Outside of the ACL tear that wiped out his 2008 season, Tom Brady never has missed a game due to injury. That nearly changed during the 2017 playoffs.
Days before the New England Patriots were set to host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game, a mid-practice collision with running back Rex Burkhead left Brady with a deep gash just below his right thumb.
In Episode 8 of his “Man in the Arena” docuseries, which premieres Tuesday night on ESPN+, the former Patriots quarterback explains just how close that injury came to sidelining him.
“We’re in practice,” Brady recalls. “It was a period where we were working on a lot of different run plays. Rex thought we were running the play to the right. I had changed the play; we were running the play to the left. And we ran into each other. After I handed him the ball, I felt this immense pain.
“The ball got pinched against my body, and the thumb got bent back so far that It ripped the skin on my thumb open from in the web all the way through the bottom of my thumb. And I looked down at my hand, and it was just this bloody palm. Like, a pool of blood. And I was like, ‘I’m (expletive).’ That’s what I thought. I thought, ‘That’s it.’ “
Brady’s body coach, Alex Guerrero, has similar fears.
“I remember the look of just how distraught Tom was,” Guerrero says. “He thought, ‘This is it.’ Like, ‘This is the end for me. This could be completely over.’ “
But as gnarly as Brady’s injury was, he was fortunate. His ligaments and tendons remained intact, allowing him to stitch it up, tape it up and play four days later.
“What was amazing was the hand got bent back so far that the skin ripped, but there was no structural damage,” Brady says. “I didn’t end up tearing any ligaments. … The (question) was, was I going to be able to grip the football? Because I couldn’t squeeze it. Alex was working way overtime trying to get as much swelling out of the fat pad in my hand as possible. …
“It was funny, because the trainer, Jim (Whalen), said, ‘Man, we’ve come a long way this year. We’re not ending this season on a handoff.’ “
Still, Brady says his ultimate decision on whether to play was “really a game-time moment.”
“I wasn’t sure I was going to go,” he says.
He did, of course. The Patriots erased a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Jaguars and advance to Super Bowl LII. Their season came to an end two weeks later with a loss to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The prevailing storyline from that Super Bowl — cornerback Malcolm Butler’s stunning benching — goes unmentioned in the episode.
Episode 8 of “Man in the Arena,” a co-production by ESPN, Religion of Sports, 199 Productions and NFL Films, premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN+.