On Sunday night, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady engineered what many are calling the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. With a little over a quarter remaining, Brady somehow erased a 25-point deficit to force overtime with, and then ultimately defeat, the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-28.
The win was Brady’s fifth Super Bowl championship in seven tries, the most for any quarterback in NFL history. For his comeback performance, Brady was named Super Bowl MVP for a remarkable fourth time.
So as sports stories go, this one’s hard to top.
And yet there’s an element to Brady’s Super Bowl comeback that casual fans may not be aware of, one that had the star quarterback choked up and fighting back tears both before and after the game.
It has to do with a fan who is normally a fixture at New England Patriots games, one whose absence this season was acutely felt by the quarterback long before it was picked up on by fans and the media.
But she was there last night, walking onto the field last night as the confetti fell and the fireworks sounded and sports scribes rushed to proclaim Tom Brady as the greatest to ever play the game.
It was his mother, Galynn Brady.
For many, the main storyline heading into Super Bowl LI had to do with Brady’s four-game suspension by the NFL over the “Deflategate” scandal, which saw the league office pitted in a legal fight against its star quarterback over allegations of equipment tampering dating back to two seasons ago.
But the broader sports world first became aware that something was amiss with Brady’s family during Monday of Super Bowl week, when Brady became visibly choked up and emotional while fielding questions.
In this case it wasn’t a veteran sports reporter or well-connected insider who got the “scoop,” but a seven-year-old boy named Joseph who asked a simple question: “Who is your hero?”
“My dad is my hero, because he’s someone I look up to every single day,” Brady replied before becoming choked up. He seemed to consider saying more before offering simply “…my Dad.”
On Tuesday, Brady explained why the question got him so emotional.
“It’s been a challenging year for my family, just for some personal reasons,” Brady said. “It’ll be nice having everyone here watching us this weekend. My mom and dad, they have been so supportive my entire life, and it is nice to be here to show them and try to make them proud.”
WATCH: Tom Brady gets choked up talking about his mother’s health struggles
To date, the exact nature of her illness has not been disclosed by the notoriously private Brady. But based on Kraft’s comments as well as her appearance Sunday, clad in a bandanna, many are assuming she’s battling a form of cancer.
“Yeah, this year my mom hasn’t been to a game this season, and my dad has been to one,” Brady told reporters before the game. “It is very atypical.”
Even the star’s social media feed was full of love for his family, and particularly his parents. On the day before the Super Bowl, when many might be infatuated with the bright light and the glamour, or consumed by pre-game preparation, Brady posted a photo of his parents and him walking on the field during Super Bowl picture day.
“Sandwich kiss for Mom at Picture Day!!!” Brady captioned the photo, showing him and his father, Tom Sr., Planting a kiss on each of Galynn’s cheeks. “Go Pats!!!!”
This isn’t the first time Brady has become emotional on the subject of his parents, nor is it the first time he’s opened up about how much they mean to him and to his success.
In an interview with ESPN in 2011, Brady discussed his experience in the 2000 NFL draft, watching as round after round passed and no team called his name.
“It was hard. I remember taking a walk with my dad and mom around the block,” Brady said, fighting back tears. “It was just a tough day, you know? I just remember being there with my mom and dad. They were just so supportive of me.”
The New England Patriots eventually selected Brady in the 6th round, 199th overall – and five Super Bowl wins in seven appearances later the rest, as they say, is history.
And history was made again on Sunday night, as Brady set multiple Super Bowl records – including total passing yards, completions, and all-time MVP awards – on his way to his fifth Super Bowl ring.
All of it in front of his mom and dad.
“I’m just absolutely tickled pink for him and for the Patriots and for all of New England who supported him,” Tom Brady Sr. told CBS Boston after the game. “It’s the best ever. I’m speechless … it was so spectacular, and so fun, and so nerve-wracking, and so awesome.”
“I’m overwhelmed!” said Galynn Brady. “I was just praying. All I did was pray, the whole game, just pray.”
For his part, Brady told reporters after the game he’s looking forward to some “quality time” with his mom.
“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” Brady said.
A Super Bowl, a family health crisis, a years-long legal battle with the NFL – it’s a lot to manage, even for a future Hall of Famer. But Tom Brady Sr. has no doubt where his legendary composure comes from.
“He must have gotten it from his mom.”