REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – The Fresenius 2008K, a dialysis machine standing in spin station No. 2 on the medical center’s open floor, monitors the blood pressure of Tom Martinez, the mechanical muse of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. His reading, tracked through a cuff wrapped around the right biceps, is 99 over 68. His legs, propped by a pillow, lie on the leg rest of a recliner. Two tubes, attached to needles, cycle blood from veins in his left forearm to a pump. Toxins are removed; filtered blood streams back in.
“God bless this system because it’s keeping me alive,” he says. “But how would you like to sit in a chair for 12 hours a week, not allowed to move your arms?”
Martinez, a retired coach with Type II diabetes and suffering through continuous kidney issues, is in his fourth year of dialysis treatment.
He goes three times per week because he cannot urinate due to his kidney’s failing functions. His heart is weak. Bruises, abrasions and Band-Aids dot his skin. On his right calf is a pressure ulcer. He is on blood thinners, likens his skin’s dryness to that of a lizard and insists he won’t undergo high-risk transplant surgery if it means losing a leg. He weighs 228 pounds.
“I look like I was in a fight with a razor blade,” he says.
His condition – he was given a week to live by a doctor in June – has not kept him from coaching. On Sept. 3, nine days before the Patriots’ season opener, Brady, experiencing an accuracy crisis, called Martinez at his home in Menlo Park, Calif. Unable to control the ball coming out of his hand, Brady requested Martinez visit, observe and critique.
The accommodations – cross-country flight, room at the Four Seasons – would be the same as always. There was one addition. Martinez needed a site for his dialysis Monday night.
“I’ll make it happen,” said Brady, his pupil of 21 years.
Martinez, 66, and his wife of 46 years, Olivia, made the trip.
Martinez immediately recognized correctible motions, noting one misstep to polish during practice, then further fine-tuned his form in a film session, which was followed by throwing in the team’s bubble. Satisfied with the improved stride and release, Martinez boarded a flight back to San Francisco Tuesday morning. Brady, meanwhile, threw for 517 yards, a team record, and four touchdowns in the season opener against Miami. Martinez watched on his flat-screen television.
“Without him I’m just another Coke can,” says Martinez, who also made an on-demand Christmas week visit in 2007 before Brady completed 26 of 28 passes to set a playoff completion percentage record. “He legitimizes me.”
Brady’s father, Tom Sr., reverses the appraisal.
“Without Tom Martinez there sure as heck is no Tom Brady,” he says.
Martinez, possessed with a pointillist’s appreciation for precision, pushed Brady from prepubescent awkwardness at Juniperro Serra High in San Mateo past his status as a sixth-round selection in the NFL draft and into a wildly successful career in New England.
Martinez streamlined his delivery, demanded devotion and installed an aptitude inside Brady that attracted aspiring quarterbacks, through camps and clinics, to seek his counsel. In between, his health slipped, then crashed into its current state of distress.
“I love him,” Brady says. “He’s just a special person to me, and always will be.”
The coach’s pursuit of mastery led him down sidelines and into dugouts. At one time, Martinez carried out the responsibilities of three men while coaching two sexes. Hired at San Mateo, a junior college in the San Francisco peninsula’s foothills, to fill in for a female staff member leaving on sabbatical, he stayed 32 years, collecting 1,400 wins across football, women’s basketball and softball. His offenses moved menacingly, once registering 808 yards (606 in the air) during a 62-56 shootout victory. He gained enough recognition as a throwing technician to attract prospects like Brady for private sessions.
“Did he ever go home?” says Steve Schafer, who helped hire him at San Mateo.
Recruiting the prep landscape, placing current players at higher levels and organizing camps for underprivileged kids swallowed his time and ate at his health. He was exposed to the beating Bay Area sun each season, missed meals and downed too many Diet Cokes in between late sessions diagramming plays. The drive that enabled such success also impaired his ability to ascend further. Invited to interview under Mike Holmgren with the Green Bay Packers, Martinez was too ill to travel in the ’90s.
“I still wanted to go,” he says. “My wife and doctor grounded me.”
Little is sugarcoated now. Dr. Louise Alvarez, his nephrologist, bends deeply at the knees and looks Martinez, still seated, in the eyes.
They discuss his recent rejection for a kidney transplant at UCLA, alternate hospitals like Johns Hopkins to contact and decisions regarding the risk of dying on the surgeon’s table.
“You were already told you weren’t going to make it,” Alvarez says. “Don’t lose faith.”
Martinez, eyes glassy, nods as a patient tech withdraws the needles from his vein and tapes a piece of gauze over the discoloration. He addresses Martinez as “Coach.”
“I’ve been taught to be a fighter all my life,” says Martinez, growing emotional. “I’m a riverboat gambler. I don’t care what the numbers say.”
* * *
He learned to throw in a cement schoolyard eight blocks up from Golden Gate Park in San Francisco’s Sunset District. The game, called Strike Outs, required leftover balls from the local tennis center and a wooden or plastic stick as a bat. Blessed with velocity, Martinez, the youngest there, lacked accuracy throwing into a square painted on a brick wall. Counterparts roughed him up physically for his failings.
“They made me cry many times,” he says. “They beat the —- out of me.”
His father, Albert, a city postal worker making $90 per week, offered an ultimatum. Toughen up or take care of chores at home. Martinez, motivated to avoid the alternative, visited the wall when others left in order to sync his overhand motion. In time, he fought back with a physicality that demanded respect. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, he rounded into an all-city quarterback and two-term class president for Polytechnic High.
“The environment made you a warrior,” he says.
Accountability was non-negotiable to his father. When trying to sell his ’48 Plymouth, Martinez accepted an offer of $200 from an inquiring customer. While the buyer went to get money for the purchase, however, another man said he would pay $300 for the same car. Martinez, seeing an opportunity to pad his profit, accepted the higher bid. His father, sitting nearby, overheard both conversations. He confronted his son.
“If you’re not going to be a man of your word, then I want you to change your last name,” he said.
Discipline coursed through his veins. At 21, his first coaching job came with Jefferson High, just outside the city limits. He felt challenged by players, the majority from rough-and-tumble backgrounds, and grabbed combative teens by the collar.
Practice was primordial. One day a player approached after an evening session.
“Coach, can I miss practice tomorrow?” the player asked.
“No,” Martinez said. “You have to be here.”
“Well,” the player said. “My mom died.”
“Oh, man. Way more important,” Martinez said. “Excuse me. Go.”
Martinez winces at the memory.
“I was all full of piss and vinegar then,” he says.
He recognized fear in freshmen. To the coach, young players wore “yellow socks.”
“I’d tell them once they’re done p—ing their pants they can take off the yellow socks and get comfortable to move on to the next thing,” he says.
His young women saw no different.
“I never had one woman stand up and say they wanted to be coached as a woman,” he says. “If you want to be coached as a woman, there are hugs. If you want to be coached as an athlete, there are kicks in the butts, too. I treated them as athletes.”
No matter the makeup, Martinez relished re-tooling techniques. He taught mathematics, bucked long-held beliefs regarding biomechanics and sought to better understand balance. From the feet up, he questioned methods taught in clinics, trained his attention on minutiae and restricted the stride Brady made with his left foot to six inches. The toes, he insisted, need not point toward the intended mark. Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis credits Martinez for Brady’s exceptional footwork.
“Throwing correctly is a difficult motion,” Brady says. “In order to be accurate it takes a lot of steps. He sees all those things. He never misses any.”
There was always a target, be it hairline, shoulder or chinstrap. For the ball to land in body range of a receiver was not enough. He taught release points, insisting the quarterback’s arm travel within the Sagittal plane – from overhead and down vertically – like a dart thrower. He likened the yanking motion while receiving the snap to starting a lawn mower. Martinez demanded exactness, grading strictly (Brady’s initial mark was a C+) yet reinforcing with what Brady’s father calls “incredulous amounts of support.”
Brady parlayed the 25 cents into a priceless resource, while Martinez watched Russell sink in Oakland from across the San Francisco Bay. In the hours after the Patriots fell to the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, a 34-31 loss during which Brady threw four interceptions, Brady sent him a text message. Martinez composed a reply the next day:
I didn’t get to see the second half of the game. I was coaching some high school quarterbacks. I recorded the game so I will see it tomorrow. Let it go. Don’t change or overthink. You have GREAT judgment …
Brady exchanges thoughts with him each Monday and maintains a folder of Martinez’s terse reminders on his Blackberry.
Keep your elbow high … Throw it down the hall … Keep your hips closed
“I keep them handy,” Brady says. “I read them when I’m in elevators or stuck in traffic, on bus rides. I value every word.”
For all Martinez has lost due to health, his toughness is intact. His eyes alight when his iPhone rings. The tone pulses to the tune of “Bad to the Bone.” He talks to a local high school coach about his team, offers a few goal-line plays and ends with advice.
“There’s gotta be pain, agony.”
* * *
Situated among the broadband boom of Silicon Valley, Martinez, soon to be neighbors with the new Facebook campus under construction in Menlo Park, took to the social networking website to inform friends and former players of his imminent death in June. He dictated a chilling message to his daughter, Linda Martinez Haley, at his house:
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to teach and coach you all and I ask that you take one or two of my life lessons and pass them on to your family and friends and that will keep me alive forever…
In came messages, emails, pokes and chat invitations. His iPhone’s inbox flooded with well wishes. Family flew in. Casserole dishes and desserts were delivered beneath the canopy path leading to his loose-gravel driveway. One night, around 10 o’clock, Dan Ford and his son, Nate, a Martinez pupil, drove 370 miles from Los Angeles. The Fords offered their kidneys to the coach.
“Golly, what a gesture,” Martinez’s wife says.
His sustained discomfort stemmed from heart issues, too. He had a pacemaker inserted last winter, felt reinvigorated and traveled the country conducting clinics and choreographing pre-draft workouts for NFL prospects. When his doctor upgraded to a newer version of the device, Martinez’s condition worsened. Suddenly sapped of energy, he struggled to breathe and moved more slowly. Unable to walk short stretches, he visited with a specialist at Stanford who recommended turning off the Pacemaker.
“It was death by mechanics,” he says. “What was meant to help actually hurt.”
He walked out of the office that day capable of moving without a walker or wheelchair. His wife watched as he got out of the car and made his way sans support. Once settled, he explored options for a transplant locally. Already registered with MatchingDonors.com, he received treatment for his heart at UCLA’s cardiac center, dropping 47 pounds of fluid through dialysis in 16 days. His health improved, but when he arrived for orientation in the kidney transplant program, he was denied clearance.
“Heartbreaking,” he says. “All you want is a chance.”
Failing health was familiar to his wife and three children. In 2008, death first served notice to him. He fell into a coma when antibiotics for an infection caused his body to “freak out.” He awoke nine days later and went on dialysis. He’s suffered a collapsed lung, fought weight fluctuations and recovered in time. He maintains optimism.
“I want my wife to have her life back, too,” says Martinez, who first met the former head cheerleader on a blind date in North Beach on Valentine’s Day 1965. “I don’t want my death watch to wind up like the coverage of Brett Favre’s retirement.”
The only other women he devoted time to were his players. At the College of San Mateo, his legacy looms by the softball field – the highest playing surface on campus – and overlooks the valley. There, a monument in his honor stands behind the third base dugout. It’s an outsize softball, raised red stitching and all, atop a stone base with a plaque fixed to it honoring “thousands of lives he has touched.”
“Football was my notoriety,” he says. “They hired me for softball and women’s basketball, but the athletics director at the time told me just get through the women’s sports. We’re really hiring you for football. I said, ‘Do you have a son and daughter? I coach every kid the same.’ Tough love with a kick in the booty when appropriate.”
At a recent hall of fame reception, he addressed them.
“If I realized you were going to be so good-looking I would have treated you better,” he said.
One girl, Tracy Shea Montserrat, now a mother of 11-year-old twins and a 31/2-year-old daughter, engaged him on Facebook.
I know it’s been a while … but I want to thank you for not only teaching me about how to be a better softball player, but also how to be a better person. You taught lessons about life, and although it was hard to see them back in the day, I realize it all now. Tough love…
* * *
He lives in a ranch-style house on a half-acre plot with a pool out back and 28 fruit trees by the fence. Inside, across from the bar in the annex, there are three jerseys, autographed and encased in glass, hanging on the back wall. The names on the back are Elway, Montana and Brady, his holy trinity of high releasers.
“In Boston, Brady’s bigger than Montana ever was here,” Martinez says.
Down a hallway, there is a series of photographs taken with Brady and Patriots receiver Deion Branch. One stands out in the bottom right corner. It features New England coach Bill Belichick, wearing a gray hoodie and growing smile, sometime after his third Super Bowl, holding all three Lombardi Trophies in his hands. The personalized message, scribbled in silver marker, speaks to Martinez’s influence in Foxborough, Mass.
Thanks for your help.
Best wishes always,
Brady, bred from a relatively unknown background to lasting stardom, trusts few; Belichick opens his doors to less. Martinez remembers a friend asking why Belichick allows him in the circle, visiting Gillette Stadium as what Belichick considers a “regular” during the preseason or on a bye week.
“Coach Belichick has always been receptive,” Brady says. “Look, I learned to throw the football from the man and I’m extremely comfortable with him. It’s been the right fit. Coach really understood as well.”
Lasting links continue to be forged. Martinez met Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, two summers ago. With his wife in attendance to watch her husband’s throwing session at UCLA, Brady made sure to introduce the muse and the supermodel, his foremost influences.
In bed with Bundchen when he learned of Martinez’s mid-June diagnosis, Brady was overcome with melancholy. One week earlier, the two met to work out at an indoor facility in nearby San Carlo. During one drill, Martinez, out of the hospital just 24 hours, sat in a wheelchair until Brady continued to repeat the same error. Martinez rose up to demonstrate what Brady failed to do and stood behind him to ensure proper spacing.
“He doesn’t move around as well, but you can’t keep him down,” Brady says. “Twenty minutes later I threw significantly better.”
They welcomed a new member to the inner circle when Martinez visited in September. Paul Dooley, co-founder of MatchingDonors.com, a non-profit company connecting donors with Martinez, came from his office in Canton, Mass., 10 miles northwest of One Patriots Place. He stood to the side as Brady progressed through drills.
“How’s this look, coach?” Brady asked, dropping back.
“Quicker!” Martinez said.
“Will do, Coach,” Brady said.
“He was like a 14-year-old trying to impress his Pop Warner coach,” Dooley says.
The maven and two-time Super Bowl MVP are always together on Martinez’s phone screen, captured by a camera at one of their countless UCLA workouts. He flicks on the phone to reveal the photograph of him with Brady and wideout Wes Welker.
“I think Tommy will be calling again soon,” he says. “Just a feeling I have.”
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