From 1992 until 2001 Terry Bradway has been in an AFC East front office, where his teams have been in the unenviable position of playing Brady’s Patriots twice a year. Bradway’s former team, the New York Jets, won the AFC East in 2002. His current team, the Miami Dolphins, won it in 2008 when Brady missed nearly the entire season and Bradway was still with the Jets. Every other year since 2001, the Patriots have won the division, advancing to eight Super Bowls and winning five of them.
How do you compete with that? It seems a near-hopeless endeavor. But while Bradway says wins and losses aren’t e
verything, he’s now long been tasked with helping build a team that’s capable of toppling the NFL’s most powerful dynasty. By the time you read this, he’ll be in the midst of witnessing whether or not the team he’s helped assemble in his 18th AFC East season can be just the third to get the job done. And hey, if this isn’t the year, there has to be some comfort in knowing 2017’s MVP Tom Brady will eventually decline and retire. Won’t he?
“I used to hate him, and now I just respect him,” says Bradway of Brady. “It’s amazing what they’ve been able to do. At some point in time it’s got to change, I guess. But it hasn’t changed yet. And you look at us, you look at Buffalo, you look at the Jets, and I think there are three teams moving in the right direction, but how far they can go remains to be seen.”
Unless one retires long before the other (unlikely), there will always be questions as to who was more integral to the Patriots’ success: Brady or Head Coach Bill Belichick. For Bradway’s part, he has “the utmost respect” for Belichick, whom he worked with for six years during his first NFL stop as a scout for the New York Giants, where the pair were twice crowned Super Bowl champions. The second time was an upset victory with backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler under center. It’s a story that sounds all too familiar to Eagles fans in 2018.
A native of Absecon, N.J., Bradway grew up an Eagles fan himself. However, it was another, now largely forgotten Philadelphia football team that gave him his first start working in a front office in 1982. Bradway had previously spent some time as an assistant coach at the collegiate level but had transitioned into being a high school teacher when the money got tight.
In some alternate universe, he’s preparing to retire as a high school athletic director right now. In this one, however, he took a couple last shots. One with the Eagles turned up nothing. Another with the now-defunct USFL’s Philadelphia Stars appeared to also be a dead end when the team offered the job to someone with NFL experience. Just a few days later, however, the Stars’ first choice backed out. Bradway was now in.
He joined a front office with Bill Kuharich and Rod Graves. The former would go on to work for the Saints, Chiefs and Browns. The latter for the Bears, Cardinals, Jets and the NFL. Though Bradway says they were all learning on the job, it was a group that was going places. Before making the leap to the NFL teams, they managed to assemble Stars rosters that won two of the USFL’s three championships before the league went belly up. When it did, the Stars’ third-string quarterback helped Bradway land his gig with the Giants, where the quarterback’s dad was the personnel director. And while those two Super Bowls followed, Bradway’s now gone 28 years in search of a third.
“For me, a young scout, it was a great place to start and learn,” he says of his time with the Giants. “Maybe we could have won a little bit more, but it’s so funny because my first nine years in pro football I win four championships, and I think this stuff’s easy, and I haven’t won one since.”
A few of the Chiefs teams Bradway helped build as a scout after leaving the Giants in 1992 certainly seemed capable enough of getting it done. They went 13-3 twice and made it to the 1993 AFC Championship Game with Joe Montana at quarterback, but they lost and watched the Bills advance to the Super Bowl.
By 2000, Bradway felt like he was ready to lead an NFL front office. He interviewed to be the Steelers’ director of football operations but lost out to Kevin Colbert, who’s still in the job today, now with a pair of Lombardi trophies to his name. Bradway had “no expectations as to what would happen next,” but the Jets general manager job opened a year later. The process through which he was hired and introduced feels almost anarchic compared to the corporatized way NFL teams operate today.
“I’ll never forget, I went in on the 11th of January of 2001, and I was interviewed, and we had a press conference the same day, which is really kind of crazy,” recalls Bradway. “That stuff doesn’t happen nowadays.”
Bradway eventually stepped down from the general manager role in 2006, but he stayed on in the Jets front office in other capacities until the team let him go in 2015. Being the Jets general manager wasn’t easy. Really, it isn’t for anyone who runs an NFL front office, especially one in a major market with championship-starved fans.
For proof, look no further than Eagles de facto General Manager Howie Roseman. Today he’s known as “Howie Hero” to many fans. But before this past season, he was lambasted as a numbers geek who wasn’t a “football guy,” someone who surely would never be the architect of a team that could win it all. Just as fans and the media spent years taking jabs at Roseman before the Eagles’ Super Bowl run, so it was for Bradway in New York. He’s saved all the headlines: “Bullets over Bradway,” “Bradway’s a Flop” and many others. If he’s bitter toward the fans or the organization that sent him packing after nearly a decade and a half, though, he doesn’t show it.
“I have nothing but great respect for the Jets organization and [team co-owner] Woody Johnson,” says Bradway. “The day they let me go, about four days later in the mail, I got a framed jersey with my name on the back with ‘14’ for 14 years and a nice plaque thanking me for all this. It’s a tough business, but I feel lucky for what I’ve been able to do.”
He’s perhaps lucky for the relationships he’s been able to build, too. Mike Tannenbaum, who replaced Bradway as Jets general manager in 2006 and is now the executive vice president of football operations with the Dolphins, hired Bradway to work for Miami a few months after he was let go by the Jets. Like the Jets, the Dolphins are still chasing the Patriots. Bradway feels like they “have a chance to be pretty good” this year with quarterback Ryan Tannehill finally healthy after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. The wins and losses to come, though, are less important to Bradway than who he wins and loses with.
“It’s a great game [with] great people, and the relationships you build over the years are as important, really, as the games themselves. I told my kids that when they were playing—later on, nobody’s going to remember all these scores, but you’ll remember the people you were with, and that’s really it for me.”