Hackett: What I have learned from watching Tom Brady

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In 2008, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a very popular book titled Outliers and it’s positioned as ‘the story of success.’ In it, Gladwell consistently references what he calls “the 10,000 hour rule” which essentially is the thought that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practicing the right way, to achieve world class expertise at a skill.

I have watched every snap Tom Brady ever took in a Patriots uniform either on my television set or in person. This dates back to his first pre-season reps, to his first regular season action in September of 2001 through last year’s Wildcard Round loss to the Tennessee Titans. This year I watched him play several times throughout the regular season and every snap of his seventh Super Bowl Championship winning postseason. Just within those instances I’ve seen more than enough to believe that Tom Brady has probably more than quintupled that 10,000 hours of practice threshold, needed to achieve world class excellence at his favorite skill.

Playing quarterback.

His greatness is undisputed and the achievements he has earned puts him in the rarest of air space known to man. Air space reserved for the likes of Mohammed Ali, Babe Ruth, Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Roger Federer and Jack Nicklaus. As people look to make a living debating Brady’s legacy versus someone else, I prefer to see how I can maybe improve in my own life, by thinking hard on all that makes him truly great. Below is what I have learned watching the greatest to ever do it in America’s greatest game.

He’s in complete control. Since we first laid eyes on Brady in game action, his coolness under pressure stood out like a Brontosaurus spontaneously bursting into flames at your local convenience store. One of my favorite early moments of Brady is on the winning 4thquarter drive in Super Bowl XXXVI. Brady puts his team in field goal position, spikes the ball, catches it and flips the ball to the ref, all in one motion. Cool as a cucumber on the World’s biggest sports stage. It was like watching a kid play on a playground with his buddies. How do you get, sustain and own that type of self-control?

Preparation. Tom Brady’s preparedness can only be compared to Tiger Woods from 1997-2008 and maybe one or two astronauts. His preparation is legendary and it’s one of those words he himself repeats over and over and over again any time he’s given a platform to do so. That kind of repetition is also a skill onto its own.

Focus. Can you think of anyone more focused than Tom Brady? Ever? Or in any capacity? I can’t. His focus is relentless. The only thing more relentless than Brady’s focus is his focus on his focus. After winning his third Super Bowl Championship after the 2004 season, Super Bowl XXXIX, Brady was featured on 60 Minutes. When asked which of his three championships was his favorite? Brady replied… “The next one.”

That comment aged well didn’t it. He was in his young twenties then and that focus only intensified over time. That comment is a documented reminder that that championship focus has always been there for Brady and has never wavered.

He’s got something to prove, always. The great ones always have a chip on their shoulder and it never heals. Perhaps you’ve heard that Tom Brady was drafted at #199 overall and that six low to middling quarterbacks (at best) were drafted ahead of him in the 1999 NFL Draft. I know you haven’t forgotten and neither has Brady and he never will.

If you have been reading me the last couple of years or so, you know that I’m always good for a Rocky or Star Wars reference to underscore my point. While training to face the immovable object, Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Rocky crumples up a picture of his opponent as the big fight nears. Do you think that Brady has ever crumpled up that doughy combine picture of himself? I do not. That guy in the mirror was and is Brady’s greatest opponent. That and what people think of that unathletic, doughy kid in that timeless photo. I think to this day when Brady looks in a mirror, that’s who is looking back at him and the result is his endless motivation to defeat that vision of himself.

He always has the full belief of his troops. Have you ever heard even one current or former teammate ever say a negative word about Brady? Doubt it. (Chris Simms’s testimony is stricken from the permanent record). His teammates quickly become more like disciples and like disciples when they buy in, they buy ALL in. If Tampa Bay was located in Antarctica, Gronk would have followed him there and if Brady told him to come without a winter coat, he would have. That’s beyond belief folks, that’s faith and the faith Brady gains from his teammates is like nothing I’ve ever seen in tangible human form. He’s a leader like few others. Perhaps William Wallace had that kind of buy-in but that well predates me.

He never quits. Super Bowl LI instantly comes to mind. Down 28-3 and needing to score 25 points in 17 minutes just to tie the game, Brady took on the challenge and never hesitated. He never quits, it’s never over and his belief in himself is as strong as that of his teammate’s belief in him. This is merely one example of many.  

He’s never satisfied. I called into the station recently and debated a new host proclaiming Brady would retire if he won his seventh Super Bowl on Sunday. To which I enquired, what galaxy did you transport yourself from? Brady will have to be physically removed from the battlefield, I have little doubt. Never satisfied, eyes always on the prize, Brady has an insatiable thirst for success.

He’s got a sense of humor. It can be a little awkward and dare I say a little dorky at times, but that’s the public view we get. On the field he’s as intense as anyone I’ve ever seen. However, once a game is in hand, he’s able to flip the switch to lighten the mood with his teammates. Of course, only when the job is done. More impressively, his humor doesn’t get in his way. Literally ever. I wish I could say the same thing for myself. Save for the classic “get all lubed up” comment, Brady typically mixes his humor in when the ideal moment strikes and like most public comments his little ‘oops’ was completely harmless and overblown.

He’s balanced. Football, family and health. At 43 years young Brady looks younger, healthier and as happy as ever. The factors that lead to his joy have evolved and changed over time for sure, but he’s seemingly always had a steady diet of what keeps his life at peace. He never gets in his own way.

He’s unafraid to make tough decisions. He’s made them in his personal life, which when you have his national status becomes public news often times. He’s makes them on the field much to the delight and or dismay of his teammates and coaches from game to game. He sticks to his decisions and stands by them, but like any great leader is open to tough coaching or feedback. This means he can look in mirror and adjust for the greater good.

He doesn’t waste time. Brady is known for being efficient and for getting the ball out quickly. He can decipher defenses and opportunities before even getting under center. He sees it fast, anticipates and processes what he sees in a flash. He can adapt and change in an instant. Prior to Super Bowl XLIX (my favorite one), I recall Seahawks coach, Pete Carroll yelling at his defense in practice videos with a stop watch. Two seconds would pass and Carroll would yell out “Too long!” He was right…

He’s a true team player. Ubuntu. “I am because we are.” The 2008 Celtics adopted this profound word that defined overcoming the great struggle of South African Apartheid. It bonded the 2008 Celtics for sure, but Tom Brady has truly defined it. In all of Brady’s words and his actions, he truly ‘is because we are.’ The ultimate team player always. Ubuntu, truly belongs to Brady and maybe KG & Pierce too…

He’s humble. Brady has never lost his humility and he has literally every reason to. He’s never lost sight of his journey and how hard he’s had to work to overcome his shortcomings, real or perceived. Anyone who doesn’t see this, acknowledge this or respect this part of his makeup is missing it, because I think it’s literally his best quality. Something truly to emulate. Don’t you wish all of our favorite athletes, actors or musicians handled themselves like Brady? I think we’d all be better off. Brady has class, while too many modern day celebraties don’t.

He’s appreciative. Brady’s glowing comments of his teachings and teachers (his parents and coaches) is clearly genuine. He knows where he comes from, what’s helped him become what he’s become and is never short in espousing the appropriate credit to those whom have helped blaze the trail.

It’s Brady’s humility and appreciation for his path and achievements that help ground him and constantly fuel that thirst for more. With such humility and appreciation for all he’s accomplished, he seemingly does so in the healthiest and most productive way and that’s what I appreciate most about him.