Whatever you may think of Tom Brady now that he has officially announced his retirement from the NFL; whether you think of him as the GOAT (greatest of all time); or you believe off-field controversies like Deflategate and Spygate tarnished his (and the New England Patriots) image as the All-American boy next door; the one thing that is unassailable has been the joy that he has exhibited throughout his 22-year professional football career.
But it wasn’t just the joy he found for himself. It was his ability to precipitate the same feeling in his teammates, and their fans, and the concomitant competitive passions he aroused in his competitors, too. Didn’t matter which side of the ball you were on, the man was a force multiplier.
Even at age 44, after 22 competitive seasons in a brutally violent sport, Brady played with the unabashed joy of a 10-year-old out on an open field with his buddies, like Peter Pan in a helmet and pads.
And isn’t joy what makes sport such an important tool in teaching a proper way of living? Because it is in the doing alone that we discover the critical reward, not in the accolades or prizes that may come from it.
As runners, whether as freshmen on the high school cross-country team, or all the way to the Olympic level, it is the baseline joy of free flowing through space with a self-generated wind in our hair, that produces the passion that supports the commitment that overcomes the injuries that salves the losses and exhilarates us in our wins.
The question for Tom Brady now is, what else can elicit that same feeling?
I think he kept playing football, not simply because it gave him so much joy, but because he was afraid nothing else ever could fill the void football would leave behind. He kept playing because he was afraid to stop, afraid that nothing else would make him want to sit and study film hour after hour, to dissect what the opposition is trying to do to him, to do the drills, maintain allegiance to diet and pliability and sacrifice. Though, for him, it didn’t amount to sacrifice until he saw his three children age into their own lives and discover their own passions.
He can be a successful business executive, sure, and make millions and millions more dollars. But he’s already done that.
Besides, the world of business gives someone like Elon Musk, for instance, the same feeling that football gave TB12. But just as in golf, where you never seem able to master every club in your bag in a given round, one man’s joy may be another man’s drudgery. Odds are Vladimir Horowitz wasn’t much of a bunker player, though his hands made him one of the great pianists in history. Life is funny like that. You don’t get it all.
But music is like sports because it, too, elicits feelings of pure contentment. Art does it, as well. It’s why music, art, and sports are so important for our children, and why defunding them in our schools is a classic example of penny-wise, pound-foolish.
Art, music, and sports reduce us all to the moment, where there is no past, there is no future, where what I am and what I am doing become fused into the same thundering moment.
And when it’s over, and you look back, it’s only then you realize how fast time passed. But that is the mark of a life well lived. When, in always attending to the moment, one is propelled through time and only upon looking back does it all seem like a blur.
Passion is what trumps boredom, unless you are a character like John Yossarian in Joseph Heller‘s darkly satiric 1961 anti-war novel Catch-22. Captain Yossarian liked to stare at clocks, and watch water as it built to a boil, because he was looking for the quantity of life rather than quality, because he was constantly afraid he would die during one of his bombing raids over Italy in WW2. So he did incredibly boring things to give the illusion of stretching out time.
But unless you’re a contrarian of that order, I recommend the TB 12 method instead, where you seek the joy of a swift, but rewarding time, the joy that we who are runners understand all too well.
So whether you’re one who thinks Brady is an altar boy or Captain America, who with just a healthy Chris Godwin and Tristan Wirfs might have gone to yet another Super Bowl. Or you believe he’s always been a calculating poseur who ditched pregnant girlfriend Bridget Moynahan when the younger, wealthier, more famous Gisele Bündchen came along, and a grudge holder who purposely snubbed the New England Patriots and the region’s fans because he didn’t mention them in his nine-page Instagram retirement post, he deserves our thanks for showing us all how to squeeze every moment of pleasure out of a sport that likewise produces so much pain, without losing the zip on his fastball along the way.
Having lived in Boston for over 25 years, I’m in the former camp, and both thank him for the magical ride – especially having experienced the Pats pre-Brady – and wish him well as he flies off in search of life’s next joy. Imagine, 22 and still too soon! Amazing.