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Bruce Arians knew Tom Brady was ‘missing ingredient’ to Buccaneers’ championship

TAMPA, FLA. — Bruce Arians was on a mission. As giant cannons blew confetti into the night sky Sunday, and the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrated the second Super Bowl victory in club history, the Gatorade-soaked coach went looking for his quarterback.

Arians found Tom Brady, threw his arms around him, and reminded him of a shared premonition they had months earlier.

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“We talked about this in our first conversation,” the coach shouted over the delirium. “We talked about winning the Super Bowl.”

Arians recalled the moment Monday morning, hours after his team upset the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, on the NFL’s biggest stage. He sat with a reporter in the living room of his Tampa home, recounting the dizzying excitement of navigating this bizarre and historic season, and helping the greatest quarterback in league history secure his seventh Super Bowl ring.

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“I told Tom, ‘If you come here, we’ll win the Super Bowl. You’re the missing ingredient. We’re a very talented team, but they just don’t know it,’ " Arians said of the multi-team courting process that captivated the sports world and ended last March with Tampa Bay winning the Brady sweepstakes.

Not surprisingly, the meticulous Brady had done his homework.

“We started the free-agency process, and he knew every player on our team,” Arians said. “He knew everything about us. I’m trying to do the sales pitch, ‘Hey, Florida’s great, it’s warm, no taxes. And we do have [receivers] Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, all these guys.

“And he said, ‘Hey, I think Gronk might want to come out of retirement,’ " Arians recalled, referring to All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who caught two of Brady’s three touchdown passes Sunday night. “I said, ‘Let’s get you signed up first and then we’ll work on that one.’ It was just a constant collaboration. That getting to know each other and that growing process is just so much fun.”

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Brady and Gronkowski were coming from the buttoned-down world of New England, where the seemingly robotic and ruthlessly efficient “Patriots Way” ethos resulted in nine Super Bowl appearances for the quarterback and six Lombardi Trophies.

Like the untucked and typically easygoing Arians, the Buccaneers send off a more relaxed vibe.

“You’ve got to be super involved as a coach, but with him it’s not about Xs and O’s,” Arians said. “It’s making sure he’s comfortable and feels good about the game plan and work week. He’d text me and say, ‘Do you mind if I don’t throw Wednesday?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I don’t care.’

“I’d ask him, ‘Do you want to take mental reps or do you just want to sit back?’ He’d say, ‘I just need to sit back.’ And we did that two or three times during the season.”

Clearly, Brady grew to appreciate that.

“Early on,” Arians continued, “I’d say, ‘Hey, are you taking a day off?’ And he’d say, ‘This will be the last day I ever take off.’ But after a while it was like, ‘Do you mind if I take off Wednesday?’ "

Soon, the other new additions to the team caught on.

“Even with Gronk I’d say, ‘Dude, you’re not practicing on Wednesdays. I need you on Sunday. I don’t need you on Thursday,’ " Arians said. “And he was like, ‘Oh, man, I’ll be fresh. I’ll be like, super.’ I told him that if he ever needed a day off, he should just let me know. Because he never had days off before.”

Now the newly crowned NFL champions have lots of days off. Arians spent the first morning of his offseason watching his three young grandchildren — Asher, Mills, and Brylee — play in the front yard. He did the same thing on Super Bowl Sunday, tossing them the football, pushing them in a swing, as neighbors passed in amazement.

Here was the legendary coach — instantly identifiable in his red Kangol cap — walking around the front yard and living it up with some little kids. On the biggest day of his career.

“Grandpa duties are way, way more important than coaching duties,” said Arians, who at 68 is the oldest coach to win a Super Bowl. “Asher kept saying, ‘Let’s go outside and play. Let’s go.’ "

The two boys, ages 3 1/2 and nearly 2, are the sons of Arians’ daughter, Kristi, and her husband, Blake, and they live in Birmingham, Ala. The coach reluctantly helped them into a waiting Sprinter van, hanging on to the boys for one last hug.

“I didn’t want to start crying, because I miss them already,” Arians said a few minutes after the van pulled away. “So to be able to go outside in the yard and play with them … We’ll be up there soon because Mills’ second birthday is coming up.”

About 40 of Arians’ family members and friends were in town for the game, and Arians’ son, Jake, was in charge of making sure everyone was situated and got to their hotels and Raymond James Stadium. He took all the off-the-field responsibilities off his dad’s plate, including making sure everyone was on board for Sunday’s police escort to the stadium.

“We had a caravan with four police motorcycle officers as escorts,” said Jake, a onetime NFL kicker who now is president of the family foundation. “We were going the wrong way down roads, everything. But we get to a two-lane road that’s next to the stadium that’s packed. The motorcycle guys go down the center lane and start pointing in both directions. They’re riding with their hands off the handlebars, and cars start pulling off the road into people’s front yards.”

The NFL’s showcase game is big anywhere, but especially in Tampa, as the Buccaneers are the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl on its home field. Before this season, the club had slogged through years of futility, making just two one-and-done postseason appearances since winning the Lombardi Trophy in the 2002 season.

“It’s a really interesting fan base,” Jake said. “They want it so bad, but they’re scared to get excited because they’ve been let down so many times. It permeates Twitter, and all the people you talk to. Even as we were making this run, they still didn’t believe it until we really got to the Super Bowl. Then it was, ‘OK, we’re in, but can we beat the Chiefs to win this thing?’ "

One person never had a doubt. Kay Arians, the 95-year-old mother of the coach, made the trip for the game. The Glazer family, which owns the Buccaneers, sent a private plane to retrieve “Gram” and other Arians family members from Hanover, Pa.

“She got on television, so she’s the queen,” said Bruce Arians, who worked as a color analyst for CBS after retiring from the Arizona Cardinals and before taking the Tampa Bay job. “Jim Nantz made sure they got her on, so it was really cool. Before the game, she told me she was proud of me and kept saying, ‘Chiefs are going down. Chiefs are going down.’ I said, ‘Yep, they’re going down, Mom.’ "

During pregame, Arians felt a knot forming in his throat when he looked up at the box in which his family was sitting.

“They were going crazy, holding the babies up and waving to me down on the field,” he said, his eyes watery. “I always blow my wife a kiss before the game. That was so special. Finding my sister and my brothers in their seats, my mom. I knew everybody was safe and ready to go, and I could just relax and go coach.”

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Of course, Arians knew better than to exhale, especially considering the way Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes has brought his team back from the dead before. It wasn’t until Tampa Bay’s Devin White intercepted a Mahomes pass with 1 minute, 40 seconds remaining that the Buccaneers coach could finally unclench.

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“It’s never over until it’s over,” he said. “But when Devin got the pick, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s over now.’ I turned and looked up [into the family box] and it was a great feeling.”

Around that time, his players doused him with a big jug of sports drink.

“As a head coach, you always dream of that Gatorade bath,” he said. “That was cold as hell, but probably one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve ever had. I never had one of those before; I dodged one of them when I was at Temple.”

The remnants linger.

“It was blue,” he said. “It was all over a lot of peoples’ clothes. I was soaking wet up there on the podium.”

Particularly satisfying to Arians was the Buccaneers pulled this off in a pandemic season in which they had to find new ways to grow together.

“The relationships on this team, this has been an amazing year,” he said. “Not being able to eat together and really socialize together. This team became so, so close with just the commitment they made to beat the virus so that they’d all be available.

“That was our first goal. We said, ‘If we beat the virus, we can beat anybody.’ The team that doesn’t, they don’t have a chance. We had two minor, crazy cases where no one even knows how they got it. I think that bonded our guys.

“They can’t sit around a lunch table to get to know each other. I’m not sure Gronk knows everybody’s name. But they’re all bonded.”

There were some scares, including one two days before the game.

“Friday night I get a text from our trainers that Mike Edwards tested positive,” Arians said, referring to a Buccaneers defensive back, “and we were already down two safeties.”

Whoops! False alarm.

“It was Mike Edwards Sr.,” the coach said. “They didn’t check the birthday. I said, ‘Oh, thanks. I didn’t get any sleep.’ "

This summer, Arians and his wife, Christine, will celebrate their 50th anniversary. She wasn’t sure he should coach this season, and wanted him to seriously consider the coronavirus opt-out.

Arians, who is now vaccinated, convinced her he would be extra careful.

“I went to work, came home,” he said. “We haven’t gone out to dinner since July. We have all these open-air restaurants here, but I just couldn’t risk it. Both of us are high risk.

“Some people said, ‘Dad, you need to opt out this year,’ and I was like, `’No way. I’ll risk it. It’s going to be a magical year.’ "

Father knows best.

___

(c)2021 the Los Angeles Times

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