A lot will be said in the coming days and weeks about Tom Brady’s seven Super Bowl titles, his three MVP awards, and the long list of records that he’s shattered over the course of an illustrious career spanning three decades. He’s the only player to ever win a Super Bowl for both the AFC and the NFC, the only one to win a Super Bowl MVP with two different teams, and he orchestrated the greatest comeback and only overtime victory in Super Bowl history. There will be plenty of time to dissect all of Brady’s honors, awards, and achievements, but I want to speak to the inspiration that Brady’s indomitable spirit has provided me personally.
Tom Brady’s Legacy
A decade ago, I wasn’t the huge fan of Brady, or even of football, that I am now. Back in 2010, I had just graduated college, and I joined my first ever fantasy football league with some of my fraternity brothers in an effort to keep in touch as we went our separate ways to start our careers. Among my draft picks that year was a rookie tight end named Rob Gronkowski. His on-field dominance and entertaining antics off the field, including his “Yo soy fiesta” interview with ESPN Deportes, drew me to start watching and reading more about him and by association, the New England Patriots, despite having grown up in Chicago.
As I read more about the Patriots, I inevitably consumed more stories and content about Brady as well. In doing so, I learned about his two years as a backup at Michigan before getting a chance to start as well as the former 199th overall pick’s humble beginnings as a backup in New England. I discovered how he capitalized on his opportunity to start and never looked back, overcoming numerous obstacles during his meteoric rise. Brady’s long journey to NFL relevance and eventually stardom reminded me of my own struggles as well as those of my parents.
My father seized an opportunity to immigrate to the United States in his thirties with a meager fifty dollars in his pocket. A former university professor in China, he worked as a restaurant delivery driver in America to earn a living and put himself through college. After a year, he finally scrounged up enough money to bring my mother and me, then only 18 months old, to the United States. Once he graduated and started working full-time, my mother also began attending college while working as a waitress and a nanny on the side, all while raising me. Growing up, I never fully appreciated my parents’ journey but always admired their work ethic, and Brady’s path similarly inspired me again in adulthood.
Friends and acquaintances alike have accused me in the past of being a bandwagon fan, and I have always given the same reply. As a child, I didn’t watch many Bears games or football games in general, so I wasn’t an avid NFL fan in the early 2000s during the first leg of the Patriots’ dynasty. And while I’ll always support and root for the Bears as a Chicagoan, I developed more emotional ties to the Patriots through Gronkowski and eventually Brady beginning in 2011, six years removed from their last Super Bowl win at that point. Yes, the Patriots were perennial contenders, but it would be another four years before the second leg of the dynasty began with their next Super Bowl win over the Seahawks in 2015, which became a turning point in my life.
In 2014, I had just started a new job in finance after taking a year off to explore writing as a career. It was a challenging re-acclimation, and on top of that, I was struggling through a couple of messy breakups at the same time. I felt exhausted, both physically and mentally, and my emotional burdens led to struggles with anxiety as well as significant weight gain. This continued through the end of 2014 and into the new year. Super Bowl XLIX in February of 2015 was a wake-up call for me.
I had felt mild disappointment when the Bears had lost to the Colts in Super Bowl XLI back in 2007, but it didn’t really leave an impact. As a newly-minted fan of Brady and the Patriots, Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle was the first Super Bowl in which I was truly emotionally invested. I felt my stomach churn with New England trailing for much of the second half, and despite having taken the lead with just over two minutes left, it seemed all but inevitable for Seattle to come back after Jermaine Kearse’s incredible catch and Marshawn Lynch’s run setting them up at the one-yard line. Instead, as we now know, Malcolm Butler shocked the world with a game-sealing interception.
In the days and weeks following that game, it was revealed that the Patriots had practiced for that exact scenario of the Seahawks’ pick play near the goal line. The “miraculous” interception was really a byproduct of a well-prepared New England team that executed when needed. Brady’s persevering performance in the second half along with Butler’s last-minute interception inspired me not to despair in my own life, but rather to make the preparations I needed to in order to succeed. I began working out in earnest to lose weight, and I made a concerted effort to start looking for a new job where I felt more fulfilled.
I became a bigger fan of Bill Belichick, Gronkowski, and of course, Brady, after that game. Following Super Bowl XLIX, Brady also revealed in an interview that his favorite book was The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Rivera, which I then proceeded to purchase and read. My weathered copy now sits prominently on my bookshelf, and I’ve recommended and gifted the book to quite a few friends over the years. In the book, the author refers to four codes of conduct to follow in life:
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
The Four Agreements has since also become my favorite book, and I have done my best to live by these mantras. After reading it, I made a concerted effort to improve myself and to follow these guidelines in my friendships and relationships alike, focusing more on what I could control in my intents and actions rather than focusing on those of others. When faced with difficult circumstances, I have tried to act to the best of my abilities without complaints or despair. These four agreements have served me well and continue to shape how I live my life, but of course, no one is immune to distress or discouragement.
Fast forward two years to early 2017, and I was a month into a new job that I absolutely abhorred due to layoffs to my team which resulted in unexpectedly added roles and responsibilities. At the same time, I experienced firsthand the heartache that infidelity can cause from my most recent relationship at the time. The combination of these two happenings led to my first-ever panic attack on the train while commuting to work one cold winter morning. Despite doing my best to maintain a positive outlook, I was at a breaking point and started seeing a therapist to help sift through my issues. It was another turning point in my life, and it just so happened to coincide with another Super Bowl run for Brady and the Patriots, this time against the Falcons.
As it was in my life at the time, nothing was going right for New England in the first half of Super Bowl LI. LeGarrette Blount lost a fumble early on, setting up a quick 7-0 lead for Atlanta. The Falcons scored again before Brady threw a pick-six, and the score was quickly 21-0. The image of Brady on his knees after missing the tackle on Robert Alford and watching him running to the opposite end zone is one that will be etched into my memory forever. In fact, it was the front page image for an early edition of The Boston Globe that was sent out detailing the Patriots’ collapse (I’m still looking to acquire a copy of that morning’s newspaper if anyone out there has one).
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) February 6, 2017
Early in the third quarter, Atlanta extended their lead to a now-infamous score of 28-3 before the Patriots finally scored their first touchdown of the game. That sparked life into the team, and D’Onta Hightower’s timely sack-fumble led a monumental effort by the defense to shut out the Falcons for the remainder of the game. Brady was able to string together two perfect touchdown drives with a little help from Julian Edelman’s “Incredelman” catch to send the game to overtime, and from there history was made.
The completion of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and possibly in NFL history, was an incredible feat, and it also helped to bring me back from the precipice for the second time in my life. I had become despondent, but Super Bowl LI provided a much-needed lift. New England and Brady’s resilience in the second half even in the face of incredibly long odds was a stark reminder to continue believing in myself, working hard, and building upon the lessons I’d learned no matter the situation. Sometimes all we need is a push in the right direction, and I’m lucky to have found the right push at the right time twice from football and from Tom Brady.
A year after the win over the Falcons, the Patriots lost to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII. The following year, they beat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII for their sixth championship. And in Super Bowl LV just a couple of years after that, Brady won his seventh Super Bowl title with his second team in Tampa Bay. I wish I had impactful stories to tell about each of these Super Bowl runs, but I don’t. The truth is that the two pivotal comeback wins in Super Bowl XLIX and Super Bowl LI were timely inspiration for me to get my life back on track and motivation to establish healthy routines going forward.
I have always rooted for Brady since, and at long last, it’s time for the NFL to move on. In some ways, the NFL already has moved on, as the ascension of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and other young players signals the beginning of a new era. Perhaps Mahomes has already similarly inspired younger fans who have needed a push in their lives with his 24-point playoff comeback against the Texans or his fourth-quarter comeback over the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. Maybe Allen will be a symbol of never giving up if and when the Bills finally overcome the Chiefs in future playoff games. And Burrow has almost certainly already helped to motivate many with his underdog mentality and by overcoming tough challenges en route to playing in Super Bowl LVI.
Some day in the near future, Brady will be ushered into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with much pomp and circumstance. His many accolades are well-known, as are his long list of accomplishments on the field as the greatest quarterback of all time. Maybe someone could ultimately dethrone Brady as he dethroned Joe Montana, but while Brady’s records might be broken, he’s built a lasting legacy on hard work, preparation, and sheer will, three things available to anyone willing to strive for them. His achievements are carved into the annals of football history and will always be there as a reminder to me and others to work hard, never give up, and never settle for anything less than our full potential. Thank you, Tom Brady.
For more fantasy football and NFL content, follow me on Twitter @FFA_Meng.
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