HOUSTON – Talk about no fair.
Tom Brady plays for America’s model franchise and is married to Brazil’s model, well, model. He made $14 million this season. She made more than twice that.
He’s won four Super Bowls and is three days from playing in his seventh. He’s got 17 years of NFL quarterbacking experience, an ageless right arm and dimples beyond his 39th birthday, for gosh sakes.
So what more great fortune could this Patriots quarterback and all-time NFL icon take with him into his 40s?
According to Brady, his brain is faster than it’s ever been. And he believes it’s helping his long-term cognitive health while making him a better quarterback.
Not exactly the news the NFL’s 31 other teams are looking for as Brady tries to beat the Atlanta Falcons and win Super Bowl LI a whopping XV years after his first Super Bowl victory.
If opponents are looking to assign blame for this added boost in what should be Brady’s professional winding-down years, they might want to jab a finger at BrainHQ. That’s the brain training program that Brady’s TB12 Sports Center installed as one of the four pillars of improvement techniques designed to meet the boss’ goal of playing this game until he’s 50.
“I’ve used it for probably three years now consistently,” Brady said Wednesday. “There has been a lot of talk about concussions and head trauma and CTE. I’ve learned that prevention is part of the issue. I work hard to try and prevent some of those things from happening. BrainHQ does a great job of cognitively trying to keep me ahead of any of those problems.”
Yeah, but does it make you a better quarterback?
“Yeah, you can see yourself improve,” he said. “It does a great job of tracking you, monitoring you, seeing where you were before. It’s been a great tool.”
Those are sweet words to the ears of Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the creator of the BrainHQ training program. According to Mahncke, Brady stumbled onto BrainHQ about three years ago, tried it for a year and liked it so much that he called Posit Science for a meeting.
Perhaps the greatest quarterback in NFL history wanted to add Mahncke, Dr. Michael Merzenich, a recent winner of the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience, and their team of neuroscientists to his stable of trainers. While the other three pillars of the TB12 Sports Center work on physical exercise, recovery and diet, the neuroscientists work on brain training exercises to help Brady study better between games and think faster during them.
“First of all, we built this for everyone, not just athletes,” Mahncke said by phone Wednesday. “Anyone who does the exercises repeatedly improves. But in the case of a Tom Brady, you talk to him. He told me, ‘When I look down the field, I feel I can pick out what I need to see in faster time than I have.’ For me, that’s kind of the icing on the cake about whether this works.”
Mahncke said BrainHQ has 29 brain exercises that are done on a computer screen. One example of an exercise that Brady uses is called “Double Decision.” It’s a program in which Brady has to focus on the center of the screen while also being able to acknowledge and locate items that appear in his peripheral vision.
“It’s asking his brain to split its attention,” Mahncke said. “It’s a very demanding divided-attention scenario.”
Yeah, but, c’mon Doc, Brady isn’t wearing a helmet while scrambling away from angry 300-pound defenders when he takes the test, right?
“Yes, but if you didn’t know anything about physical training and wanted to play football, you’d probably think, ‘Well, all I need to do is play a lot of football and I’m ready physically,’ ” Mahncke said. “Obviously, guys do a lot more than play football to get ready for it physically. They go to the gym and train each muscle in isolation so when they’re out on the field every muscle is at its best working together when they’re out on the field. The brain is exactly the same way.
“When we train Tom’s brain, we’ve made it faster and more accurate so when he is scrambling and he’s got his helmet on, his brain is as fast and as accurate as we can make it. It’s ready to perform. In that regard, brain science is catching up to physical science.”
And, well, all that really matters is Tom Brady’s full-hearted endorsement.
“I love doing it,” he said. “So it will always be a part of my routine.”