One If By Land: In Defense of Tom Brady
A Change of Heart
As a born and bred New Yorker, Yankees and Giants fan, I have always loathed the Boston sports scene. Whiners, losers, etc., whatever adjective to give the fan base and its teams, I used it. This was especially true of Bill Belichck’s New England Patriots. Once Belichick left the Giants for the Browns head coaching job, I had no use for him.
But over the past year, and especially in the last two months, I had an epiphany about a particular player leading to a radical change of heart. I’m about to state something this angry New Yorker never thought he would: I like Tom Brady and think he’s the greatest quarterback of all time. Not only do I believe that, but admire him for persevering in the face of overwhelming odds and for what we term today as “haters.”
Those odds: being a gawky, un-athletic (for football) 6’ 4” 215 pound slow as molasses backup QB from Michigan who was laughed at while at the NFL combine but became the driving force behind the Patriots dynasty. By the way, he’s no MENSA member either. But Brady is an example to everyone, especially young people, that hard work is the driver of success. Michael Vick famously stated that his biggest regret was not working hard enough or preparing for games when he first came into the League. Johnny Manziel said something similar during last season. No kidding. If other QBs had one ounce of the discipline and energy of Brady, they might be headed to the Hall of Fame too.
The hate towards Tom Brady goes way beyond just our jaded sports culture. It is symptomatic of the class envy and the overall trolling of success that has infested our society. Life has become once endless sequel to Mean Girls. We scorn accomplishments and just generally dislike someone who has achieved more than anyone else. This is bad for everyone. Why must everyone “be equal?” We aren’t. Either through genetics, hard work or luck, it can’t happen. Someone will always be better than you at something. Deal with it.
Super Bowl XXXVI - The First
Instead of being envious of Brady, I’m inspired by him. Yet I have to defend a man who has everything.
Now, I don’t feel sorry for the guy. Let’s face it, Brady was the guy in high school who always got the hottest girl, had the nicest car and was lauded by coaches and teachers just because he was Tom Brady. He probably stole a girlfriend or two from some of his classmates. Growing up in comfortable circumstances, the son of an insurance executive, doesn’t hurt either. It still doesn’t give anyone the right to impugn his character based on innuendo. It also doesn’t guarantee a starting job on an NFL roster. You still have to want it and work for it.
After a mediocre college career as a backup at Michigan, he was drafted #199 in the 2000 NFL draft (a compensatory pick). At the NFL combine in Indianapolis that February, he performed poorly, which is being kind. His ratings were so low that Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, (who?) and Marc Bulger were drafted ahead of him. Carmazzi hurt the most because it was Brady’s childhood team, the San Francisco 49ers, who drafted him.
Do you believe Tom Brady is a cheater?
In his first season, Brady hardly saw the field; going just 1 for 3 in his lone opportunity to play. At the start of camp, he had been the fourth QB on the depth chart, barely making the team. By the start of the season in 2001, he was the backup to Drew Bledsoe. The veteran Bledshoe had led the Pats to a Super Bowl four years earlier under then coach Bill Parcells. Bledshoe was an established QB in the NFL. Popular with fans and teammates, he had a proven track record as a starter. He was nearly as popular in the Boston area as Nomar Garciaparra of the Red Sox and Paul Pierce of the Celtics. He even helped mentor Brady after he made the team. But fate stepped in and changed the lives of both men.
Bledshoe was hurt in Week 2, going down with severe internal bleeding from a bad hit. He came back for a series but had to be taken out due to severe pain. Brady finished the game and started the following week. Belichick declared Brady the starter for the rest of the season. The NFL is a tough business and cold-hearted decisions are made every day. This was no different.
Although he started out slow his first two or three starts, by Week 7 he was starting to show the Tom Brady everyone would eventually know. Leading them through the playoffs, and getting lucky with the now infamous “tuck rule” fumble recovery against the Raiders in the divisional playoffs, they won Super Bowl XXXVI. However, in a strange coincidence, Bledsoe had to replace Brady in the AFC Championship due to injury. Bledshoe showed the old magic and the team responded. Brady came back for the Super Bowl and they won on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
That’s when the legend of Brady’s work ethic began to take shape. Stories emerged about his drive and discipline. Rodney Harrison, the notoriously hard hitting veteran safety for the Pats, often speaks of his days with the Patriots. He would find Brady in the weight room at 6am during the week. Brady would greet him with mocking scorn about “being late.” Rodney says he tried to get there by 5:30 and still Brady beat him. No matter how early, Brady would find out and arrive before everyone else. That’s leadership by example and dedication.
The Pats won 2 more Super Bowls in 2004 and 2005; the last team to win back to back. In 2006, the Pats went to the AFC championship game again, but this time they did not have home field. Peyton Manning and the Colts finally beat them, going on to win his only Super Bowl.
In 2007, they added Randy Moss and Donte Stallworth among others to the roster. They went 16-0 in the regular season and won their first two playoff games. Then in one of the biggest upsets in history, the Pats lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. David Tyree’s miracle catch helped set the stage for Plaxico Buress’ touchdown. I jumped up and down like a little kid. Still, I have to hand it to the Pats; going 18-0 up to that point is an amazing accomplishment in the modern era.
During that season controversy erupted over Spygate, the now notorious taping scandal. In September, they were accused by the Jets of videotaping their defensive signals which was against League rules. It was former Belichick assistant, and then Jets coach Eric Mangini, who made the accusation. Belichick admitted to it the next week (sort of) and was fined half a million dollars. It was bush league. Would they have won the game anyway? Yes. Did Brady know about it? Not until after the fact. Even if he did, what could he do about it? NFL players have very little power. Brady still had to study film on his own and make the throws as well as check downs.
In 2008, Brady went down with an Achilles tear and the Pat missed the playoffs. He came back again in 2009, had a solid season but lost in the playoffs.The 2010 season went like the previous ones, with the Pats winning the division but losing in the playoffs. They got back to the Super Bowl after the 2011 season only to lose to my Giants once again. Now getting to 5 Super Bowls is an astonishing feat. Yet he still had his detractors. Was he finished? This is the end, many declared back in September. Well, it wasn’t. And winning Super Bowl XLIX proved it. At 37, he tied Joe Montana’s record.
What is the biggest difference between Montana and Brady? Brady did it with different rosters and over a longer period. Free agency did not go into full swing until after Montana retired. Those Niner teams had a core that remained intact for almost a decade. Brady and Belichick had free agency and cap issues to deal with every year.
The Infamous Call That Started It All
Recently, a group of ex-players criticized Brady and called him “tainted.” One even added that he was a man “without honor and integrity,” I immediately called it B.S. This is jealously laced with a good dose of hypocrisy. There have been slights in the past from various public figures, mostly retired NFLers. But it doesn’t stop with ex-players.
In 2008, Jemele Hill of ESPN wrote an article calling Brady “Teflon Tom,” because no one made an issue of his out of wedlock child with actress Bridget Moynhan like they have done with other players. Hill was trying to convey, in a backhanded manner, that there is a subtle racism in the way the media portrays Brady and out of wedlock births. She was right. But that doesn't change the facts. Brady is active in all of his children's lives and makes all his child support payments. Call me when he doesn’t.
Deflating footballs? Other QBs have already admitted doing it. In fact, one Super Bowl winning QB, Brad Johnson of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, admitted to tipping the ball boys prior to playoffs games in order to get the footballs exactly how he liked them. Other QBs have the equipment guys rub down the laces to wear them out a little. It helps with grip. So why the outrage now? This is the biggest non-issue I have ever seen.
Questionable Case of Detractors
The list of people questioning Brady is a group that really needs to check themselves and look in the mirror:
Ray Lewis, ESPN analyst – Probably the best linebacker of his generation. Future Hall of Famer. So he can question Brady’s on-field performance. But off the field, he should audible. He has a very questionable alibi for a double murder, and he also has six children by 4 women, Still, he calls Brady tainted; a man without honor. Well, he needs to define the word honor again for me.
Don’t throw stones, Ray. I don’t care if you’re headed for the Hall of Fame for what you did on the field. Once you question someone’s integrity, it’s personal.
Charles Haley - The Hall of Famer and the only other player besides Brady with 5 Super Bowl rings (Cowboys and Niners), now says Brady is tainted as a cheater. Haley, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, once peed on the Niners President’s desk because he was mad at him. Treating people like crap was a way of life for Mr. Haley. Sexual harassment, attempted assault on a sportswriter and threats were par for the course. As much sympathy as I have for his mental struggles, he needs to shut up and turn the page.
Marc Brunell - A solid starting QB for almost a decade with the Jacksonville Jaguars, added to the chorus Super Bowl week. Coming from a moderately successfully QB, this seems like sour grapes. I always rooted for guys like Brunell (especially when left-handed), however this is ridiculous. Tom Brady would beat Brunell throwing beach balls. And on top of that, Brunell is a very religious guy. Making accusations goes against his teachings. You can judge, but put it in context, Mark. Judge not lest you be judged.
Any time you want, check out Brunell’s Super Bowl highlights…oh wait, there aren’t any. Unless holder on field goals counts.
Jerry Rice - The Niners great called Tom Brady and the Patriots cheaters. Then he admitted to using Stickum during his career. For the uninitiated, stickum was a substance used by NFL players in the 1970s and 1980s that was later banned. Once the ball hit that substance on a players gloves or arm, it stayed there. Lester Hayes, the All pro cornerback for the Raiders back in the 80s, was its most famous user. But Rice used it after it was banned. So the great Jerry Rice was also a cheater, by his definition. On top of that, he used the old excuse: everyone did it. Chris Carter and Michael Irvin both refute that claim.
Hey Jerry, Lance Armstrong on Line 1.
Jerome Bettis – The Steelers great was sitting next to Brunell on the ESPN panel and agreed that he was a cheater. Ridiculous. Bettis got one ring because his QB, Ben Roethlisberger, saved his butt after a goal line fumble against the Colts. Big Ben chased down and tackled the guy who recovered it. Without that now famous play, Bettis would be thought of in the same vein as Ernest Byner. Jerome, you’re fat and happy, let it go. You were inches from infamy.
And the list goes on...
Others who joined in the criticism include Troy Aikman and Brian Dawkins. While I respect Aikman a lot, his vitriol is very misplaced. Again, I suspect it’s because Brady has had a better career. As for Brian Dawkins, no one cares. He can go out to lunch with Mark Brunell and talk about not winning a Super Bowl. Maybe they can go half on tickets for the game.
I’m usually happy when players come out and are willing to criticize other players for transgressions or bad decisions on the field. It’s refreshing. I wish former coaches did the same with their brethren. But calling someone dishonorable goes a bit too far for me. Whenever there's an off the field incident involving a player, I hear so many others calling for patience and saying over and over again, “We don’t know all the facts.” Jealousy got in the way this time. Envy is a vice and it was on full display Super Bowl week.
The media who cover the NFL on a regular basis have played it down the middle, for the most part. Talk radio is a different story. Even the columnists have shied away from declaring "deflategate" a scandal. However, there have been exceptions. One of those is New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden. He has been pounding the drum on how Tom Brady is "arrogant;" even appearing on the CBS morning show to defend Roger Goodell. The game's intergrity was at stake according to Rhoden. This from a guy who previoiusly called for the commissioner's impeachment. Hmmm. Rhoden has praised both Ray Lewis and James Harrison in past columns. That's odd because both men have had some questionable incidences in their past: Lewis for abetting a murder and Harrison for domestic violence. I'm big on second chances and have absolutely no problem with both men moving on with their lives. However, for that same columnist to come out and be apoplectic about underinflated footballs is bizarre. It is unbecoming of a New York Times writer. But Rhoden is the same guy who left a Wimbledon Final to go see a Will Smith movie.
Update: I have seen the Wells Report and it did not change anything for me. Lots of conclusions were made without any real concrete evidence.
I would ask these retired players to define “cheating.” We see it in other sports. Was Gaylord Perry cheating when he openly used the spitball? Was Mark McGwire being dishonorable when he used PEDs? Stealing signs in baseball has always been acceptable for some reason. In the NFL, I already mentioned stickum being used in the 1980s and 90s. What about all the steroids, amphetamines and illegal hits?
Now, I would have advised him to handle the situation differently; admitting to the attempted deflation. Why not try to get an edge and push the limit? He should have just come out at the press conference last winter and said, "Yes, i wanted to take the psi down as far as I could without doing anything against the rules." That's it. Move on. That said, he needs to fight the suspension to save face. I'm glad his owner dropped potential legal action from the mix. It would have been unseemly.
To the Indianapolis Colts, you better be ready for the Pats in Week 5. If Brady is forced out for the full four games, the Pats are coming in angry. No amount of football inflation security is going to keep the Pats from pushing you guys all over the field.
As for Brady, I hope we get to a point where we can show the footage of him at the combine to prospective players and say “Hey, he made it because of hard work. You can too.” When someone makes it to the pinnacle of his or her profession, we shouldn't always be looking to tear them down. Let's celebrate success. Our society would be better for it.
Nothing has changed for me. The destruction of his cell phone is dumb but who cares. Now that we know that ESPN's Chris Mortensen was handed a false story by Mike Kensil, the NFL's Director of Football Operations, the story stinks even more. Mortenson claimed that 11 of 12 footballs were underinflated. That was an out and out lie. The haters are piling on Brady.
Brady Moves On and Up
On July 15, 2016, Brady released a statement saying it was time to move on and that he would not take the case any further. The next stop would have been the Supreme Court. I would like to have seen him keep fighting. But the players' union may have had a say in that as well. Let the hate continue.
So Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. The result: the Patriots went 3-1 with their two backup QBs. They eventually finished 14-2 overall with Brady having another stellar season. He was sitting on the cusp of another Super Bowl and the league realized they had awoken a sleeping giant.
Super Bowls, LI, LII and LIII
I've watched 41 Super Bowls (maybe more on my dad's lap) and I thought I've seen it all. But this game left me speechless. Of course, it involved the Patriots. But I did think it was over mid-way through the 3rd Quarter. I know many want to blame the Falcons, but it was Brady, Belichick, and Hightower that took that game away. Brady's composed demeanor along with his simmering anger led them to another victory. The entire country was stunned. He became the greatest of all time. No one close. I will admit one thing: he did not deserve to be MVP. James White should have gotten it.
For once, I was rooting for the Eagles. Their fans deserved a Lombardi Trophy. Winning with a backup QB is an amazing accomplishment and Nick Foles is the kind of feel-good story all sportswriters love. Most the country was hoping he'd play well. But Brady was awesome in defeat, throwing for over 500 yards and three touchdowns. He also broke his own record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl. It was an amazing game. Brady lived up to his legacy but this time the defense failed him.
Brady and Belichick reached number nine and it many ways the game disappointed. In a season when the NFL set scoring records, it was the lowest scoring Super Bowl in history. Belichick, the defensive guru, against the new, upstart offensive "genius." The only touchdown came in the 4th quarter. But Brady completed just enough passes, most of them to Julian Edelman, to score 13 points and win the game 13-3. Brady now has six rings; has appeared in nine. There is no denying his the greatest of all time.
The Debate Is Over
The arguments will continue to rage about who is the greatest QB of all time. But the NFL is all about Lombardi Trophies. Brady has the most. He will be starting his 20th season in September. Instead of being envious of his success, young players need to study him and learn how to be successful. Hard work and laser-like focus, along with absolute dedication to fitness are the secrets to his success. He is not the fastest, nor the smartest or the most physically-gifted. You can't measure heart at the combine. Twenty years ago he was dismissed as a prospect. Now they're getting a bust ready at Canton.
Brady, James, “Jerry Rice criticizes Patriots for cheating, admits to using stickum on his gloves.” SB Nation, February 7, 2015. http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2015/2/7/7996115/jerry-rice-cheating-stickum-patriots-deflate-gate.
Deckart, Brett. “NFL Quarterbacks: Race Still a Factor, According to ESPN’s Jemele Hill.” BleacherReport, November 24, 2010.
Hill, Jemele. “Ladies Love Tom Brady – no matter what.” ESPN.com, January 31, 2008. http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=hill/080129
Kussoy, Howie. “Ex-players react: Brady’s cluelessness unbelievable.” New York Post. January 22, 2015.
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Pennington, Bill. “Eli Manning’s Footballs Are Months in Making.” New York Times, November 23, 2013.
Pierce, Charles., Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. ISBN0-374-21444-1
Rosenberg, Michael. “As Deflategate rages on, Tom Brady’s story simply doesn’t add up.” Sports Illustrated, January 22, 2015 (updated Jan. 23). SI.com.
Smith, Michael David. “Brad Johnson: I did tip ball boys, but I did nothing wrong.” Pro Football Talk, January 21, 2015.
Terranova, Justin. “Aikman on Deflategate: Brady knew and Belichick should burn.” New York Post, January 22, 2015.