It had the dreamy, soft-focus look of a cable docu-series produced by a C-list celebrity who wants to improve his image and tell his real story to the world, which seems odd, because the New England Patriots quarterback is actually on top of the world. On Sunday, the Patriots play the Philadelphia Eagles, and if New England wins, Brady’s sixth championship would make him the oldest quarterback to win the Super Bowl. He turns 41 this year, yet looks like he’s aging in reverse. What does he have to prove?
The series gives the impression that Brady wants to emphatically defend himself against those who doubt his abilities as he gets older, despite having just won another Super Bowl last year. Commentator voice-overs play over the footage: “How much time is left for Brady?” “Father Time is undefeated.” “He’ll be average at best.”
So, why does the most powerful football player on the planet see himself as an underdog? In that sense, the series makes it clear: Tom Brady is the Taylor Swift of football.
When a co-worker first made this comparison, it felt so startlingly apt that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard it before. Apparently, some people have made this exact observation on Twitter; when I Googled the phrase, the only significant result was a Barstool Sports video from last year titled “Tom Brady and Taylor Swift are the same person.” It compared “Look What You Made Me Do,” Swift’s underwhelming first single from her latest album to Brady’s slow start four years ago — and argued to never dismiss stars who are that successful.
“People like us will chirp and try to convince ourselves that their reign of terror and dominance is over. We are fools! Absolute fools for ever doubting them,” the video host said. “Tom Brady and Taylor Swift are cockroaches. They’re gonna outlive us. They’re gonna outperform us. They’re gonna be here when we’re dead and gone, dominating their fields.”
While it’s a distinct possibility, the parallels actually go much further than you might expect — and not just because “Shake It Off,” Swift’s hit single at the peak of her career, was a defensive anthem about dismissing the haters. At their height of fame and glory, both were marked by public controversies that made them infinitely more polarizing and only provided further ammunition to seek revenge on anyone who dared doubt them.
For Brady, that would be the infamous DeflateGate in 2015, when the quarterback was suspended for four games after the Patriots were accused of deflating footballs below the league’s minimum for air pressure during the AFC Championship game. Outraged New England fans will never let this go, even as Brady got revenge in grand fashion. He led the Patriots to epic comeback Super Bowl victory in 2017, and trolled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in creative ways, such as posing behind a T-shirt that read “Roger that” and showed a Super Bowl ring on a middle finger.
Yet clearly, Brady still isn’t over it. In the 15-minute premiere of “Tom vs Time” (which debuted this week on the Facebook Watch streaming platform; the sixth and final episode airs Super Bowl Sunday), Brady showed off his binders from every season where he keeps notes from team meetings. He pulled out a piece of paper. “So, I still keep this. My suspension letter. That I received,” he says wryly to the camera. “Just a nice way to remember. Thank you.”
That same year, Swift — coming off the hugely popular album “1989” — earned the first major backlash of her career, after she publicly criticized Kanye West for name-checking her in his track, “Famous”; Kim Kardashian then uploaded secretly recorded phone call footage that showed West and Swift chatting amicably about the song. Although Swift said she was “falsely painted as a liar,” the Internet declared her a snake. Her reputation took a hit, though Swift used the fallout to her advantage — she released an album in November called, fittingly, “Reputation,” which sold a million copies in a week.
While the album didn’t address her enemies by name, Swift left quite a few clues about her feelings. She defiantly embraced the snake imagery, using a serpent microphone at recent performances. The music video for “Look What You Made Me Do” called out all the ways people make fun of her, including criticism that she always plays the victim. One song on the album is titled “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” believed to be directed at West. (“Friends don’t try to trick you/Get you on the phone and mind-twist you.”) Her die-hard fan base loved it.
Though Brady and Swift have a relentless desire to right these perceived wrongs, they also want to show the world how painstakingly hard they’ve worked for everything they accomplished. Swift didn’t give a single interview for the launch of “Reputation,” and instead released a video series on DirecTV called “The Making of a Song,” composed of footage she shot on her phone that showed all the minutiae of writing and recording the album. It included serious moments of songwriting, with long stretches of silence as she thought of the best lyric, plus goofy moments joking and laughing with her producers.
“Tom vs Time,” from filmmaker Gotham Chopra, also takes a deep dive into Brady’s process. It shows how the athlete is dominating despite his advanced age, such as his grueling physical treatments with his controversial trainer, Alex Guerrero, who helped develop Brady’s holistic TB12 Method to keep in shape. The episodes show Brady making a blueberry smoothie (from his famously strict diet) at 6 a.m. before his many workouts. After exercise and team practice, he spends hours at his laptop in his home office, watching footage of past games.
And, like any good celebrity docu-series, there’s plenty of footage of Brady’s personal life. He and Gisele have a photo shoot with their kids and puppies; he chats with his son about his fantasy football team; he jokes around with his teammate Julian Edelman. Gisele comforts him about the team dynamics as they drive home from the first game of the season, when the Pats got crushed by the Kansas City Chiefs: “You just were not in sync yet. You don’t know each other.”
It makes sense to include those type of scenes — like Swift, Brady has quite a few critics, for everything from his abilities in his job to his romantic entanglements to his refusal to definitively share his political views. (Though that “Make America Great Again” hat in his locker offered more clues than Swift’s vague “go out and vote” Instagram). But though these criticisms obviously get under their skin, it doesn’t matter.
Because Brady will, in all likelihood, win the Super Bowl again this Sunday and be back in better shape than ever next season. In a few months, Swift will be on a stadium tour around the globe, continuing to dominate the music world. They know it. Deep down, we know it. And as Brady’s docu-series and Swift’s music implies, things would be far easier if the haters could just stop already and accept it as the truth.