had my San Francisco Giants ones. And then once you kind of get into high school, you’re kinda more along the lines of the school you’re playing for, which for me was a high school called [Junipero] Serra High School, which was in the Bay Area.

When I went to school at Michigan, it was wearing Michigan stuff. It was less Niners, Giants and more the school I repped. And then the only ones I’ve worn since then were the Patriots ones I wore for 20 years and now Tampa ones, the Bucs ones I’ve worn for the last six weeks. They’ve taken on a little different meaning — the teams I root for, and I guess obviously still root for, but I’m actually playing for, which is still a … when you’re a kid growing up and you never know what your life is gonna take on, but I feel like the transition from a fan of a lot of these teams to playing and representing the team, it’s been quite a bit different but still super exciting for me, even at this point in my life. I love wearing the Bucs jersey — we’ve just gotta make some special memories out of it now.

Going back to when you were a kid, what did it mean to you to wear your idol Joe Montana’s jersey? What did that name and jersey represent to you? What do you remember about those games at Candlestick?

Brady: He was the guy. When you’re a kid growing up in the Bay Area in the ’80s, that’s who you rooted for. My mom, she loved Joe Montana. So that’s who I wanted to be for Halloween. I had some cool jerseys. All the kids did. I mean, they won Super Bowls. That’s what you wore on Super Bowl Sunday. I had three older sisters and we always had to pick who would go to the football games — we only had four tickets — and I always somehow figured out a way to talk my sisters into letting me go. It was usually myself, my parents and one of my sisters. But I just loved being in the parking lot, wearing my jersey, playing catch before the game and going to watch the Niners play, and obviously just hoping they won.

That was my childhood. It was so sports-centric … and based around the pro sports teams, which were all really great at the time. It cultivated a love for the sport of football just by being a fan, like so many kids have. Even the college towns — they’re so supportive of their teams, and professionally, when they win, they’re certainly supportive of them — that’s the goal for us as pro athletes, to get our fan bases really into it, because it’s a huge advantage when they have that type of support that you always hope they have.

What did it mean for you the first time you wore a jersey with ‘Brady’ on it?

Brady: That was cool. It doesn’t happen much in elementary school. Once I think there was an all-star team that I played on — I think I was probably 12, because normally with uniforms, you wear the uniform and then at the end of the year, you give the uniform back and they just wash them, and put them in a cardboard box and get ’em ready for next year. So for my jersey, it was the first jersey I got to keep and they put your name on them…That was cool.

It takes on a little different meaning, you feel like you’re playing like the pro guys are playing, like you’re finally — like you’ve made it a little bit. Even when you’re 12 years old and you’re playing on all-star teams, you earned that — it wasn’t like you just signed up to play. So I think that’s definitely part of the growing process for athletes as they advance from “everyone participates” type of leagues to the ones where it’s more like, you’re reaching different levels of sports. So that’s kind of one of the ways that you certainly notice.

One of your former teammates, David Terrell, told me that your experience at Michigan — being the seventh-string quarterback — that it molded you. What were your feelings putting on that Michigan jersey?

Brady: That was pretty cool for me because it was a tough college career. Because it was just, maybe different — I maybe created some unrealistic expectations for me and thought that I would just go in and be this player, and like when your time comes, you play. But the reality is, in college, it’s earned, you’re not given anything. And then I really had to fight hard for the opportunity to play and to keep my ability to be the starting quarterback, which really helped me a lot when I became a professional. Because I still look at it that way.

I still feel like my spot has to be earned, and it’s not about, ‘I’m so and so. I’ve done this. I’ve done that.’ I feel like, ‘No, I’ve gotta go out there and earn the opportunity to be the best player to play for my team.’ It sounds crazy, ya know, ‘Oh, he’s had this type of success.’ But none of that matters this year. You’ve gotta earn it every year. You’ve gotta put the work in every year. You’ve gotta treat it like it’s your first year every year. You’ve gotta gain the respect every year. The work never stops.

And I don’t know what other aspect of life it should work like that. It doesn’t work like that with your kids. It doesn’t work like that in relationships. It doesn’t work like that in a business career. You just can’t mail it in like, ‘Well, I did pretty well three years ago.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’ve gotta do it every year.’ When you have that approach, I think it benefits you, because not a lot of other people are looking at it like that. A lot of other people just feel like, ‘Oh, because this is what I’ve done, this is what I should continue to get.’ But that’s not how life works.

Speaking of working like it’s your first year, you told Robert Kraft as a rookie back in 2000 after he drafted you, ‘You won’t regret picking me.’ What gave you that level of confidence the first time you put on that Patriots jersey?

Brady: I was basically just like, ‘You picked me. I’m not gonna let you down. And I’m gonna make sure that it was a great pick for ya.’ He appreciated it. And hopefully I lived up to that. … I think what happens with players when they get to the next level is they never transition from being an amateur to being a pro. What becomes a professional — your daily habits, your decision-making. When you’re a kid, when you’re an amateur, it’s a different level of expectation, it’s a different level of commitment, it’s a different level of discipline, it’s a different level of determination. When you become a professional, it’s on you. Because it’s your job to take that and take advantage of the opportunity as opposed to depend on someone else to give you the opportunity.

I think that’s where most athletes fail is they don’t understand that. I see guys that are the most talented that never learn those lessons. And in the end it becomes a very disappointing career because they underachieved from the level of what maybe their potential could be. But we so often look at the physical and determine expectation as opposed to look at the mental and develop an expectation.

When you can combine the physical and the mental, that’s when you get really unique players, ones that go, ‘Man, I know I have the physical ability, but I’m gonna have to work at it and earn it and improve, make this a part of my life, my lifestyle, and not let anyone get in the way of what my goals are. I’m gonna prioritize them and make great decisions based on what I want to achieve in my career. So often you look at this physical body and you go, ‘Man, this guy’s got all the potential.’ But not if he hasn’t developed the mental and emotional. If you don’t develop the mental and emotional aspects of your mind and body, in the end you’re always gonna come up short.

What about putting on a Bucs jersey for the first time? It’s a season of change for you and change can be scary, doing something new for the first time at 43.

Brady: The first time I did it was at a photo shoot — a promotional shoot for the Bucs. I will say, it took a little bit of getting used to. The first time I went out for practice with a different jersey color, it was like, ‘Oh this is different.’

But now that I’m six weeks into it, it feels normal, and it feels like, ‘Yeah, this is what it’s always been. This is what I’ve always done.’ I get ready to go, I get ready to go out there, to practice, and I want to go out there and do a great job. So now I’d say, after a little bit of time, it just feels like, ‘This is what I do.’ It feels great. I wish at this point we’d be 5-0, but we’re not — we haven’t earned it. The season is gonna be what we make of it. Every time I wear it, I’m gonna go out there and compete my butt off and see if we can go out there and win games.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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