Tom Brady

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Tom Brady: On Commitment and Initiative
Or, Playing Fourth String, Getting Third-Rate Treatment 
But Going the Second Mile with First-Rate Effort 

(Teacher Hint: Go to and type in "Tom Brady" to find some cool clips of Brady in action. I really liked one with music in the background entitled "Tom Brady: My Hero". Play a bit before you speak to remind your students how awesome a player he is. Or, you might want to start with the first of a video, and show the rest after the story.)

Brady Today

Tom Brady makes it look so easy. Moments before lightning fast defensive tackles and 300 pound linemen close in to take his head off, Brady steps back to avoid one collision, to the side to avoid another, patiently waiting for his receivers to complete their patterns. Now. He throws. Completes. Touchdown, New England.

It happens so often that he's widely regarded as one of the best quarterbacks ever. At age 30, he's led his team to three Super Bowls, received two Super Bowl Most Valuable Player awards, been invited to four Pro Bowls, and holds the NFL record for the most regular season touchdown passes. No wonder he's been named "Sportsman of the Year" by both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. (1)

It may look easy and natural for him today, but those skills didn't come naturally. It took supreme commitment to growing and learning, often under difficult circumstances.

The High School Brady

Tommy entered high school built like a beanpole - a slow-footed beanpole. Not very impressive in a game that emphasizes size and speed. But he was super-competitive and wanted to excel.  

So he did more than attend regular practices. He went the extra mile by attending quarterback camps in Arizona and the University of Southern California. He even spent personal time with a throwing guru who ran a school for quarterbacks. This guy had broken down the art of passing into the most minute detail to discover what works and what doesn't . Tommy took tons of notes, to which he still refers today. (2)

And the "extra mile" stuff continued. After school during the off season, many kids throw their backpacks onto the bedroom floor to watch TV, play games and goof off until bedtime. But Tommy completed his homework and met up with his friends at the Pacific Athletic Club to work out for three or four hours. 

When his coach, Tom McKenzie, lamented to Tommy's dad that he had "a Division 1 arm, but a Division 5 lower body," Tommy took it as a challenge. Every morning before school, he'd practice a tedious footwork drill called "The Five Dots," which most players loathed. According to Brady, "I've never been real fleet of foot. I enjoyed the struggle of it. I gained a lot out of it, in terms of mental toughness."

According to his coach, "Tom Brady is the only student athlete I ever saw who took advantage of every opportunity that was provided to him." (3)

His high school team wasn't that great, but he made the best of it, winning about as many games as he lost. 

The College Brady

By high school graduation, he was still a beanpole. But they put together a video-tape of Tom's games and sent it to fifty-five universities. Their diligence paid off and the University of Michigan, a football powerhouse, recruited him to play for their Wolverines. But then things got strange. Before he even made it to the campus, the two coaches who recruited him and believed in him left the school. 

His first year, he kept the bench warm with the third string. The second year, he played a bit in only two games. His very first pass was intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Not exactly a stellar debut. He'd throw five total passes that year. (4)  

But he kept practicing, kept learning, and developed a great network of relationships with his people skills. Surely next year would be his year. 

But before his third year, appendicitis robbed him of 30 pounds that he didn't need to lose. Now he was an even skinnier bean pole. Thoughts of quitting and giving up were getting the best of him. Instead of turning inward, he began to talk to the athletic department counselor, Greg Harden. From meetings with Harden, he developed a game plan for problem solving and becoming a better person. It helped. 

At Spring camp, he found himself third in line behind the starting quarterback and another quarterback, Brian Griese, who's father had been a legendary quarterback. The latter won the starting position and Brady would get to play in only four games, throwing only twelve passes. Griese would graduate, leaving the slot for Brady to fill, but did Brady want it anymore? He'd been practicing his heart out for three long years to throw a total of 17 passes. In his mind, he wasn't given equal treatment. He considered changing schools. But outside of football, he loved his friends, his classes, and his volunteer work at a children's hospital. He decided to stick with it. (5)

His fourth year, he would clearly be the starting quarterback, but then things got strange again. Michigan recruited a phenomenal high school quarterback from a nearby town who had already been featured in Sports Illustrated. Being a local hero, there was pressure to move him quickly up to starting quarterback. So what did Brady think when his head coach referred to Henson, the new be,  as "without question the most talented quarterback I've ever been around"? (6)

Brady started as quarterback the rest of the season, winning 10 games and losing three. But there would be a fifth year, allowable since he didn't play as a Freshman. Surely he'd established himself by now. But that would be too easy. Influential alumni were pressuring the coaches to play Henson, the new quarterback. 

So here's how it played out. The coach announced that Brady would play the first quarter, Henson the second quarter, and whoever played the best would play the second half. It was a slam on Brady, the deserving fifth year senior. It would have been easy for Brady to take the low road, rallying his friends around his cause and dividing the team. Instead, he kept working and pursuing team unity. After the seventh game Brady established himself as the starter for the rest of the year. 

After his final game as a Wolverine, Brady's quarterback coach told him that the circumstances he'd played under would have broken most athletes. But Brady endured. (7)

After college, he could have smugly assumed that he knew everything he needed to know about football. Instead, he attended a  performance clinic to try to pick up foot speed. I mean, come on, after four years of coaching in high school and five years of coaching in college, don't you think he knew enough about how to run? Not Brady. There were still weaknesses to shore up and there was always more to learn, always an extra mile that he could go. (8)

The Pro Brady

His next stop was the NFL Scouting Combine, a place where coaches and scouts have the opportunity to watch their potential drafts in action. The gathering includes interviews, psychological testing, strength and agility tests, and the 40-yard dash. 

Although the assessors noted some great traits in Brady, most saw him as a gamble. The most prominent of the evaluators concluded that he "didn't have the total package of skills." (9) One offensive coordinator assessed Brady as rather average, with his inability to establish himself at Michigan counting against him. To some, he was still a "skinny quarterback who didn't run well." (10)

Still, he hoped to be picked early in the draft. Sitting at home listening to the draft with his family, they saw one round after another passing him by. After the fifth round, the Brady bunch was depressed. According to his sister Nancy, "What with what happened at Michigan, and now having this infuriating and disappointing couple of days, he just wanted to take a walk...." While he was out walking, head coach Bill Belichick called from the Patriots, picking him on the sixth round, the 199th draft pick. 

Dick Rehbein (the quarterback coach) and Belicheck saw something in Brady that others apparently didn't. During those college years, Brady was put in a bad position, but made the most out of it. They were impressed with "what he did with the opportunities he had." (11)

But at New England, he'd have to start out once again at the bottom. Now for anyone who's played second string, you know the demoralizing feeling of working hard all week to sit on the bench during the games, hoping that, just maybe, your team will get so far ahead that they call in the second string. But he wasn't on second string. He wasn't even on third string. Brady started fourth-string for the Patriots. (12)

Although he'd filled out a little by this time, the Patriot's owner still referred to Brady as, you guessed it, a "beanpole," after their first meeting. (13) But what he lacked in physical intimidation, he made up for with his work ethic, team spirit, and a rare ability to care for and energize those around him. Package all that together and it's called leadership. As one biographer put it, "Brady had that unique ability to make the person he is talking to feel as though the rest of the world has fallen away and there is only this one conversation happening anywhere." (14)

He'd spend extra time watching film of their opponents, although he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of playing in the game. The defensive coordinator noticed that Brady would work out harder than anyone else in the weight room. He threw himself into off-season workouts, whether or not he was required to attend. That helped add about 20 pounds of needed muscle. After a normal practice day, he'd lead a group of others at the bottom of the totem pole to run through the plays until they had them down. And they got better, and better. The coaches took notice and liked what they saw. 

So Brady found himself the backup quarterback during his second year. And when the starting quarterback got injured, Brady took over. Because of his intense preparation during good times and bad, he was there to answer the door when opportunity knocked. And the rest, as they say, is history.  

Brady once noted that the most difficult wins are the most memorable. I think you could say that about his life. As Brady said, "Who wants everything to come easy?" (15)

Action Points

So do you consider yourself the "beanpole" of your team or organization - the one who doesn't look the part or make heads turn? Do you go to all the regular practices, but still find yourself benched? Do you do the assigned homework but don't get the grades you want? Do you do your ministry, but fail to see results? 

If that sounds like you (and it often sounds like me!) remember how Brady defeated discouragement and went the extra mile by preparing a little harder, getting outside counsel and continuing to learn. If God can make a professional football player out of a slow beanpole, He can use you as well. 

Tom Brady on Standing Alone 

Tom Brady, the super-successful quarterback for the New England Patriots, doesn't try to be "just another jock." Elwood Reid, one of his college professors, noted that Brady was his own person. The other jocks in his class were too cool to do homework or act interested in his class. Not Brady. He was polite, sincere, did his reading, brought his books to class. Reid expected the other athletes to treat him with contempt, making fun of the skinny athlete.

But to Reid's surprise, "the most disruptive guys in the class did more than leave the quarterback alone. They seemed to look up to him. In fact, they seemed to look up to him more because he wasn't following their lead." I suppose you can't very well lead the crowd if you're following it. (16) 

Brady on Commitment to the Team 

"All I ever wanted was the camaraderie, to share some memories with so many other guys." (17)  

Brady On Not Talking Down to People

According to head coach Belichick, Brady "doesn't put himself above anybody, above the equipment manager, above the guy on the practice squad, or above a defensive player. He has respect for them doing their jobs." (18)

End Notes

1. Wikipedia on Tom Brady.
2. Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything, by Charles P. Pierce (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 38-40.
3. Ibid., p. 41.
4. Ibid., pp. 59,60.
5. Ibid., pp. 61-65.
6. Ibid., pp. 67,68.
7. Ibid., p. 78.
8. Ibid., p. 89.
9. Ibid., pp. 89,90.
10. Ibid., pp. 90,91.
11. Ibid., p. 92.
12. Ibid., p. 94.
13. Ibid., p. 95.
14. Ibid., p. 8.
15. Ibid., p. 18; also The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam, (New York: Hyperion, 2005), pp. 214-221.
16. Ibid., Pierce, pp. 4,5.
17. Ibid., p. 27.
18. Ibid., p. 159.

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