Commentary

Why Pats have the mental edge

Tom Brady's encyclopedic football memory makes for quick in-game adjustments

Updated: February 3, 2012, 5:03 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- There will always be some nerves in a high-pressure Super Bowl environment, but, for the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, there is comfort in knowing they have the IBM on their side. It is one of the most powerful weapons in all of football.

"The IBM," as nicknamed by offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, is Brady's brain and the remarkable amount of football data it can store from 12 years in the NFL.

Brady's internal database -- and his ability to tap it quickly so it can benefit the Patriots -- is an advantage few in the NFL can match. It should be a big part of Super Bowl XLVI as both teams make all-important in-game adjustments.

To O'Brien, this, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes Brady special.

"I relate it to a pro golfer," said O'Brien, who has worked more closely with Brady than anyone else the past three seasons. "Pro golfers, at the end of a tournament, they can remember every shot that they hit, what the lie was, what club they used. With Tom, he remembers every play that he's run in his whole career.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Bill Belichick
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireTom Brady has seen everything in his 12 years with the Patriots, and, when necessary, they tap into "the IBM" -- or Brady's football data-filled brain.

"That's not an exaggeration," O'Brien continued. "It's a testament to the way he's prepared and studied. If we were playing a defensive coordinator that he had played earlier in his career, and it's six years later, he could remember plays that he ran against that guy -- the hashmark, home game/away game, what part of the field it was in. I think that's a great trait to have. That ability to remember plays was always pretty cool to me."

Brady's unique gift has produced some unforgettable stories from players and coaches.

"Say we're playing the Dolphins, there will be times in the meeting room where Tom will be like 'Pull up that game from '02, third quarter, I think we're on the 35-yard line, it was light snow, we're on the right hash, and we ran this play.' A minute later, we're watching the play and it's exactly what happened," said backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.

"He has a memory like an elephant. I think a lot of that is he's been doing it for so long, the same system. He knows certain plays he likes against certain defenses; he remembers the good ones and the bad ones, too. It's amazing, and I think that has something to do with his success -- he's able to process information, keep it there, store it and pull it up whenever he needs to."

Hence the nickname IBM, after the multinational technology and consulting corporation.

"Last year, when we were getting ready to play Buffalo, he had remembered a play he ran against them in 2002," O'Brien relayed. "It was a double move by a receiver that they hit and he felt like that was a similar play that we could use in that game. Sure enough, right hash, home game, going toward the lighthouse -- we looked it up, 2002, and there was the play. He has a great memory."

Because of this, O'Brien calls Brady the most challenging player he's ever coached. Bill Belichick has echoed those thoughts.

O'Brien believes part of the reason Brady's football memory is so effective is that he lives football every day, every hour, every minute.

"When it's football season, it is 24/7 football. Even when he's not in the building, we have email contact, telephone conversations about the game plan, about what we're seeing, about the defense we're playing against," he said. "I think football and family are 1-A and 1-B in his life. You have to prepare for him 10 times as a coach, just to keep up with him."

"His life revolves around football. During the season, everything he does is geared toward that Sunday, that three hours he's out there," Hoyer added. "That's something I can learn from and see what it takes to be the best, to focus all your energy on the task at hand. He's able to do that week in and week out."

As for how Brady's memory and recall help the Patriots, the examples are countless. Perhaps more than anything, it allows the Patriots to speed up the adjustment process on the sideline.

Watch closely Sunday night. Every time Brady comes to the sideline, he'll consult with O'Brien, the two sometimes looking at pictures to help them process what is unfolding on the field. While that takes place, Brady also taps his personal IBM, the encyclopedia in his mind, pulling from it to help the team make the right adjustments.

"You go into a game like this -- they have a game plan and we have a game plan -- and it never really goes exactly how you think it's going to go," Brady explained. "So you make adjustments, at the end of the first quarter and halftime. When you're able to have a pretty good recall -- and a lot of our coaches do, as well -- rather than make adjustments the day after the game when the game is already over, you can see how things are going and make them on the field.

"So you're on the sideline saying, 'These are the coverages we're seeing, these are the things we need to get to, let's screw the game plan and [identify] the things we need to put in to win the game. Then it's the players' ability to adjust to things that we haven't talked about or practiced that can help you turn the tide of the game."

In his 12-year career, Brady has seen pretty much everything. O'Brien said there isn't much new that a defense can do, which explains why some of the most successful plans against the Patriots have been those that mix things up on a play-to-play, series-to-series basis.

At the least, it keeps Brady's hard drive humming, forcing him to work overtime to process information.

"I have 12 years of every note that I've taken, every play," he said. "It's a pretty cool library at this point. I can look at every call sheet, every installation package we put in. At some point, I'll have to throw them out, but I don't think I want to do that."

He shouldn't. Those notes should be preserved because they've been a crucial part of the Patriots' remarkable run of success with Brady at the helm. Perhaps they'll someday wind up in the Patriots Hall of Fame.

After all, they power one of the most impressive weapons in all of football -- Brady's IBM.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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