Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Childhood friend recalls tales of Tom Terrific

Dan Frisella is the Nevada Union principal who was childhood buddies with Tom Brady.
Dan Frisella is the Nevada Union principal who was childhood buddies with Tom Brady. Photo courtesy the Frisella family

Dan Frisella knows plenty of stories about Tom Brady.

They go way back, pals from the Bay Area who made it a habit to cannonball into the pool as 5-year-olds before scarfing down birthday cake. They competed against each other in youth sports and later as teammates at Serra High School in San Mateo.

Frisella cherishes his scrapbook photos and the tales of Tom Terrific. Yes, Brady could throw a football a country mile, though he was dreadfully slow afoot, said Frisella, the principal at Nevada Union High who will be watching Sunday as the New England Patriots quarterback plays in his sixth Super Bowl.

“Known Tommy forever,” Frisella said. “He was at my first birthday party. Got pictures of him at the pool, documenting his baby fat. You know, we went 0-10 as freshmen with Tommy on the bench, so that tells you how good he was.”

Brady got better as he got older, and Frisella played on the offensive line, protecting Brady. They were seniors in the fall of 1994.

“Tommy had a cannon of an arm, incredibly accurate, but he was forever slow,” Frisella, 37, said. “I mean, sloooow. He’s still slow.”

Frisella laughed about “Deflategate” and the daily reports about the underinflated footballs used during the AFC Championship Game, but then turned serious.

“We never snuck a deflated ball in for Tommy when he led us on two-minute drills at Serra,” Frisella said. “I just know that Tommy has always been huge on integrity. I don’t see him ever trying to cheat.”

Brady and Frisella are both successful, one in shoulder pads and the other in a shirt and tie, Brady fueled in part by his father, Tom Sr., and Frisella by a father he never knew.

“Our moms,” Frisella said with emotion, “were friends before we were even born.”

That bond grew stronger on New Year’s Day of 1977 when Frisella’s father, Danny Frisella, a major-league pitcher, died in a dune buggy accident in Arizona. Frisella’s mother, Pam, was seven months pregnant with Dan, her second son, who was born March 4 on what would have been his father’s 31st birthday.

Danny Frisella was so revered in San Mateo County that the baseball diamond at Serra High, where he starred in the early 1960s, bears his name. It was a mixed blessing for Dan, who could make light of it one day, then agonize about it another day.

“It’s always been neat to have my dad’s name – my name – at Serra, something I’ll always be proud of,” Frisella said. “If a high school coach yells to me, ‘Get off my field!’ I’d go, ‘Really? Sure about that? Whose name?’”

Frisella envied teammates who had fathers. Pam Frisella, who never remarried, remains active politically in the Bay Area, and she enjoys parading around Frisella’s three young children during visits.

“Mom was always a hero,” Frisella said. “She made us feel special, worked twice as hard to fill that void of not having a father. She’s kept our dad’s memory alive.”

Frisella said athletics taught him valuable lessons beyond teamwork. He learned that quitting is the easy way out.

“Later in high school, I got frustrated with sports,” Frisella said. “I quit varsity baseball and didn’t play basketball. Those are the only two real regrets in my life. Maybe having a dad around, he would have helped. I learned later.”

Before he got into administration, Frisella spent four years as an Outward Bound instructor, heading trips that lasted up to 22 days in Oregon, teaching whitewater kayaking, rock climbing and mountaineering. The focus was on character, education, teammates and perseverance. His father’s spirit was a constant companion.

“Sports, or any activity, can teach so much,” Frisella said. “Learning to work together, to celebrate together, to pick each other up together. I’ve learned that. And Tommy has that.”

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