Kliff Kingsbury didn't need Tom Brady to come to town to see him, because the Cardinals coach already had a long-term friendship with the Buccaneers quarterback/arguably-the-greatest NFL player of all time.
Brady was already a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in New England when the Patriots drafted Kingsbury, a quarterback out of Texas Tech, in 2003. Kingsbury has joked that the Patriots were trying to recreate history when they took him with the 201st overall pick in the sixth round, seeing they had famously drafted Brady in the sixth round with the 199th overall pick in 2000.
Kingsbury has said he has regrets about how his playing career turned out, perhaps not working as hard as he could have.
He certainly had an up-close view of the proper mentor when he spent his season-plus with the Patriots.
"I think watching him work and how almost maniacal he was about it, that that's what it takes at that position to be that good," Kingsbury said. "At times I probably was trying to just run around with Tom Brady instead of trying to be Tom Brady."
As Brady arrives with the Buccaneers for a Christmas night game against the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium, he will have a chance to play against Kingsbury the coach for the first time. Brady, 45 and in his 23rd season, hasn't played against the Cardinals since 2012 and hasn't played against the Cardinals in Arizona since 2004 because of happenstance.
He's played in State Farm Stadium for two Super Bowls but never in the building against the team it houses.
Brady has been good this season, but not at the same Brady level most expect. The Bucs' offense hasn't been nearly as effective either. That's as much about injuries – especially to his offensive line; at 45, Brady needs protection perhaps more than anyone – as his play.
But he still draws attention as a player who cannot be fooled by any look or scheme a defense can devise.
"It's like a coach playing quarterback," Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
Safety Budda Baker is in his sixth season and was just named to his fifth Pro Bowl, but you can still hear in his voice the appreciation he has of Brady and what it means to have a chance to play against him for the first time.
"He's been in the league 20-some years, mostly longer than guys have been alive," Baker said, adding "soon he's not going to be on the field, not going to be in the NFL. It'll be weird, like when LeBron (James) leaves the NBA."
Baker is intrigued with how the future Hall-of-Famer attacks the Cardinals and Baker in particular, knowing most teams pay close attention to where Baker lines up on every play.
That moment a couple weeks ago, when 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw picked off Brady and then got Brady to sign it after the Bucs lost? Baker thought it was cool.
"To have that type of ego Tom has to be happy for guys still and sign on the field," Baker said with a smile. "If you do that to another QB in this league he'll probably look at you crazy. Hopefully I'll get to pick him off and maybe he just signs it."
If the Buccaneers were to lose to the Cardinals, that might be a tough ask. The Bucs have lost two straight to the 49ers and Bengals, although even with a 6-8 record Tampa remains in first place in the struggling NFC South.
"We wish we would've won every game -- I certainly do -- but we haven't earned it," Brady said during his Thursday press conference.
"I have a lot of perspective," Brady added later. "I love playing, I love playing with my teammates, I love practicing and I love working out. I love training, I love talking about football, I love pass protection and run protection and crazy stuff a lot of us don't think about. It's a lot of fun for me still."
That includes seeing people like Kingsbury – "I played with Kliff and we’ve been friends ever since," Brady said back in 2019 – and trying to beat a coach younger than he.
"I think you can see the friendships that he's had over the years, he's been good to all those guys and that's why whether it's (Matt) Cassel, Jimmy G, or (Jacoby) Brissett, he definitely tries to mentor them and work with them," Kingsbury said. "He was phenomenal and every guy that's gone through there I think would say the same thing."