Since last Sunday night, when one of the NFL’s youngest players caused a stir by calling out one of its oldest and most accomplished, fans have fretted about “bulletin board material.” But the way Washington Football Team rookie defensive end Chase Young sees it, what he said running off the field — “Tom Brady, I’m coming! I want Tom! I want Tom!” — was a sign of respect for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, whom he considers the greatest of all-time.
“You think I’m not excited to play against the GOAT?” Young said Wednesday. “You trippin’. I’m not going to apologize for saying I want Tom. No, I want every quarterback I play against.”
Young added: “Ask any edge rusher in the league who they want to sack, and most might say Tom Brady.”
There’s something unique about the way other players talk about Brady. It’s not that Young and others haven’t praised other opponents this season, but there’s an admiration for the 43-year old superstar that’s absent for others. The difference is that Brady has had unprecedented success and unprecedented longevity, making him myth as much as man to players who dreamed about making the league while watching his games on TV. Players often refer to Brady by his full name — the player equivalent of calling a coach “Coach.”
Coach Ron Rivera doesn’t fault Young’s enthusiasm — even though Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians later said of Young’s comments: “You better watch what you wish for.” In fact, Rivera identifies with the rookie because “believe me, I’ve got a little bit of fanboy in me, too.” He said he has, over his career, been excited to meet “cool, iconic players,” such as Joe Montana, Brett Favre and Ray Lewis. He believes the zeal is a good thing.
“They want to emulate those guys,” Rivera said of young players. “Who wouldn’t want to be like Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger? Those guys are champions.”
The age differences between Brady and the defensive players who will line up to stop him on Saturday night are remarkable — as many as 22 years in the cases of Young and safety Kam Curl. Young turned 1 the same weekend Brady was drafted; Curl started kindergarten the year Brady won his third Super Bowl; the oldest starter on the defense, 29-year-old linebacker Jon Bostic, graduated high school the year Brady clocked a decade in the league — and won his second of three Most Valuable Player awards.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing of all is that these stats become more normal every year. More than three-fourths of Washington’s roster is closer in age to Brady’s eldest son, 13-year-old Jack, than they are to him.
“He’s the GOAT, so like, it’s just a crazy experience. I can’t wait to be out there going against him,” said linebacker Khaleke Hudson. The rookie pointed out he went to Michigan, like Brady, and noted the quarterback is his younger brother Carlos’ favorite player. “He’s always talking about Tom Brady this and Tom Brady that. I feel like for my brother to see me play against Tom Brady is going to be a dream come true.”
Washington backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke won’t face Brady on the field, but he understands intimately how Brady got so dangerous. In 2017, New England signed Heinicke to its practice squad and, wanting to make a good first impression, he arrived at the facility for his first day at about 5:15 a.m. He walked into the film room and saw the 17-year veteran already there. Brady was apparently unaware the team had signed him, so Heinicke said the veteran “was like, ‘Who the hell are you?’”
Then they watched film together. Heinicke was struck by how well Brady knew the offense and how quickly he identified coverages, protections and knew where to throw the ball. He called the experience “eye-opening.”
“It’s one of those things where you don’t want to say anything stupid and he’s like, ‘Get this guy out of here,’” Heinicke said. “I just kept my mouth shut and, again, just really soaked it in.”
This fall, when Brady joined the Buccaneers for training camp, his own teammates were in awe. Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs told reporters meeting him was “kind of crazy because he’s Tom Brady,” and linebacker Chapelle Russell, a seventh-round pick, wrote on Twitter, “Tom Brady said what’s up to me today.. yea that’s the tweet.” Tight end Cameron Brate told reporters he was “star-struck,” and that, when Brady texted him during the offseason, he asked multiple teammates to verify it was Brady’s number because he thought it might’ve been someone posing as the quarterback.
“But as far as him being some superstar, that’s like, ‘Oh, shoot, that’s Tom Brady’ — that kind of wears off after a while,” Brate told ESPN. “It went pretty quick during training camp, when we’d see each other [or], ya know, he’s yelling at us.”
It won’t wear off for Washington by kickoff.
“It’s crazy to think about [playing against him], since I used to watch him when I was younger,” Curl said.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio isn’t worried about Brady’s mystique being a problem on the field. Del Rio said he understands the threat Brady poses — he’s 1-9 against the quarterback in his career — and marveled that, even at his age at the end of a long season, he “still looks like a young man.”
“The guy’s sustained success at an amazing level throughout his career,” Del Rio said. “But we’re not playing 20 years of Tom. We’re playing one night, and one game, and we’re looking forward to the competition.”