Tom Brady made his return from his Deflategate suspension Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Patriots fans are obviously relieved and elated.
Andover native Jay Flannelly will have more powerful emotions than most. He’s been Brady’s friend since the quarterback was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan.
“Tommy came out here (University of Michigan) in 1995,” explained Flannelly, 44, a 1990 Andover High graduate who has lived in Ann Arbor for most of his adult life. “My first roommate here was Jason Carr (son of then head coach Lloyd Carr). Jason was a senior quarterback. We kind of adopted him. He was always asking questions. We just hit it off from Day 1.”
Brady’s rise from relatively lightly recruited quarterback, to his up-and-down career at Michigan, to sixth-round draft pick to NFL legend has been well-chronicled.
Flannelly, who assisted the Michigan football program from 1993-99, has been there every step of the way.
“I’m the rare person who’s seen every ball he’s thrown since college,” he says proudly.
Talk to anyone about Flannelly, and the first response is usually a laugh and a remark like, “Boy, what a character.”
He said, “I’m really intense. It’s the Super Bowl every day.”
Saved his life
The wise-cracking sports nut with all the one-liners turns serious when asked about Brady.
He recently opened up about why Brady is so important to him.
“I was addicted to painkillers,” he began. “I injured my shoulder in high school. I had a bunch of operations in college. I just got messed up in 2002 and 2003. I almost died. I was taking 75 Vicodins a day. It wasn’t a good situation. I was dying.”
He said he was living with his grandparents in Melrose until May of 2002, then moved back to Ann Arbor but Brady made sure to keep tabs on him.
Flannelly said, “Tommy was checking on me 24-7, being a good friend. He’d say, ‘Beav, I love you. You’ll be OK.’
“He was always looking out for me. I honestly would have died if not for him. I needed a reason to live.
“I thought, ‘I can’t die. I can’t let Tommy down.’ Now I’ve been clean for almost 14 years.”
Everybody calls Flannelly “The Beav.”
That was the nickname he was given in elementary school by Andover High track coach Peter Comeau, who was then a young camp counselor.
“He comes over and says, ‘You look like 'Leave it to Beaver.' You are in the middle of everything.”
Every week “The Beav” texts or e-mails Brady with his thoughts on the upcoming opponent. That’s been the case since Flannelly worked as an intern at the NFL Draft.
“He didn’t know the Patriots that well,” said Flannelly. “I gave him a scouting report on the team. (Since then) I’ve sent him a scouting report every week.”
What’s the message this week for the Browns?
Flannelly said, “I’m proud of you. Play your game. Do your job. Make these idiots pay: the haters, the NFL, ESPN.”
He added, “I know how to push his buttons. He needs someone who understands his process.”
What are his expectations for today?
He said, “Throw for 350 yards, 3-4 touchdowns and no interceptions. After Joe Haden, they don’t have a lot of corners. They’ll attack with three wides (receivers) and Gronk (Rob Gronkowski).”
Flannelly said he might attend an away game or two but usually doesn’t go to Foxboro. He takes the Patriot games seriously.
He said, “I hate the games because the other team is trying to kill my friend. If he fails, I failed him. The AFC championship (loss to the Broncos) I had the worst scouting report.”
Many outside the Midwest don’t realize how difficult it is to get into University of Michigan. Obviously, it’s different for a recruited Division 1 athlete and for Michigan residents. But for a Massachusetts kid like Flannelly, it’s similar to getting into an Ivy League school.
This being The Beav, there is always a story.
He was friends with teammate Joe Marinaro, a high school All-American lineman who ended up starring at Michigan. Marinaro was being recruited tirelessly by Wolverine assistant Cam Cameron.
“(Andover coach Dick Collins) said to Coach Cameron, ‘You have to talk to Flannelly, he’s the biggest Michigan fan,” Flannelly recalled.
Cameron got a kick out of the colorful Flannelly, who had strong grades but not Michigan grades. So he went to St. John’s University in New York, got the 3.0 GPA Cameron said he’d need, and eventually used the Cameron and Marinaro connections to get into Michigan.
“It was all basically because of Joe” Marinaro, who was a senior captain Brady’s freshman year at Michigan, said Flannelly. “And I told him to go to Florida State!”
“Everybody knows (Jay),” said the Andover Hall of Famer Marinaro, who now lives in Windham. “He’s a legend. Tom really likes him. Tom’s a loyal guy and he’s been loyal to him. I think there’s a respect from Tom. Jay is fiercely loyal to Michigan athletics.
“He’s ingrained himself into the community, going back to when I was there. He’s just really loyal to the players and they appreciate him. Same with at Andover.”
'Beav' the celeb
Flannelly’s well known among Michigan fans and has gained some national attention due to his relationship with Brady. It took off during the drawn out Deflategate controversy.
He’s been quoted in ESPN.com, Sports Illustrated, the Providence Journal and all the Michigan papers and did a couple memorable guest spots on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” radio show.
“I haven’t had a day of rest since last August,” he said, sounding like a Hollywood celebrity.
The Flannelly-Brady story is compelling for the contrasts. Brady is the fabulously wealthy, hunky Hall of Fame QB with the super model wife. Flannelly is the bald, bachelor, every man, former benchwarmer, dishwasher.
“I really liked being a dishwasher,” said Flannelly, who did it for eight years.
These days he says he’s busy.
“I work at Pizza House, the biggest restaurant in Ann Arbor,” he said. “I’m special assistant to the owners. I’m in charge of filling the place.”
He also works at Mo’s Sports Shop in Ann Arbor and writes a blog about the New York Mets (tomseaverfan.com).
Sometimes with the Beav, it’s hard to separate myth from reality.
New York Times best-selling author John U. Bacon is one of the top chroniclers of Michigan football. In his recently published book “Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football” and subsequent interviews he lets you know Flannelly’s impact is very real.
Real enough to deliver “savior” coach Jim Harbaugh.
Flannelly said, “I got them Harbaugh.”
That’s not an exaggeration. Michigan failed to land Harbaugh a few years back and the word was he didn’t think the school had been “all in.”
This might be the school’s last chance. They had to woo him to the Nth degree. They needed Brady.
Bacon wrote in thepostgame.com, “Should they go through Brady’s team, his publicist, his agent? No, it turned out the best way to get to Tom Brady was through a 43-year-old dishwasher named Jay Flannelly, aka The Beav.”
Flannelly got Brady to get in touch with the San Francisco 49ers head coach Harbaugh. The two former Michigan quarterbacks had a long talk which helped seal the deal.
But it took more than Brady. They wanted a who’s who of Wolverine greats in Harbaugh’s ear. How would they do it?
Bacon wrote, “Former Harbaugh teammate John Ghindia told me, ‘We knew we had to call The Beav.’”
Harbaugh friend Todd Anson was surprised that Brady would be making the call to Harbaugh.
Bacon wrote, “Anson says, ‘How the hell did you do that?’ Ghindia said, ‘Never underestimate the Beav!’”
Bacon wrote, “More than once Anson told me told me: ‘We reflected on the fact that the pipeline to Tom Brady was a dishwasher called The Beav.”
Follow Michael Muldoon on Twitter at @MullyET.