Opinions, Column

Tom Brady and the Persian King

As Tom Brady gears up for his eighth Super Bowl, a mini series has premiered on the Internet detailing the quarterback’s journey during the 2017 season. Now 40, the episodes focus on Brady’s unorthodox training methods and maniacal pursuit of greatness.

I am not a Patriots fan. Growing up New Jersey, I am unfortunately a fan of the Jets and cringe seemingly every February as I watch the Pats take home yet another Super Bowl. But this is not another propaganda piece.

Despite my allegiances, it is impossible to ignore that fact that something special has been going on in Foxboro since the start of the millennium. The sustained success is far from a coincidence. Much has been written about the “Patriot Way,” but, in my eyes, nothing has taught me more about the process of the NFL’s most dominant team quite like the new mini documentary series profiling Brady’s journey throughout the 2017 season,  Tom v. Time. As an aspiring student, an ambitious athlete, and a curious person, what lessons can I pull from undoubtedly the greatest signal caller to ever grace the gridiron?

First, what are you willing to do and what are you willing to give up to be the best you can be? Brady addressed this so perfectly in very beginning of Episode 1: “When you say yes to something, that means you have to say no to something else.” As you get to the highest levels of sport, if you ever stop evolving, you are done. It doesn’t matter what you did last year, last week, or last game, if you do not prepare for the next challenge, you are in trouble because someone else probably is. I can apply this to my own life as a student-athlete: If my body feels terrible one day, maybe I will go easy on my lift. If I am tired, maybe I will stop studying for my exam. If you are not willing to sacrifice anything for your goal, then your goal will become the sacrifice.

To lead, you must lead from the front. Last semester, I read Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, a book on leadership and how Cyrus, king of Persia, managed to successfully conquer and rule. Cyrus was the paragon of continence, bravery, and moderation, the most important characteristics that he expected from his men. As king, it is your duty to be the hardest worker in training, the fiercest hunter, the one who eats after all his men have received enough food. If your men see a complacent ruler, they’ll slack off, too.

Tom Brady is the Cyrus of football. In addition to practice and training camp, he invites his wide receivers to remote areas of Montana to train and bond over the summer. After 18 years, he is still taking notes in even the most mundane of Bill Belichek’s daily team meetings. He is almost unanimously declared the greatest quarterback ever, yet he still visits QB guru Tom House to correct the most minute of flaws in his delivery. The man who seemingly has nothing left to work on is still training like he is fighting for a roster spot. His diet and training techniques are all part of the mythical “TB12 Method.”

Brady has mastered in the realm of football many of the lessons that Cyrus came to know about the nature of men and ruling. Following a glorious victory, Cyrus would immediately be planning for the next conquest. Others can celebrate, but it is the leader’s job to pursue further greatness. Bill Belichick is famous for remarking, after he had just won another Super Bowl, that he was 5 weeks behind in preparation for the next season. When do you savor the fruits of your labor?

Being good at something can be daunting: When you are good, people expect you to be good all the time—you can never slip up or have a bad day. Brady lives by this creed—he only breaks out his Super Bowl rings once a year. There are so many people that you represent, that look up to you, that, in some extreme cases, live vicariously through the success of your team. Losing and disappointing those that support you is far more painful than the sweetness of a victory.

The important byproduct of Brady’s obsessive methods is the effect they have on others. Brady and Belichick’s attitude has become colloquially known as the “Patriot Way.” What is the “Patriot Way”? It is the culture ushered from the very top of the organization that trickles all the way down the depth chart. Talent can get you an opportunity, but culture wins. You either embrace the attitude of the team or you are quickly flushed out. If you are a rookie wide receiver and you see your Hall of Fame quarterback outworking you, you are more inclined to step it up. If you are a new coach and you see Belichick logging long hours late into the night, maybe you will stay late with him.

How is a 28-3 second-half comeback even possible? How is such confidence and poise possessed by an entire team, even in the midst of a blowout? Tom v. Time clearly shows us the blueprint. It’s all the throwing sessions in the hot summer sun, the workouts, and the endless film study. Brady’s confidence stems from his  preparation. He blocked out all the noise, all the distractions of the Super Bowl, and just did his job. Take out the moment, and it was just another first down, just another touchdown, just another stop on defense.

Enjoy this time, Pats fans. The Jets are coming. (Probably not.)

Featured Graphic by Anna Tierney / Graphics Editor

February 4, 2018