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Brady doc: ‘Tom vs. Time’ and the pursuit of perfection

TOM BRADY
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The 5-part Facebook documentary offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Brady’s life ... and something disturbing to think about.

At the risk of losing friends and alienating people, I have to be honest about something.

I’m a Patriots fan.

I don’t mean that they’re my rival’s rival, or that I’ve hopped on the Patriots bandwagon as they enter their eighth Super Bowl since 2001. I mean that I’m a fully invested, insignia-wearing, Dunkin-drinking fan who was born and raised in Massachusetts. The Belichick-Brady era spans my four years in high school, four years in college, and an entire decade after. I think that the success of that dynasty speaks for itself, and that the comeback kid Tom Brady really is the GOAT: the greatest of all time among NFL quarterbacks.

Love Brady or hate him, a 5-part Facebook documentary called Tom vs. Time offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at his life. And right from the opening monologue in the first episode, it’s clear that his success is no accident.

“What are you willing to do, and what are you willing to give up, to be the best you can be?” Brady asks. “You only have so much energy, and the clock’s ticking on all of us. And when you say yes to something, that means you got to say no to something else. In the end, my life focused around football. It always has been and always will be, as long as I’m playing. I’ve given my body, my everything, every bit of energy for eighteen years to it. So if you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life. Because I’m giving up mine.”

I’m sure a lot of professional athletes share this mentality. But what makes Tom Brady different is that he’s allowed this interior drive to transform every aspect of his life. Brady has radically transformed his whole diet (avocado ice cream is as good as it gets); he undergoes lengthy “pliability” massages with his trainer; and when he’s not obsessively studying film from past games, he’s out in a field trying to improve his movements for future ones. Tom Brady eats, thinks, and sleeps victory, even after he achieves it. “There’s a brief moment in time where I enjoy the experience of winning,” he says, reflecting on last year’s Super Bowl. “And then I’m thinking about the next game, and I’m thinking about winning again.”

If all of this feels quasi-religious, that’s probably by design. Tom vs. Time was produced in association with “Religion of Sports,” a TV series co-produced by Brady and Gotham Chopra, the son of spiritual writer Deepak Chopra. (“Contrary to his ‘spiritual upbringing,’” Chopra’s bio reads, “he lives and dies by his hometown Boston sports teams, which he actually thinks is pretty spiritual.” It’s interesting that in one generation, the non-religious spirituality of Chopra has yielded the secular spirituality of his son. But that’s another story.) The tagline of the series isn’t exactly shy about the connection: “It Is Revelation: Sports Is Religion. Believe.”

There’s a troubling story here about professional sports taking on the significance of religious faith for many people. But a less obvious story is what Tom Brady’s “religion of sports” can tell us about the “sport of religion” that it so often eclipses.

Tom vs. Time shows us a man who knows that mediocrity is a waste of time. He’s not content just to win more than he loses. He doesn’t want to be in the middle of the pack. He wants to be the best of the best, and he sacrifices every shred of his being to reach that goal. At 40, he knows the clock is ticking, but rather than coast into an already high place in football history, he doubles and triples his efforts to get even higher. Tom Brady is so determined to get better that when he watches past Super Bowl tapes, he doesn’t look with nostalgia at his youthful mobility; instead, he winces in embarrassment at his youthful mistakes.

The atheist Christopher Hitchens used to poke fun at a poet who reveled in the “sweet mediocrity” of his native Church of England. It’s a strange thing to revel in, but unlike Tom Brady, we tend to do that when it comes to the moral and spiritual life. We pride ourselves on doing more good than harm; on occasionally going to church, praying, and giving our time and money; and on never arguing that anyone’s faith is truer than anyone else’s. We know too that the clock is ticking on us, but rather than open ourselves up to graces that push us beyond our comfort zone, we slump into the fluffy sofa of ordinariness.

In the Catholicism series, Bishop Barron was asked about the self-discipline of spirituality, and responded very simply: “If people are willing to do it for football, shouldn’t they do it for their eternal life?” It’s a great question. Sports are about competition and entertainment; religion is about the state and destiny of your soul. The goals are completely different – greatness vs. humility, superiority vs. service, a Super Bowl ring vs. a crown of thorns – but the road is still a human one, and the stakes are infinitely higher. So why settle for the playbook of mediocrity? Why not pursue perfection?

Anyone who has seen Tom Brady stagger in the pocket like a fawn on ice knows that he’s not a perfect player. He never was. But he’s given his life to pursuing perfection and he’s gotten closer than anyone ever expected.

“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Like Brady, you probably won’t get there; but you might just gain your life in the giving.

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