I recently watched a rerun of Steve Croft’s 60 Minutes interview with New England quarterback Tom Brady back in 2005. It reminded me all over again what a unique individual Brady is.
As a star athlete in today’s vulgar, showboating world of sports, Brady is just plain boring. He hasn’t covered his body with tattoos, he doesn’t wear earrings, and, no, he hasn’t married himself on national television. Which is why you don’t hear much about him in the news.
There are many factors in Tom Brady’s remarkable success story, but there are two, in particular, that I wanted to pass along to you because I believe they are applicable to any individual, regardless of his profession.
After a successful senior year as quarterback for Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California, Tom Brady received no college scholarship offers. This prompted his father to put together a video of his high school football achievements and send it to 60 colleges.
As a result of his dad’s efforts, only one school — the University of Michigan — offered Brady a scholarship. He began as the seventh-ranked quarterback for the Wolverines, but finally worked his way up to number one in his junior year.
After a good but unspectacular career at Michigan, Brady was drafted in the seventh round by the New England Patriots in 2000. The NFL’s scouting report on him stated: “Poor build … very skinny and narrow … lacks mobility and the ability to avoid the rush … lacks a really strong arm.”
As I’ve said so often, the Discouragement Fraternity is everywhere — even in pro football. The only question is how one chooses to react to the negativity of the “experts.” When Steve Croft asked Brady what he thought it was that all the NFL scouts missed, he responded simply, “I think they underestimated my competitiveness.”
The experts in any field can evaluate your talents, your skills, and your intelligence in their never-ending quest to discourage you, but they can never know what’s inside your heart. A relentless desire to succeed trumps every negative your detractors can point to or create.
Our Changing World
In sports, players get hurt, others are traded or quit, and some just get benched by the coach. Tom Brady’s situation is not unique by any means. Perhaps the most famous case of changing circumstances for an athlete who was ready to seize the moment has its roots in baseball lore.
On June 22, 1925, New York Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp asked to sit out that day’s game because of a headache. Manager Miller Huggins replaced him with a kid named Lou Gehrig. Pipp, now but a footnote in the annals of baseball history, never started another game for the Yankees, while Gehrig went on to set a record by playing in every Yankee game for the next 14 years. (A record since eclipsed by the Orioles’ Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1998.)
Johnny Unitas, voted quarterback of the NFL’s all-time team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters, began much the same way. After being cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers and serving a stint in semi-pro ball at $6 per game, he ended up as the backup to George Shaw on the Baltimore Colts.
But circumstances quickly changed for Unitas. Shaw suffered a broken leg in the fourth game of the 1956 season against the Chicago Bears, and head coach Weeb Ewbank handed the reins to the unheralded Johnny U.
Like Wally Pipp, Shaw never started another game for the Colts, and was ultimately traded to the New York Giants. In the meantime, Unitas shattered most of the NFL’s passing records on his way to a Hall of Fame career, including one that still stands today — throwing at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.
Fast-forward to the year 2000 and the New England Patriots. Unsung Tom Brady, the NFL’s 199th draft pick the year before, was the backup to every coach’s dream quarterback, Drew Bledsoe. But, again, a fateful change in circumstances entered the picture.
On September 23, 2001, Bledsoe, like George Shaw nearly a half-century earlier, was knocked out of a game with the New York Jets with a serious injury. In came Brady and — Presto! — five months later, at age twenty-four, he became the youngest quarterback in history to win a Super Bowl.
The truth be known, these kinds of things happen every day all around the globe. It’s as easy to witness in business as it is in sports, where markets are constantly changing, commercial fads come and go, or perhaps the person above you gets transferred to another division. You have to be prepared to move quickly and take advantage of changing circumstances when they occur, because they can change again very rapidly.
There are many items that go into the success equation, but becoming a master at fending off negativism and always being prepared for change are near the top of the list. If you need proof of just how important they are, you need look no further than Tom Brady — the poster boy for just how far the mastery of these two areas of life can take you.