BOSTON -- Tom Brady's whole identity since the late '90s has been about proving people wrong. It makes sense, then, that once he's done authoring the most absurdly successful football career the sport has ever seen, he'll be taking on arguably his most difficult challenge yet.
He's going to have to be interesting.
That's not a shot at Brady, per se. It is merely a recognition that ever since Brady vaulted himself to internationally famous status, he's been ... well, pretty boring. And some of that has been by design.
Developing as a player in Bill Belichick's system, Brady learned that anything he said can and would be used against him by opponents searching for motivation. In the rare moments where he's loosened up -- "Is Plax playing defense?" -- it's blown up in his face. Even innocuous comments, like the time he had the gall to suggest that Patriots fans might imbibe alcoholic beverages before a 4:15 p.m. kickoff in Foxboro, led to controversy and forced him to issue a "clarification" as journalists sought comments from police chiefs and activism leaders.
He could have revealed more of his reasoning for leaving the Patriots and ending his professional relationship with Bill Belichick in 2020, but he's kept things above board in that regard. He could have been open and honest about why he skipped the Patriots' White House trip in 2015 and 2017, but he stayed silent on both. He could have said a lot of things in recent years instead of having Jim Gray say them in totally-not-at-all-scripted questions for their podcasts together, but he hasn't. He could have -- and freaking should have -- told us all what his real feelings are toward Roger Goodell, but, well, nada. That's been his approach for a long time, and it's saved him from creating a lot of headaches for himself.
Really, for the bulk of Brady's career as the center of attention on the most scrutinized and hated NFL team in the country, he's made it a point to try to say as little as possible whenever speaking into a microphone.
In his new role, that will have to change.
On the one hand, if Brady taps into his unmatched knowledge of football and can translate what he sees on the field as quickly as he processes plays as a quarterback, then he'll undoubtedly be one of the most educational commentators in sports history. While X's and O's don't always play to a wide audience, there's a balance that can be found in delivering that information in easily digestible bursts. With a proper level of coaching, Brady may be able to excel in that area, much like Tony Romo did when he entered the scene and informed the viewing public just how much a quarterback sees before the snap. Likewise, Peyton Manning's commentary during his "Manningcasts" with Eli was exceptional from a schematic standpoint ... until ESPN turned that alternate broadcast into a late night talk show, centered more on guest interviews than on football commentary.
Beyond that, Brady will have to exhibit some level of personality that lets him connect with the TV viewer at home. He's been able to do that in plenty of scripted work -- on SNL way back when, in that Funny Or Die video from a decade ago, in various goofy videos for TB12 and whatnot, when he pretended to be drunk after the boat parade, like he will probably be in the forthcoming cinematic romp featuring Jane Fonda and Sally Field, in his carefully crafted social media posts, etc. -- but live TV is a different animal. Brady hasn't exactly been electric while mic'd up for those televised golf matches in recent years, so he'll have to activate a different side of his personality than what he's shown to the world thus far. A lot of folks who aren't exactly enamored with Brady surely have some doubt about his ability to do that.
But, well, hasn't the entire Brady brand been built on proving people wrong. From the Drew Henson days, to pick No. 199, Brady had some serious doubters early in his career. He had to manufacture some of that public doubt later in his career, like he did during the Patriots' 2018 Super Bowl run, but it's clearly been a major motivator for him. It's that mentality that's at least partially to blame for his annual decision to keep playing football, even at an age where almost every quarterback in history has been comfortably settled into retirement.
So really, in taking on this new challenge, Brady's probably just going to do what he's done forever: lean in to the doubters and try to prove them wrong.
(It's also not rocket science, you know. Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth both rose to the top of the profession by just saying what they see on the field. Romo burst onto the scene like a rocket by bringing some strong football knowledge and combining it with smelling-salt energy. It's not the easiest job in the world, but it's definitely not the hardest. And if Brady somehow doesn't succeed ... he's still going to collect that $20 million paycheck and then get back to selling some very expensive gym shorts. Not a bad situation to be in.)
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