That Brings us back to Brady's job. The tough one, you'll recall. The one in which rabid, hulking freaks of nature try to pound Brady into dust. And this year, he says, it may be exceptionally tough. Tougher than modeling, even. "We've got a lot of youth," he says of the Patriots. "But anytime you've got Bill Belichick, as far as I'm concerned, you've got a great chance. If we can get a few good bounces, and everyone stays healthy, I think we're going to be just fine." There's a symbiotic magic to Brady's relationship with Belichick. Together they're astonishing, with an 87-24 record. But apart? As head coach, Belichick without Brady is a mediocre 52-62, and though a decent highlights reel could be made out of Brady's career at the University of Michigan, he began there as the seventh-string quarterback and was rarely the starter, and he was drafted into the NFL, remember, after 198 mooks. "I know what he expects," Brady says of his coach, "and I know what his idea of leadership is, and that's what I focus on." The work marriage, however, is not without its prickly spots. "You'll practice on a Wednesday, and you'll come in Thursday morning and he'll have the film up there from practice," Brady says. "Sometimes, during practice, you throw a bad ball—that's the way it goes. But the video comes up and he says, 'Brady, you can't complete a goddamn hitch.' And I'll be sitting there thinking, I'm a fucking nine-year veteran, I've won three goddamn Super Bowls—he can kiss my... That's what you're thinking on the inside. But on the outside I'm thinking, You know what? I'm glad he's saying that. I'm glad that's what he's expecting, you know? Because that's what I should be expecting. That's what his style is."

The concern among fans is that the memory of Brady's injury will cause him to go soft—there's that word again—to fold too early in the pocket, play it too safe. "I wouldn't think so," Brady says. "Whatever happens, you can't avoid it. It's the way you land." The lesson from his injury and its aftermath, then, has not been a newfound cautiousness. It's something deeper than that. "When you go down on the field and they carry you off, you know what happens?" he says. "The game goes on. They line up for the next play, and nothing stops. The game doesn't stop for anything or anybody. It just keeps going."

There's something dark about that statement, something existential in the Sartre sense—at least coming from Brady, who exhales positivity like candy-colored smoke rings. "I love everything I've experienced," he says quite sincerely at one point. Though he still may be "Tommy Brady from Portola Drive in San Mateo," as he insists when asked about ways in which he's changed in the past few years, he's older now, maybe wiser. And perhaps even—poolside hand-feedings notwithstanding—a little harder. When I ask him if he still feels the need to prove himself, he says, "Yeah, certainly, certainly," then follows it with this: "Because nobody cares—I mean, at least I don't—about what happened two years ago in my career. It's great that we won the Super Bowls—hey, I'll show you the rings. But get over it. Move on. Move on." So I paraphrase: Live life in the present tense, right? "Hell yeah," Tom Brady says, not softly at all.