Tom Brady fans on how life has changed since the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win

Tom Brady announced his retirement on Feb. 1 (“for real” this time, he said), ending a run of dominance that has spanned this entire century.

His career ended with 10 Super Bowl appearances and seven Super Bowl victories, a run with 19 years between the first and last Super Bowl win.

Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Chiefs and Eagles is the first since 2000 that will happen without Brady as an active player in the league. To get a sense of how remarkable that longevity is, we asked fans, celebrities and current and former players where they were in life at the time of Brady’s first and last Super Bowls in hopes of seeing how their lives changed between Brady’s first win and his seventh.

Donnie Wahlberg, recording artist/actor

Donnie Wahlberg at a Celtics game in Chicago in April 2022. (Dennis Wierzbicki / USA Today)

Boston native Donnie Wahlberg had already achieved a lifetime’s worth of success by 2001, highlighted by a Beatlemania-like existence during his teen years with the iconic boy band “New Kids on the Block.”

“But ‘New Kids’ was over,” he said, “and I was working job to job as an actor. It was a new start for me.”

In early 2001, as the Patriots were playing the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, Wahlberg was holed up in a hotel in Prince George, British Columbia, while working on the sci-fi/horror flick “Dreamcatcher.”

He considered flying to Los Angeles to watch the game with friends, “but I would have had to head back to Canada the next day,” he said. “So I decided I’m just going to sit there in my hotel room in Prince George and watch the game by myself.”

Fast forward to late in the fourth quarter, the game tied, Tom Brady taking the Patriots on a drive that would culminate with Adam Vinatieri’s championship-clinching field goal.

“There was this real clear thought that I had, that all Boston sports fans had, that somehow, some way, this is going to go bad for the Patriots,” he said. “Because it always does. We’re gonna, somehow, not win this game. Something’s gonna go horribly wrong.”

Wahlberg’s thoughts veered to his 9-year-old nephew, Brandon Wahlberg.

“During that last drive, I started to get this very clear visual,” he said. “Brandon was already a diehard Boston sports fan. Loves the Celtics, loves the Red Sox. He’s all in on everything.

“I’m alone in this hotel room, it’s dark out, three feet of snow, and it occurs to me how his life as a sports fan will be different if we win this game. He’s not going to know what it feels like to blow it. He’s going to grow up with a winning attitude, instead of this inevitable, your-heart’s-going-to-be-broken attitude.

“When Vinatieri kicked that field goal, I jumped up and ran out of my room and down the hallway, screaming at the top of my lungs. It seemed like the hallway just went on forever, like in some kind of ‘Twilight Zone’ episode.”

And when Brady moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won his seventh Super Bowl?

“Well, I’m on ‘Blue Bloods’ by then, my band has reunited for a 13-year run, and I’m happily married,” he said. “I feel I’ve become better at what I do, more confident at what I do, my career is more successful in the second act than it was in the first.”

He had already cheered Brady to six Super Bowl celebrations. But now there was a different kind of trepidation.

“I’m a big Brady fan, but I’m also a very, very, very big Belichick fan,” Wahlberg said. “So I wanted Tom to win, of course, so he can go next level with his legacy — who’s ever going to win seven Super Bowls as a quarterback? — but I knew there was going to be this inevitable trashing of Belichick immediately after. That it was never Belichick, blah, blah, blah. That’s the way it goes, I guess.”

But …

“But watching Tom Brady win a seventh Super Bowl was the ultimate coronation,” Wahlberg said. “He beat Aaron Rodgers — how many times did Stephen A. Smith say that Rodgers was better? — and he beat Patrick Mahomes.

“I like Mahomes, I really do,” he said. “But if he won, the story would have been he’s already got two Super Bowls, he beat Brady. I didn’t want that to happen. So what it comes down to was that it wasn’t so much what I wanted most, but what I did not want most.”

John Sullivan, Patriots fan

“My expectations for the Patriots were low as the 2002 Super Bowl approached. The Rams were The Greatest Show On Turf and seemed anointed, gigantic favorites. Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk! Plus, Brady and Belichick weren’t yet Tom and Bill, the two-headed monster that transformed football.

“So, I was realistic. I watched the game and kept an eye on my kids. But the Pats were hanging around thanks to a slew of Rams turnovers. But a strong Rams fourth-quarter comeback tied the game at 17 with a minute and a half left. As the Pats took the field with no timeouts after the ensuing kickoff, I heard John Madden say that they should play it conservatively and prepare for OT. I told my TV to shut up.

“You know how players say the game slows down for them? That’s the opposite of what happened to me at this moment. That last minute and a half, it was all impossibly fast.

“(After the game-winning field goal), I watched the players pour onto the field and the confetti come down, and I heard the announcers talking about the most exciting Super Bowl ever. But it honestly wasn’t registering with me. My 8-year-old daughter was jumping on me as I stared at the screen. Numb, I said it out loud to nobody, ‘The Patriots just won the Super Bowl. The Patriots, the Patriots, just won the Super Bowl.’

“Seventeen years later, like any breakup, friends are taking sides. My kids, who have known nothing but Tom Brady championships, are Team Tom all the way. I’m with Bill — I can convince myself that Bill’s game plans and coaching won three of those six Super Bowls (both Rams games and the Seahawks game), and besides, he’s not the one who left New England. I know he’s a complete pain, but he’s our complete pain. It’s a terrible Pats season without Tom, for which I irrationally and unfairly blame Tom completely.

“Tom’s having the season of his life for the Bucs. Management has let him pick his teammates and practice schedules and probably the conditioner brand in the showers. Unretired Gronk joins him for some fun in the Florida sun — and for some reason, I don’t blame him.

“I had no doubt that Tom would win. Tom Brady wins Super Bowls, even Pewter Tom. The game wasn’t close, and Tom was of course MVP.

“And what did I feel? Absolutely nothing. Not joy, not anger, not frustration, not a thing. I couldn’t root for the guy who abandoned my Patriots, and I couldn’t root against Tom Brady.”

“When Tom Brady was making his presence known, I was 8. I was living in a small town in Iowa. I was, like, second grade, just hanging out, reading Calvin and Hobbes and playing outside. Before the age of 10, my family lived on a big farm with a lot of land. I would play outside by myself every day and pretend I was in ‘Lord of the Rings,’ just me and my imagination.

“I was 8 years old and predicted the score to be 20-17, Patriots. I was, like, ‘Thanks, Tom!’ Just a really good guess as a kid. I loved football and was a big gambler, I guess.

“I got to compete against him, which was nice, one time when he was with the Buccaneers. The NFL’s history is Tom Brady for the last 20 years. There’s no year that he wasn’t the focal point of the history of it. When you affect the history like that, it’s pretty amazing. He’s an incredible football player. I’ve heard nothing but nice things from his teammates. He changed the sport, and he’s been a part of it forever. He might as well be the logo at this point.”


San Francisco tight end George Kittle had plenty of praise for former opponent Tom Brady. (Cary Edmondson / USA Today)

Kevin Chapman, actor

In the early fall of 2001, as the Patriots were designating an unknown quarterback named Tom Brady to lead their offense, Boston native Kevin Chapman was an unknown actor tending bar in Los Angeles.

“A friend of mine, Greg Dulli from the band Afghan Whigs, had a Super Bowl party with this group of really successful rock ’n’ roll people,” said Chapman, 60. “I’m out in L.A., I’m this struggling actor, and when Tom Brady won his first Super Bowl, I’m at this estate in the Hollywood Hills with all these rock ’n’ roll people. And I’m the only Patriot fan in the place.

“The Pats were not supposed to win. They were up against the St. Louis Rams. The Greatest Show on Turf, right? But then Ty Law returned that interception for a touchdown, and next thing you know, it’s late in the fourth quarter and Brady is taking them down the field.

“That was in February. In June, Clint Eastwood cast me in ‘Mystic River’ and that rewrote my script.”

By the time Brady was quarterbacking the Buccaneers to his seventh Super Bowl championship, Chapman had become an established actor in film and television. Among many television appearances, he guest-starred in 29 episodes of the Showtime series “Brotherhood” and was a regular on the CBS series “Person of Interest” and Showtime’s “City on a Hill.” He still lives in the Boston area with his wife, Meaghan, and their two kids, and he commutes to wherever the work takes him.

“My wife and I went down to Tampa for a couple of games during Brady’s first season with the Bucs,” he said. “We went to the Kansas City game, the game they played during the regular season. … They lost to K.C. and then beat them in the Super Bowl.

“I was still a Tom Brady fan because he was that guy — as long as he was in the game, you had a shot. None of us are what we were 10 years ago, right? But there he was.”

Cole Heisner, Patriots fan

“In 2002, I would’ve been 3 years old. My dad is a huge sports fan. He walked onto the football team at UNH. So he passed it on to me. Probably my earliest memory of the Patriots was the Super Bowl against the Eagles (after the 2004 season). I remember my dad yelling at the TV, and I was thinking this is crazy. And, of course, that’s what I became.

“The first team that I really, really followed was with Randy Moss and Wes Welker in 2007. That was my first year playing Madden, so I ran a lot of go routes to Moss on easy mode. That year ending in a loss was confusing. My fan experience to that point had been all success. That was my first year watching every game, and they were winning every game, and I was kind of like, ‘This is how it goes.’ And then that Giants Super Bowl happened.

“I wanted (Brady) to be successful when he went to Tampa. I was in college and I wouldn’t watch Patriots Super Bowls with friends because it was too stressful. So for the Tampa one, I was telling my buddies, ‘I think I’ll be cool, but just a heads up: I don’t know how I’ll react seeing him in a Super Bowl with the Bucs.’ I wasn’t buying a Bucs jersey or anything, but I was rooting for him.

“It’s something that’s been great to follow. My dad and I don’t live in the same state anymore, but we still call each other after games.”

Andre Tippett, former Patriots linebacker and Hall of Famer

“I was in the stands with my wife when they won their first championship,” said Tippett, 63. “We actually took our baby girl, Madison.”

By the time Brady won his seventh Super Bowl, Tippett was still working for the Patriots but in a different capacity: vice president of community relations.

“I was home for that one,” he said. “We had a Super Bowl party. We were all very happy for him. All of us with the Patriots have been blessed to be around him, and I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It was fun watching him grow up. He brought joy to the organization.”

Andre Tippett

Andre Tippett poses with his Hall of Fame bust after his induction in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 2, 2008. (Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images)

John G., Patriots fan

“On Feb. 3, 2002, I was an 8-year-old second-grade student, excited out of my mind as Adam Vinatieri drilled his 47-yard game-winner through the uprights and the confetti fell on the ‘Comeback Kid’ grinning in disbelief wearing that backward hat. Cue the duckboats! The Patriots’ parades were the only reason my parents ever let me skip school.

“Right from the start, I was obsessed. My first football memory? The tuck rule game earlier that year against Oakland. After the ‘fumble,’ I sprinted out of the game room in a rage and put myself to bed. I was so angry I didn’t want to stay up to watch the rest of the clock run out. My Dad had to come running upstairs after me. ‘Wait, John, wait — come back! They’re saying it’s not a fumble?’ I didn’t believe him.

“Now here we are at Brady’s second (and likely final) retirement. While Brady was out getting his seventh ring, I completed my own six-year quest, working alongside an amazing team of advocates and activists to get a new bill signed into law by Governor (Charlie) Baker providing stronger support for survivors of sexual violence on college campuses.”

Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks quarterback and NFL Comeback Player of the Year

In 2001, I was 11 years old and maybe in sixth grade, playing little league football when I wasn’t playing video games as Tom Brady or Michael Vick. I loved Tom Brady, a big fan. I wore No. 12 in high school, No. 12 in college because of Tom Brady.

He started off as an underdog, and we all love the underdog story. To see what he’s accomplished and how great he’s been, it’s just amazing. It’s very motivational for me. He’s a big reason why, when I was 11, I was already dreaming about the NFL.


Geno Smith and Tom Brady shake hands after this season’s Seahawks-Buccaneers game in Munich. (Douglas DeFelice / USA Today)

Tom Ober, Patriots fan

“I saw three Super Bowls in college. You couldn’t do any better. I was 18 and a freshman at Bates for the first Super Bowl. I lived in an all-boys dorm with 12 guys per floor in this tiny sliver of a building. And it just worked out that everyone liked the Pats.

“We all got together in a main room for the Super Bowl. I remember we ordered a ton of food and everybody was going to enjoy eating all the junk food because I don’t think we really thought they had a shot. But I distinctly remember when Ty Law returned the interception and everyone was like, ‘Uhhh, maybe the eating can wait.’

“After they won, it was definitely party time. I know there was snow on the ground, and we all ran out barefoot screaming from every corner of campus. We were 18, so we didn’t remember (Bill) Buckner, but we also didn’t remember the Celtics (winning their last title in 1986).

“Now, it’s crazy to think of how life has changed. I went from being on my own for the first time for his first Super Bowl and then doing all those other life milestones — now having two kids of my own — and he’s still in the Super Bowl.

“From partying in college for the Super Bowl to not being able to drink because I know I have to get up early in the morning the next day with a toddler. It’s just amazing. I remember thinking, ‘This guy barely looks older than us.’ And now I look at him and he looks like a grizzled old vet now. It makes me think, ‘Am I similarly showing my age?’ It’s interesting because if you’re in your late 30s, early 40s in New England, you’ve probably paralleled him in some ways of getting married and having a family.

“And I guess most New Englanders (retire to) Florida, too.”

Kevin Faulk, former Patriots running back

A member of the Patriots from 1999 to 2011, Kevin Faulk, now 46, played on three Super Bowl-winning teams. In New England’s victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, Faulk, playing in this third NFL season, made two rushes for 15 yards.

“When Adam Vinatieri kicked that field goal to win it, I was on the sideline, on edge, balancing back and forth, like we all were, trying to make the ball go through the uprights,” he said.

Faulk is back living in his native Louisiana and now works in football administration at LSU. He held a Super Bowl party when Brady and the Bucs played the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. “And if you ask me if it brought me back in time, seeing Tom play in the Super Bowl, the answer is that after I retired, it brought me back in time every time I saw him play.

“When I watched him win that last Super Bowl, it made me think that the first one changed the lives of everyone on that Patriots team. It changed our lives forever. But I don’t think you had to be a football player to have had your life changed. I think a lot of people’s lives were changed.”


Patriots running back Kevin Faulk takes a handoff from Tom Brady in a game against the Steelers on Oct. 30, 2011. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

— The Athletic‘s Tim Graham contributed to this story.

(Top photo: Tom DiPace / Associated Press) Tom Brady fans on how life has changed since the Patriots’ first Super Bowl win

Russell Falcon

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