American author and businessman Jim Rohn was once quoted as saying: ‘Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” For all great athletes, dedication and discipline is an essential component of both achieving, and maintaining, long-term success. It is that drive that separates them from the rest. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady knows that all too well. He lives it each and every day. That is why he is pursuing yet another ‘next one’ for the ninth time this Sunday in Super Bowl LIII.
The term ‘next one’ has long been associated with New England’s 41 year-old signal caller. Whether referring to his pursuit of championships, or the (now) yearly discussion regarding his playing status (for which he recently confirmed a “zero” chance of Sunday being his final game), Brady is perpetually motivated by the desire to win. That desire has served him well. With a victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Super Sunday, Brady will have reached a level of rarefied air by securing his sixth Super Bowl title. That is an accomplishment that no other NFL quarterback has ever enjoyed.
Along with his five successful visits to the Super Bowl stage, Brady has also experienced his share of defeat. He is sure to still grimace at the bitter taste of a 41-33 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles last year in Super Bowl LII. The road to heartache can be just as likely traveled as that of victory. Tom Brady knows that better than anyone. That difficult lesson continues to stoke the flames of his competitive fire. Simply put, it keeps him focused on the ‘next one.’
Hometown Hero cast as the Villain?
As Harvey Dent so eloquently stated in The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” Brady has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success and longevity in a sport that is not known for a long shelf-life. Despite being engulfed by sea of envy in most of the country, Brady is adored in New England. It is certainly not a stretch to say that he might be the most beloved sports figure in the history of a city that has been the home of icons such as Williams, Orr, Bird, and Russell. However, Brady is not always the poster child for that typical New England, blue-collar grit. Sometimes, it is easy to lose sight of this when we see Brady looking 007-Esque in mattress commercials, or dressed to the ‘nines’ in the latest fashion. He is often the subject of criticism, and even ridicule by those who claim that Brady’s toughness does not pass the ‘eye test.’
However, do not let that exterior fool you. Brady is a tough as they come – physically, mentally and emotionally. He has had to overcome adversity throughout his entire football career. After working tirelessly to earn the top quarterback spot for his senior year at the University of Michigan, Brady was forced to share the spotlight under center with teammate Drew Henson. When taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady looked at his teammates and told them “climb on my back.”
This was quite a bold statement from a then 24-year-old backup quarterback; especially one who was labeled as having a ‘poor build’ and being ‘too scrawny to succeed at the position.’ However, Brady won the respect of his teammates, as well as the league. Since then, that determination has led to five Super Bowl Titles, four Super Bowl MVPs, three League MVPs and countless game-winning drives. While he might be an unfounded villain in most other regions of the NFL universe, he is firmly entrenched among the immortal beloveds of New England sports. Had he focused on the opinions of his critics, Brady would never have enjoyed this unparalleled level of success. Instead, his eyes were focused on ‘the next one.’
‘Next One’ takes on a New Meaning
Those searching for the greatest example of Tom Brady’s emotional determination need not look further than Super Bowl LI, a 34-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. While the Patriots’ conquering of a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 third-quarter deficit has reached near-mythic proportions, this example was much more personal. In fact, it came after the game had been won. It was when an emotional and tearful Brady embraced his mother Galynn, who had been fighting cancer for the past year.
For one of the few times in his professional career, the ‘next one’ did not indicate an additional first down, or a key divisional victory. It did not even indicate the fifth championship, to which he had just led his team. Instead, this moment culminated in a victory that he absolutely wanted in his mother’s honor. This time, Tom Brady’s ‘next one’ was about the chance to once again make his mother proud. For all of the on field heroics we’ve seen him accomplish through the years, it was this moment that poignantly showcased Brady’s emotional durability. The man who seems too good to be true (at times) was human after all. Football did not matter. All that did matter was the health of his mother and the warmth of his family. Of all possible motivational factors for an athlete, those that are personal tend to be the most potent.
Leading by Example
As the New England Patriots prepare to take the field for their 11th Super Bowl in the franchise’s history, they continue to set the standard of perseverance. It is a message that is expertly taught to them by head coach Bill Belichick. However, the Pats also look to their elder-statesman quarterback for inspiration. When doing so, they are never disappointed. Earlier this week, safety Devin McCourty recalled a moment, which (in his opinion) embodies the example which Tom Brady intends to set. McCourty said:
“When we played San Francisco in 2016, I want to say it was after we lost to Seattle, we had just traded Jamie Collins and we go to San Fran and I think a lot of people are doubting us and we go out and get a big win. Everybody’s on the plane celebrating, standing up, laughing and joking and you look over at Tom and he’s on his laptop. He got hit in the leg so he’s massaging it, he’s watching film and totally locked in on watching the game we just played. I think that just spoke volumes. He’s always moving on to the next, he’s always preparing. And that’s just how he is day-in and day-out.”
The Next One: Win or Lose
When asked if there is anything Tom Brady can’t do, friend and teammate Julian Edelman has routinely replied, ‘Quit.’
Many have suggested that, if victorious, Brady might be wise to take this opportunity to ‘ride off into the sunset’ with a gleam of Lombardi-trophy silver in his eye. After all, the chance to retire while standing at the pinnacle of athletic success is a luxury to which very few athletes are afforded. Brady’s retirement would surely arouse the delight of fans of all NFL teams not named the New England Patriots. It would also make some envy-ridden members of the national (and local) media squeal with glee.
Much to the chagrin of his legions of detractors, however, Brady does not find his motivation in appeasing the unfounded opinions of media “talking heads.” And, while protective of his legacy, Brady is also not looking at Super Bowl LIII as the portal through which he will exit the game of football as the king of its mountain. Instead, Brady finds his motivation in a lesson that he learned as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan, from longtime Wolverines equipment manager Jon Falk. In a popular 2002 interview with NFL Films, Brady was quoted as saying:
“I had an equipment manager in college — he had been at Michigan for 25 years or so — he’s got so many Big Ten rings, he doesn’t have enough fingers for all the rings he’s got. He said, ‘You know what, Tom? You know what my favorite ring is?’ I said, ‘Which one’s that?’ He goes, ‘The next one.’ And that’s what I think: ‘The next one.'”
Based on his pursuit of that ‘next one’ Brady remains singularly focused on one subject: his opponent on Sunday; the Los Angeles Rams. He is acutely cognizant of the fact that the Rams defense must be his sole focus leading into Sunday’s game. The names Donald, Suh, Fowler and Robey-Coleman will be among those that garner Brady’s complete attention as the game approaches. All else remains background noise. That sixth championship ring is Tom Brady’s ‘next one.’ He may, or may not, achieve that goal on Sunday. However, one thing with Brady is always certain. Win or lose, his attention will soon be squarely focused on his ‘next one.’
All that remains to be seen is whether that ‘one’ will be number six, or number seven.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the NFL. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC