I’ve been watching the Tom Vs Time Facebook Watch series. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I passed it off as Tom finally allowing himself to enjoy his celebrity status a bit and also to lay a groundwork for the marketing of his TB12 business, which I’m sure he wishes to make a nationwide phenomenon at some point. Maybe it already is, but with the number of Patriot haters out there, (oh, by the way – your team cheats, too) I’m sure he feels his branding could use some improvement. Simply winning more Super Bowls obviously isn’t going to do it.
I don’t know what made me finally click the play button and start watching. Maybe it was just the need to watch some Patriots Porn and revel in the shared glory of my favorite team. Maybe it was the Alex Reimer controversy. I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I’m sad Reimer said what he said. I actually quite liked him as an up-and-coming sports talk radio host. He was fresh and funny and his sports takes were insightful and never seemed to dally too long on “hot takes.” But then he made a stupid comment about Tom’s daughter that I’m sure he thought was glibly funny. But as with so many things that emerge from all of our mouths, I bet he wishes he could take it back. Or maybe not. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he lacks empathy and remorse. If they ever let him back on the air I guess we’ll see.
But I was curious about this Tom vs.Time thing for one main reason above all else. I want to know what makes Tom Brady as driven as he is. I remember the first game I saw him play. It was, of course, that now famous game where Drew Bledsoe was injured and Tom, the undervalued and unknown backup, donned helmet and took the field. I loved Drew. I collected nearly all of his rookie cards and will forever be thankful for the work he and Bill Parcells did to lift the Patriots out of the depths of “cute little team that sometimes resembles an NFL franchise” and into the refreshing air of “respected competitors.”
But Drew was getting older and it was increasingly obvious he was not the championship quarterback the team needed. He was close, but he had developed happy feet in the pocket and held onto the ball too long, probably as a result of being the single biggest weapon on our offense (if not the whole team) and therefore being expected to take brutal hits and still deliver devastating downfield strikes. This he could do to the very end of his career, but as all Patriots fans have found out in the Brady-Belichick era, it takes something more than that to win Super Bowls.
When Tom came into that game, I saw right away that he had… something more. Or at least something different. I’m not going to say I saw the future. No, not at all. Truth be told, I was a bigger Bruschi fan than a Brady fan for the first three Super Bowls. But I did see something. When he went under center for the first time, I didn’t see a wide-eyed kid hoping he wasn’t going to screw up. I saw a man look dispassionately out over the opposing defense and calculate their every strength and weakness. Seriously, go back and look at that first game if you can find it. Yeah, I know they lost, but look at what his eyes are doing and look at the way he looks at the defense. Actually, never mind that game, he still has that look even today. If that’s not the look of a man who’s about to dissect and destroy the obstacle in front of him, I don’t know what is.
I called it “the eyes of the assassin” because I was young and loved to engage in cliche and hyperbole. But I doubt my description was too far astray from the truth. He saw obstacles to eliminate the same way I imagine an assassin sees human targets as simply objects. This look wasn’t in his eyes on the sideline or in interviews, mind you. This was his game face and it looked to me as terrifying as Ray Lewis’s game face – and that dude was fucking frightening. I didn’t know how many games he was going to win or how many touchdowns he was going to throw or any of it. But I knew I was going to see something different from him than I’d seen from any other quarterback. What that thing was? That’s what I want to find out. That’s what made me want to watch his series.
I’ve watched the first four episodes and I still don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far has reinforced what I’ve long suspected about the reasons for the Patriot’s incredible success over the past 18 years. It’s simply this: Hard work and dedication to one goal are essential to achieving it. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. I’m not a Tony Robbins disciple. They’re not the only things. There’s only so much the awakened giant within you can accomplish on its own. There are so many crucial factors that go into it (and here let’s not forget about Robert Kraft’s prodigious capabilities as owner and visionary for the team). But without a willingness to work hard and dedicate most if not all of yourself to your goal, Tom (and every other Patriot) may as well just be playing a game. And as I’m fond of saying – Tom Brady doesn’t play games, Tom Brady wins games.
So the episodes I watched proved to me that this man was someone so dedicated to his purpose that he basically subsumed his identity to that of the purpose itself. That’s a scary thing to contemplate when evaluating the worth and breadth of a human’s existence. Must we be so single-minded to grasp our dreams? I suppose it depends on the dream. Tom’s seems to be unfathomable to me. He is already widely if not universally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time. What more does he want?
That’s for him to say and although I am curious about it, the thing that most interests me is not a thing of the present, but of the past. I want to know what made Brady decide after the first Super Bowl that he wanted more. Certainly he was young and ambitious and wanted to match or exceed his personal hero Joe Montana. But there was a year between the first Super Bowl and the the next two – a year where he seemed to not diminish, but stagnate. A sophomore slump, if you will. What made him break out of that? What made him dedicate himself not just to being an effective QB, but to being a team leader, a devourer of everything related to his trade, a pursuer of infinite success?
Because that’s where I am. Or at least I feel like that. No, I’m not Tom Brady. I’ll pause here for a bit to let that shocking revelation pass over you. Don’t worry. Most people aren’t Tom Brady. Like, a lot of people. It’s actually way more likely you aren’t Tom Brady than you are. And if you are Tom Brady then … ummmm… Hi. Big fan. Good luck on Sunday.
No, I haven’t won a Super Bowl, but in one regard I feel a slight kinship to him. A few years ago I decided to stop pretending to be anything other than myself and began to write. I wrote books and I published them and I’ve put myself out there for the world to see. I imagine Tom did a similar mental transformation at some point. Probably some of it was when he was a kid but I bet most of it came at some point after that first Super Bowl. I wish I had done the same sort of thing in 2002 as well. I probably would be much more successful in my endeavor at this point.
But I am not a success. I haven’t reached my goal and I struggle to see how I will. Brady must have struggled with the same. He must have recognized “well, here I am a starting QB – good enough?” And then said no. There’s more and it has to be achieved. At some point (and again, I’m betting it was somewhere in 02 or 03) he decided the dedication he had to his craft that was good enough to get him to where he was, was not good enough for him, because after that he just kept getting better. There have certainly been years where he and the team were not as good as they could be, but it always seemed to me he was painfully aware of that. He never made excuses. He just tried harder.
I make excuses for myself. I tell myself that I’ve done well when I write a thousand or so words, outline some plots, make notes for revisions, etc. And then I put the writing down and rest and read and play games or whatever. But I know I could do more. I feel it when I’m writing. I sense that I’m at the door of true success, but something in me always makes me hesitate and delay and dither. It’s easy to call it “fear of success” but it’s not so easy to overcome.
Tom Brady overcame it. Perhaps it’s a thing he overcomes every day. But there must have been a point when he recognized it as the thing that blocked the threshold of the doorway and then found a way past it.
For myself, my only current solution to the blockade is “just keep writing” and I know this is perhaps the most important part. But there has to be more to it and i doubt that it’s complicated, but I still don’t know what it is. Like Brady, I feel age creeping up on me. Not nearly as important for writers as for quarterbacks, but as the days and weeks and months and years pass and I am no closer to my goals than when I started, I wonder and lament at time wasted. I’ll keep writing for the rest of my life, but I am somewhat tortured by the thought that there is something I could be doing RIGHT NOW that could make my goals achievable.
I think he knows what it is, but I doubt he could tell me. It’s probably specific to every individual. And besides that, I’d hate it if he told me to drink 26 glasses of water a day and stay away from mushrooms. Probably good advice for quarterbacks, but it’s of dubious merit to writers.
Anyway, good luck to Tom and the Patriots on Sunday. And good luck to all of you, my dear readers, who struggle every day with success and failure. And if you haven’t watched the Tom vs. Time series, I recommend it. It’s motivational and moving, even if you’re not a fan of football or Tom or the Patriots. If Tom Brady is pursuing some Platonic idea of QB perfection, then he can be considered the modern day equivalent of the demi-god heroes of ancient Greece. Figuratively speaking, of course. I mean that I believe we can safely regard him as someone who is extraordinary and can (and should) examine him in that light. If you’re curious about what a man who rises to his level is like, the episodes come across as very honest and compelling glimpses of his character and dedication.
And if you figure out what makes his motivation click into overdrive, let me know.
“I think that at the start of a game, you’re always playing to win, and then maybe if you’re ahead late in the game, you start playing not to lose. The true competitors, though, are the ones who always play to win.” – Tom Brady
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