Given the turmoil and tumult of the last four years few things have stayed the same. An exception is Tom Brady. Now as before he is the most formidable force in American football. And, now as before he is a phenomenon – as singular psychologically as he is physically.
Brady is a gift to the nation. Ambitious as ever, accomplished as ever, iconic as ever he is good for our national psyche. He reminds us of the virtues of determination and discipline. He entertains, energizes, and distracts. He models good leadership in a morass of bad leadership. And he soothes our savage breasts when they sorely need soothing.
In Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy, Todd Pittinsky and I wrote that Brady’s stellar performance and extraordinary longevity were attributable in part to luck. Not every star athlete has his natural physical attributes and abilities, nor, obviously, are they all blessed with his enduring good health.
Still, it is Brady’s mind more than his body, specifically his astonishing work ethic, that has distinguished him from his counterparts. His work ethic has been the external manifestation of his internal drive – of his insatiable appetite, of his tireless lust to succeed. “It explains why he has been willing for so many years, eager for so many years, to push himself far beyond what the rest of us mere mortals can even begin to contemplate.”*
Last year when Brady quit the New England Patriots most football fans thought it likely he had seen his better days. It seemed a stretch for him to assume that he could replicate in Tampa Bay the success he had in New England. Not only was he old, old, old – 42 at the time, ancient for a quarterback – his cord to Pats’ coach Bill Belichick was considered too close to cut.
But while New England has clearly suffered in apparent consequence of Brady’s departure, he himself has thrived. Brady has brought to his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fresh energy and new hope. Tampa Bay has not won a Super Bowl since 2003. This year though they’re in the NFC Championship – so it’s possible they pull it off, again!
Brady is as bright a star, as formidable a role model in Tampa Bay as he was in New England. Wrote a sportswriter recently in the Washington Post, “There’s something unique about the way NFL players talk about Brady. [He is] myth as much as man to players who dreamed about making the league while watching his games on TV.” Wrote another writer-admirer, this one in January in the Wall Street Journal, “He is leading the hottest defense in the NFL … and after years of diminishing play Brady has experienced a stunning rejuvenation.” Said Buccaneer’s head coach, Bruce Arians, of Brady just a few days ago, he’s the “consummate leader.”
Leaders Who Lust went to print before Brady moved to Tampa Bay. But his template had long ago been set. To lust for success – as Brady does – has little or even nothing to do with the trappings of success. With fame, or money, or power. Rather it is about success per se – success as its own reward. Which is why despite the risks of playing past his prime, Brady persists. In 2018 he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, who asked if he thought he had an “insatiable drive.” To which Brady replied, “Yeah, I do. To be the best I can be. Not to be the best what anyone else thinks. Just to be the best I can be. Why am I still playing now? Because I feel like I can still do it…. It’s just, I love it.”
*My thanks to Jack Greenwald for his considerable contribution to this post.
**Page 137, Cambridge University Press, 2020.