Conference calls with out-of-town quarterbacks typically are filled with platitudes about how every game is important and how each week must be treated like any other.
Tom Brady, however, made it clear Sunday’s game is special.
The New England Patriots’ quarterback, who grew up in San Mateo waving foam fingers at Candlestick Park and “banging pots and pans on the El Camino” when the 49ers won Super Bowls, will play his hometown team on its turf for the first time in his 17-year career. The only other time New England visited over that span was 2008, when Brady was out because of a knee injury and Matt Cassel started in his place.
“I’ve never had a chance to play in front of my family like this,” Brady said on a conference call Wednesday. “I’ve never had the chance to play in front of my friends. Growing up in the Bay Area and loving football, that was a great time for me to grow up and see the success of the 49ers and the great quarterbacks – Steve (Young) and Joe (Montana) – and what they were able to do. I was lucky to grow up in the Bay Area at that time.”
His homecoming means Brady, 39, had to procure a lot of tickets – “more than ever,” he said – for all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, coaches and boyhood pals who want to see him play in person.
“I’m happy to do it,” he said. “I may never get the opportunity again. So it’s nice to have all the support. And I’ve had a lot (of support) from the Bay Area over the years, my high school, my elementary schools. I still have so many friends from growing up.”
Brady described his boyhood self not as a someone who merely followed the 49ers but as a breathless superfan, or in his words “part of the 49er faithful.”
He said the 49ers were all he and his friends ever talked about. His mother took him out of school so he could attend Super Bowl rallies in the city. He had a poster of Jerry Rice on his bedroom wall. He once dressed up as Montana for Halloween.
He’s also one of the 69,000 or so who can claim to have witnessed the franchise’s defining moment, The Catch, in the 1981 playoffs, although it wasn’t a particularly proud moment for the 4-year-old Brady, who badly wanted a foam finger and made sure everyone within 10 rows knew it.
“I cried the entire first half,” he said. “Finally my dad bought me one to shut me up for the second half.”
Brady said the whining returned late in the fourth quarter “when everyone jumped up and screamed at the end after Dwight (Clark) made the catch. Yeah, I still have those memories.”
Brady said he worshiped players such as Montana, Young, Roger Craig, Tom Rathman and John Taylor, many of whom will be on hand Sunday when former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo is recognized at halftime for his recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I didn’t know that,” Brady said when told of the event. “If I ever have a chance to say hi to those guys, I always take the opportunity because those are my idols. I loved all those 49ers.”
Of course, there aren’t as many hard-core 49ers fans in Brady’s circle as there used to be.
He had a workout with San Francisco before the 2000 draft, but the 49ers weren’t impressed with the thin-framed passer from the Michigan. Instead, they selected Gio Carmazzi in the third round and Tim Rattay in the seventh.
Carmazzi, who played at Jesuit High School, never took a regular-season snap in the NFL. Rattay played six seasons in San Francisco, starting 16 games, and is now the quarterbacks coach at Louisiana Tech.
At one time, Brady seethed over the snub. And now?
“Different things have motivated me at different times,” said Brady, who was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round. “Yeah, I’ll never forget I worked out for the 49ers when I was coming out in 2000. They obviously went in a different direction. And, I mean, I’m very happy where I ended up. And I think I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”