Tom Brady: The Final Act?

On Sunday evening Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. will lead the New England Patriots into the Super Bowl for the eighth time in his career. For context, no other quarterback in history has been to more than five (John Elway).  At age 40, Tom Brady will be the oldest quarterback in NFL history to appear in America’s biggest game. As far as NFL quarterbacks go, he is all alone now, but then again, he always has been.

If you’ve tuned into Tom vs Time via Facebook Watch, you’ve certainly seen the drive that the man possesses. There is a clip in the opening scene of the first episode where Brady looks right into the camera and says, “If you’re willing to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life…Because I am giving up mine.”  The statement sums up the essence of Tom Brady’s greatness. His entire life has been dedicated to becoming and staying the greatest quarterback to ever walk God’s green Earth.  

To dedicate yourself to a passion in this manner means to give up other aspects of your life. It would be easy to look at Brady’s life and see his beautiful wife and kids beside the money and fame and scoff about how easy Tom Brady must have it. When you look beyond the surface and think about the physical and mental toll that football takes on a man, though, you realize just how special his career has been. When you or I come home from work on a Friday, we usually unwind from the week with a burger and a few beers. Tom Brady? He comes home on Sunday after beating some of the most athletic beings on the planet and celebrates with a nice scoop of Avocado ice cream, then changes into his special Under Armor recovery pajamas, and tucks himself into bed. Tomorrow is Monday, which means recovery, game planning, and preparing for another vicious opponent looking to separate his head from his body in six short days.

Alex Guerrero, the inventor of the TB12 method, and Brady’s personal doctor was recently a main figure in an ESPN article that set out to show the division among ranks in the Patriots’ organization. Banned from the team’s facilities and sidelines midway through this season, he is a magnet for controversy. He also is a key component to the mentioned recovery and preparation that goes into being Tom Brady. Under Guerrero’s guidance, Brady has gone from great to legendary. Never known for his supreme athleticism, he gave up lifting heavy weights several years ago. Opting instead to focus on stability and flexibility. Tom also completely overhauled his diet. To limit inflammation, he has cut out foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and eggplants. He also limits dairy, gluten, sugar, processed foods, salt, and alcohol. The media has painted Guerrero as a crack pot, but Brady says he feels better now than he did at 25. After all that we have seen him accomplish over the past few years are you going to doubt him?

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You’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger perfectionist on the planet than Tom Brady. There’s a clip in episode two of Tom vs Time that shows him working on his throwing mechanics with his throwing trainer Adam Dedeaux. They focus on getting Tom to keep his left arm from reaching out past his hip when he throws, in an effort to make sure that his head stays still on his release. Dedeaux mentions that quarterbacks like Brady don’t come to him to get 5% better, they come to get 1% better. The episode takes place on July 1st. This is just one of countless examples of the preparation that #12 puts in to his craft. This attention to detail is where even the untrained eye can see where Bill Belichick, ever the perfectionist, has rubbed off on Tom Brady. What the man has lacked throughout his career in athleticism and natural ability, he has more than accounted for with relentless pursuit of perfection.

Tom Brady’s career (and life) is so unique that it is almost cliché. An average quarterback with below average athletic ability coming out of Michigan in 2000, he wasn’t picked until the 6th round. A serviceable backup who may have never even received his shot if Drew Bledsoe hadn’t gone down injured, Brady led the Pats to a 10-6 season and the #2 seed in 2001. A nice story that was looking to be over as quickly as it began, until NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 saved the day. Yup. We might not even be here if it weren’t for the “Tuck Rule.” You know the rest. That backup went on to win five more Super Bowls and two MVP awards. He’s gone from pickup truck driver to UGG model. Bowl hair cut to fashion icon; married to one of the highest paid models in history. Eighteen years in the public spotlight and highest crime? Under inflating some footballs for a game his team won 45-7.  Hollywood would be drooling over this script if it were fiction. Tom Brady is quite literally the American Dream personified. Yet, through all the fame and glory, he’s consistently remained at the top of his sport. He could’ve easily coasted with his three or four rings, choosing to enjoy all the fruits of his labor. Instead he’s survived and thrived through multiple generations of football evolution. It would’ve been so easy to stay the same and go down as one of the all-time greats. Instead, Brady decided to reinvent his tactics and settle all debates. He alone is the best. He has washed away all doubts, just as he has rid his body of alkaline.

Make no mistake about it. What we are witnessing is greatness. Like Beethoven with a piano or Picasso with a brush, Tom Brady has fine-tuned his art into brilliance. A true maestro whose every throw   from here on out should leave us gasping in its brilliance. He wants to play until 45. He’s made it clear. Why else make a documentary about how you’re going to beat the effects of aging? No training regimen can defeat time though. It is the ultimate humbler. The oldest cliché in the sportcaster’s book is, “Father Time is undefeated.” This is the twilight of his career, whether he chooses to believe it or not. Quarterbacks are not meant to be forty years old. We’ve seen too many times in the NFL how quickly things can come crashing to an end. Maybe the end for Brady will come down to the one man who has been in control all along, maybe it will not. Only time will tell.

The days of elite quarterbacks are numbered. This season provided a clear example of what life without Tom Brady will look like for the modern-day NFL. Yes, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and maybe Ben Roethlisberger will be able to carry the torch for a few years after he is gone. It’s possible Carson Wentz and Jared Goff can avoid further injury and climb to the elite level as well. Let’s face it though, with today’s college game, the next Peyton Manning and Brett Favre are not walking through that door. We are heading to yet another NFL era, where defense once again can carry mediocre quarterback play through the playoffs and to the Super Bowl. Look at this year’s final four. The only outlier? The one constant of this football millennium: Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. Please enjoy what is left of this career, whether you hate the Patriots or not. We will never see anything like Tom Brady again.

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On Sunday evening, February 3rd, 2018, the curtain will rise and nearly all of the sporting world will tune into see the maestro. Will it be just the beginning of the end or one last hurrah? It’s impossible to say. My only advice is to not take it for granted. Once the pageantry subsides there will be a snarling Eagles defense, a right hand that recently had twelve stiches removed from it, the loudest stadium in America, 40 years of age, and a life full of many sacrifices to overcome. There is no predicting what will happen, except that shortly after kickoff the NBC cameras will zoom in on the man behind center and all will go quiet for just a second before the cadence. Greatness will stare into your living room through your television set. I suggest you stare back.

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