By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- In the interest of being frank, Tom Brady's new documentary series project hasn't made the most sense. Not to me, anyway.
To me, the whole project felt like an overreaction by ESPN to the wonderful Michael Jordan project from a year ago. The cultural sensation that was "The Last Dance" was driven by several factors, one of which being ... the fact that a global pandemic had halted all live sports from being played. The captivating, largely untold or forgotten story had the rapt attention of sports fans who had otherwise resorted to binging dramas or movies or doing the unthinkable: reading books. That unique window, in addition to the 25-30 years that had passed since the actual events unfolded, helped make "The Last Dance" a hit.
So when ESPN announced "Man In The Arena" immediately after "The Last Dance" finished airing, it felt ... unnecessary. Like a poorly planned rush to capitalize on something else that was wildly popular. As such, I haven't felt particularly rushed to give it a gander. Having witnessed the Patriots' dynasty years firsthand, and being fully aware of the documentation of the Super Bowl runs via NFL Films DVDs and whatnot, it didn't feel like there was much new ground being broken.
And for the most part, that's true -- at least it was in the first episode, which I finally threw on as background viewing nearly a month after it debuted.
Yet in the middle of the episode -- which chronicles Drew Bledsoe's Week 2 injury in 2001, Brady's ascension to starter, and the run to a Super Bowl XXXVI title -- Brady made an honest admission that was, legitimately, stunning.
Brady was talking about the 2001 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, when he was knocked out of the game on a low (dirty) hit by Lee Flowers late in the second quarter. Brady admitted that prior to the injury, he was overwhelmed by everything the Steelers were showing him defensively. (Brady was 12-for-18 for 115 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in the game.)
"From the start of the game, I was confused," Brady said. "Everything was -- I didn't know what was coming. You know, all their different blitzes -- they brought two from this side, they brought two from this side, they brought two on the inside, they brought one off an edge, they brought the safety, they brought the corner."
That much was clear by the results. The Patriots led, 7-3, when Brady was injured, but that score came on special teams. The Patriots were just 2-for-7 on third down to that point, and offense was a struggle.
And when reliving that first half in Pittsburgh 20 years later, Brady said what can be described as an unbelievable comment:
"You know, mentally, that was a big challenge for me. And I wasn't quite ready for that moment."
I wasn't quite ready for that moment.
That is, really, a stunning admission. This is Tom Brady we're talking about. He's cemented his place as the GOAT because he's shown up in more big moments than anybody else in history. The legend of Tom Brady was built on the postseason that featured a 10-point comeback and OT win in the midst of a blizzard, as well as the game-winning drive in the Super Bowl to beat the Rams. That was a drive that saw Brady complete five passes for 53 yards in a span of 90 seconds, ending with Brady casually extending his left arm to catch the ball after spiking it with 7 seconds left on the clock.
And that was, obviously, just the beginning. He's made it to more Super Bowls than anyone. He's won more Super Bowls than anyone. He's won more Super Bowl MVPs than anyone. He's won more playoff games than anyone. He's won in every condition imaginable. He hasn't been perfect, obviously, but he's been better than anyone. Ever.
Remaining cool in these moments has been the hallmark of his entire career. And as he said at the end of Episode 1, he's still [bleeping] doing it.
Yet with 20 years of reflection, Brady looks back on that one game, and that one moment, and sees a young player who was overwhelmed.
Brady said that Bill Belichick might have sensed that doubt emanating from Brady, as well.
"For as much as my ankle was hurting, I was scared, too," Brady said in the documentary. "Coach recognized that in me, too. I think he probably looked at me and said, 'OK, Tom. We're gonna let someone else play the rest of the game.'"
I suppose, with Brady serving as the executive producer of his own documentary series, I didn't expect that kind of raw honesty being captured and shared with the masses. At the same time, given ... quite literally everything that's happened since January 2002, Brady clearly feels comfortable admitting this now. This particular admission won't exactly ding his reputation as a big-game player.
Still, it was a bit of a stunner, sprinkled in the middle of a 54-minute rehash of a run to the Super Bowl which had already been chronicled quite thoroughly over the years.
I wasn't quite ready for that moment.
Does that make the whole endeavor worth it, from a viewer's standpoint -- who knows? But it was, without question, a shocking thing to hear from the player who's owned more moments than can be counted.
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