He has become a big-time celebrity, of course, complete with the beautiful celebrity wife, and he lives in a fairy-tale world.
And somewhere along the way, he seemed to morph into some grownup version of teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, complete with the inexplicable hair, to the point that sometimes it seems as if he descends from some parallel universe to play for the New England Patriots before jetting off to places where the rich and famous breathe the rarefied air with each other.
Do we really know Tom Brady anymore?
Which is why Tuesday night's hour-long ESPN program on Brady was so interesting, not only for what it said about Brady, but also for what it says about the NFL.
It is part of the network's series on quarterbacks, and what better place to start than with someone who was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, someone who defied all the odds, a story that's stranger than fiction?
What better place to start than with a guy who cries on camera when he talks about that draft day in 2000 as he sat with his parents back in California and watched name after name being called out?
Because what comes through, with all the subtlety of a blindside sack, is that in his heart of hearts, he's a football player, always has been a football player. Not a celebrity. Not a fashion statement.
A football player.
So we hear from his father, who says they always used to go to 49ers games when Tom was just a kid. We hear Brady say he was never a football prodigy, was the backup quarterback on his freshman team, always was a better prospect as a baseball player.
We hear him say there were seven quarterbacks on the depth chart when he got to Michigan, how his career there always was an uphill climb.
The point is, he never was the can't-miss stud, never was someone who had pro scouts salivating. He was always viewed as too slow, not athletic enough -- a marginal pro prospect at best. So at the NFL Combine, see him as a skinny kid who looked as if someone might kick sand at him on the beach. We see him run with not a whole lot of speed.
But one thing that comes through the ESPN documentary is his confidence.
He always believed that he could play, no matter what level he was at. Always had an unwavering belief in himself, no matter what others thought. In a sense, that became his fuel. He would prove everyone wrong. All the NFL scouts. All the draftniks. All of them.
So one of the first things he did as a Patriot was approach owner Robert Kraft.
"I'm Tom Brady and I'm the best decision you ever made," he said.
Or something like that.
A year later, he told one of his college teammates he was going to beat out Drew Bledsoe as the starting quarterback. That was the year Bledsoe got hurt against the Jets. Brady came in and the rest is history.
So how did all this happen?
How did the 199th player in the 2000 Draft go on to become TOM BRADY?
How was everyone so wrong?
Makes you wonder.
As if all the scouting and all the interviews, all the research spent on evaluating prospects failed when it came to Brady.
Part of that, certainly, is the obsession with physical gifts, the assumption that the only traits that matter are size and speed and athletic ability. Brady's talents are the antithesis of that. But there's no question that by the time Brady got his chance in New England, he understood how to play quarterback in the NFL, ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
But the lasting image in the ESPN documentary?
Brady tears up as he talks about draft day in 2000, and we're not used to seeing our sports superstars crying on camera, as if it seems to fly in the face of the macho world in which Brady makes his living.
There's no crying in football, right?
But he does cry, and it only reinforces the notion that beneath all the celebrity that's become his life, that maybe we really do know Tom Brady after all.
It happens near the end of the documentary, Brady talking about draft day. He is talking about sitting there with his parents as he saw his dream of playing in the NFL seemingly die a little more with each passing pick. And as he talked, he started to tear up, and he was talking about his parents and how invested they, too, were in his career, and how devastating it was for all of them.
And in that one scene, it's all there: Brady's passion, his heart, his incredible drive -- all of it.
It's the memory of that long-ago day, the memory of which still hurts after all these years and all this success. As if at some subliminal level, that's still the fuel that drives him. That even to this day, after all the celebrity and all the unimaginable success, Tom Brady is still the kid who is going to prove it to everybody.