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Socci's Notebook: The Hard Glow of High Purpose

BOSTON (CBS) -- The morning after Tom Brady hit the 400-touchdown mark as a pro football passer, I recalled a couple of lines inspired by another New England icon, himself a .400 hitter, exactly 55 years earlier.

On Sunday, Brady reached his latest individual milestone during yet another team dismantling of an inferior foe, as the Patriots beat Jacksonville, 51-17. On Monday, newspaper agate noted the anniversary of the last at-bat for Ted Williams, who bade farewell to Boston with career homer No. 521 off Baltimore's Jack Fisher.

As Williams took his final turn at the plate and tour of the bases on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 28, author John Updike sat in his Fenway Park seat behind third base observing the imagery he later painted in prose for The New Yorker magazine.

Granted, a one-yard throw in a Week 3 rout by a quarterback who at 38 still plays as if he's in the prime of his career is no reason to wax poetic as Updike did about Williams in his famed "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." And understood, literary types don't romanticize about modern football stadia the way Updike thought of Fenway, as "a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

Although that said, Gillette Stadium does get quite melodious when fans sing of Josie to the sound of The Outfield and under the spell of 98.5's very own Scott Zolak. Or when they break into a rhapsody of "Bra-dy! Bra-dy!" like on Sunday, after Danny Amendola caught No. 400 with 18 seconds left in the first half.

But what's behind that throw, as well as the 7,300 others Brady's delivered in his 16 NFL regular seasons -- countless practices, endless preparation, obsessive year-round conditioning -- makes Updike's homage to the Splendid Splinter applicable to TB 12.

Updike first followed Williams via the box scores of the author's youth spent in Pennsylvania. Years later, upon moving to Massachusetts, Updike was afforded an up-close view of the all-time great.

Williams, he wrote, "radiated, from afar, the hard blue glow of high purpose... . For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill."

Of course, Brady has proved the classic performer on pressure-filled winter Sundays, in front of world-wide audiences, with championships at stake.

Four times he's authored fourth-quarter comebacks to Super Bowl victories. In three of those instances, he was voted Most Valuable Player of the sport's grandest game.

But for me, Brady also is the classic ballplayer for hot August weekdays, before training-camp crowds behind Gillette that are small in comparison to game-day sellouts. That's when and where you can see him constantly demonstrate the tissue-thin difference between a rep done well and one run ill.

Whether orchestrating a hurry-up 11-on-11 series or drilling a couple of receivers off to the side, Brady is always exacting. There's no time for excuses, nor tolerance for compromises.

According to teammates, none of that changes after the season opens and practices close to the public. Receiver Brandon LaFell put it perfectly while speaking to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan last January.

"I've played with a lot of good quarterbacks, but none of them want to be as perfect as Tom," LaFell told MacMullan.

Williams was the same way when it came to the science of hitting a baseball. For Brady, the pursuit of perfection is less about the science of quarterbacking than the art -- and joy -- of winning.

"Tom is such a competitor that he's not really focused on records and stuff like that," Amendola told reporters on Sunday. "But just to win a game is what he's looking for."

Other than "a high five, really," Amendola said there was little celebrating on the sideline after his second-quarter score made Brady one of just four NFL quarterbacks all-time to pass for 400 TDs.

Knowing Brady, after all, teammates recognized there was still a second half to go against the Jaguars.

So long as he's in the game -- and Brady ain't close to bidding adieu -- the hard glow of high purpose radiates.

Bob Socci is the radio play-by-play voice of the New England Patriots. You can follow him on Twitter @BobSocci.

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