Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Upon Further Review – Some Reflections on the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, including a review of “Moving the Chains” by Charles P. Pierce

This seems like a good time to offer some of my thoughts on the New England Patriots’ elimination from the playoffs at the hands of Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. I am sitting in my office building that is in the midst of a blackout, typing by the ambient light that is filtered through the snow that is blowing straight across the sky as I look out of my Kendall Square window on the 14th floor.

I am a fan of the New England Patriots. I am not an over-the-top fanatic, like I am about the Boston Red Sox, but I follow the fortunes of our local NFL team quite closely. So, I was disappointed and upset on Sunday evening as I watched them allow Payton Manning and his teammates to totally dominated the last half of a game that the Patriots seemed to have well in hand. I was so upset by the needless defeat that I had trouble turning off my mind and the flow of adrenaline, and slept only fitfully on Sunday night. If I were to bump into Reche Caldwell on the street, I am not sure what I would say to him about the two catches he dropped that could have been touchdowns. The same goes for Heath Evans, whose bone-headed penalty for "too many men in the huddle" made the difference between the Patriots maintaining possession at the end of the game or allowing the Colts one last chance to score and gain the lead – which is exactly what happened. So, I was clearly emotionally invested in the game. But, having had a few hours to calm down and take a broader view, I realize that the sky has not fallen and this is not the end of the world as we have known it. The Patriots – led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichik – will be back next season competing at the highest level, because that is what they do and that is who they are.

On Sunday evening, I was actually experiencing the game at two levels at once. On Friday night, using a Barnes and Nobles gift card that had been a Christmas gift, I purchased the much-acclaimed book, “Moving the Chains – Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything,” by Boston Globe writer Charles P. Pierce. By the time of kick-off on Sunday, I had read most of the book, so I finished reading the last few chapters during commercial breaks of the game being played in real time in Indianapolis. As I watched on the TV the denouement of this year’s tragic end to Super Bowl dreams, I was simultaneously reading the account of the Patriots’ elimination from last year’s playoffs at the hands of the Denver Broncos. It seems that the Pats have fallen into a rut of equine elimination – having been bucked by the Broncos and kicked by the Colts out of the NFL playoffs in successive seasons after riding tall in the saddle for the previous four years.

Pierce’s book is a very well written account of Tom Brady’s rise through the ranks of football players to join the pantheon of the best quarterbacks who have ever strapped on a helmet in the NFL. In characteristic fashion, when Brady was first asked about the idea of Pierce writing a book about him, he said, “To tell you the truth, there’s only one real problem I have with this. I don’t know if I’m old enough for a book like this.” Given the wars he has fought and the obstacles he has overcome to arrive at the point in his career where he has led his team to three Super Bowl Championships – he is plenty old enough for a book like this!

I won’t talk much about the book, except to say that it is very well conceived and put together, Pierce cites surprising, yet very credible, sources for helping the reader to understand Brady’s character, success, leadership traits and commitment to his teammates. Among the key sources of inspiration and formation for Tom are the members of Brady’s family – as described in this book, a remarkably real, loving and supportive unit of mother, father and three older sisters who helped to ground the young Tommy Brady as a human before he ever evolved into Tom Brady the Superstar. The Brady family’s strong Catholic faith, Vatican II, the philosophy of Josiah Royce and several coaches – some very supportive of Tom and others, well, “not so much” – all serve as forces that influence the development of the Tom Brady who now leads the New England Patriots on and off the field.

One telling incident in the book centers on the gravely ill Patriot’s former Offense Coordinator, Charlie Weiss. The coach, after undergoing gastric by-pass surgery to deal with his weight problem, bled and lapsed into a coma. Twice during his crisis, he was administered the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. During the vigil by his bedside while his life hung in the balance, two people maintained almost constant vigil – Mrs. Weiss and Tom Brady. In recalling those difficult days, Maura Weiss recalls how Brady helped to keep her calm when it would have been easy to panic. She also remarked that when Tom Brady looks you in the eye and talks with you, no matter who else is around and what else is happening, he makes you feel that you are the only one in his field of vision and the only thing on his mind at that moment.

I can attest to the truth of Mara Weiss’s observation. A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to ask Tom Brady a question at the end of a forty-five minute question and answer session in Boston. The previous few dozen people had asked fairly predictable questions that he had probably been asked many times in his career. He answered them politely and casually. I was one of the last questioners, and I wanted to take full advantage of the unique opportunity to address this young man who had already risen to the status of icon in the New England sports universe. So, I phrased my question carefully:

“Tom, in the past three years, those of us who are New England sports fans have had a chance to watch your very public coming of age as a football player and as a leader on the field. So, we have a pretty good sense of how you have developed as an athlete. I am wondering how, during these same three years, behind the scenes, you have changed and developed as a human being.”

Brady looked into my eyes with laser focus and paused about 30 seconds before saying: “That is the most interesting question I have ever been asked. Let me give it a minute’s thought.”

After a few more seconds of reflection, he continued: “When I took over as starting quarterback for the Patriots, I think I had a pretty good idea of the kind of work that it would take to succeed in helping to lead my team to victory. I was prepared for being a leader on the field. But, I was not prepared for what it would mean to be a public figure, with demands coming from many different directions. I struggle with knowing where to draw the line, when to say ‘Yes,’ and when to say ‘No,’ to things people ask me to do. I am still trying to figure out that part of my job.”

The respect I already had developed for Tom Brady was augmented that day. It was an honest, thoughtful and insightful response from a human being who thinks deeply about football and about life. So, I am very optimistic that Brady will get back on the horse and begin immediately preparing himself to lead his teammates next season to another run at a Super Bowl berth.

I give a strong endorsement to the book, “Moving the Chains.” I give an even stronger endorsement to the fine human being that I know Tom Brady to be.


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