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Tom Brady and the greatness bigger than sports

Sunday 2/6/22

An op-ed written last week in the interval between rumors of Brady's retirement and the official announcement that obviously did not run.


I’m not of a sufficient vintage such that I could cite myself as a long-suffering New England sports fan, but I did see my share of prodigious defeats, and my father, a season ticket holder of the Patriots in the early 1970s, certainly had his tales of woe. I grew up in the next town over from Foxborough, so the Patriots have always felt like they’re imprinted upon my breast, a part of who I am.

Half of my life has been spent watching Tom Brady in the various levels of his greatness. As mercurial as he was in the Snow Bowl game of twenty years ago—this man who was never a mere “game manager,” but a dartsman—that’s a long way off from the fellow who, twenty years later, formally mastered his sport.

People like when their athletic heroes become more like them. They shuffle around the house, put on weight, resemble “regular folk.” Brady, if he does retire, won’t do this. He’ll be the lean, mean, Brady machine as an octogenarian. Fifty years may be in front of him, and what a rich life that can be.

But I hope Brady doesn’t retire, and I have that hope for a reason beyond my interest in him as an athlete, and as the person who will always signify my favorite team to me, the team of my people, my family, this granitic bedrock under my very New England feet.

No, it’s something else, and that thing is the paucity of greatness in this world. There are connections, and jobs, positions, platforms which people are handed. There’s a surplus of mediocrity, which is the new coin of the realm. Don’t be great, our world seems to say—simply don’t make others feel that they’re not.

Tom Brady is the best ever at what he does. He belongs to a group that counts the likes of J.S. Bach, Orson Welles, Wayne Gretzky, Thomas Edison, among their ranks. No, being a quarterback isn’t as important as being Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, but the best is still the best, and greatness will always remain greatness.

Retire now, and Brady is done. No coming back. It’s too late. But I think that greatness is such that when it exists, the person behind it ought to take it as far as they possibly can. It’s that rare, that precious, and it becomes a model for what others might do in their own lives.

Most humans are creatures of habit, who resemble other humans who are also creatures of habit. When someone can tower forward in their individuality, the very idea of what is possible becomes a malleable proposition.

What human has ever been where Brady is now? How far can he go? He’s as good as he’s ever been. Can he take it to forty-eight? Fifty? He can detonate the outer rim of what anyone else could say that one of us could do.

Greatness is bigger than football. You never begrudge someone a choice that they think is best for them and their family. You’d have to be the old kind of goat—a letdown to the side—for that to be the case. But you still pull for greatness to keep extending, redefining, because greatness s is immeasurably human in that it represents the best of what anyone is capable.

Keep it going, brother man. There are so few people in this life who get to greatness, but we need those who do, and those who keep it going. Because they can. Because humans can.

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