Today’s Brew: Gingerbread. So it’s going to snow again tomorrow.
I’m going to ask you to put aside any prejudice you have against football and my beloved Patriots, even if they didn’t win yesterday. (I see all you haters, angrily stirring your celery stick in your Hateraide Bloody Marys). It’s not a story about the Patriots, or football. It’s a story about a guy named Tom. Pretend I’m telling you about someone I met on OK Cupid.
If you also want to pretend I’m a Victoria’s Secret model, I won’t stop you. But I digress.
Tom was a backup quarterback in college, behind a celebrated quarterback on a big time team. He didn’t get much of a chance to shine. Even though he still got drafted, which is a huge accomplishment in itself, it was in the 6th round. (By comparison, Peyton Manning was the #1 overall pick in the draft the year before.) No one talks about 6th round picks. We’re excited about the first rounders, and even second and third rounders. The rest of the guys are a total crap shoot. I remember thinking as I heard the Patriots drafted a quarterback, “Why? He’ll never get a chance to play behind Drew Bledsoe.”
The Patriots already had a star quarterback. He was good, but not great, but in the 90’s, we didn’t dare to expect great. Our hearty sports tradition was rich in disappointment. Drew Bledsoe was one of the main components of the revival of the Patriots franchise, and his claim to the quarterback throne was not to be disputed.
Back to Tom. He made the team, as a forth string quarterback. Mind you, most teams only have two or three quarterbacks on the 53 man roster. They need to keep the room for positions that are more injury prone, like running backs and linebackers. At training camp that summer, the quarterbacks were working on a drill where they had to hit a trashcan from far range. Drew Bledsoe missed it every time. So didn’t 2 and 3. They don’t really matter anymore. Tom hit it every time.
“The rookie can do it and Drew can’t.” I remember saying to my friend.
But that didn’t mean Tom got to play. During the 2000 season, he didn’t even suit up for most games. He was given a ticket to the game and he sat in the stands, in street clothes, with the mere mortals and drunken idiots. After all, someone would have to pull of a large scale assassination on the sidelines for this guy to even be considered. So Tom sat with us, watching the games, taking it all in.
After the season ended with a whimper instead of a bang, Tom went home. Did he give up because his experience in the NFL was less that what he expected it to be? No. He started training for the 2001 season. When he arrived at his California gym, the guys who worked there didn’t even believe he was in the NFL. Too skinny. So Tom worked his ass off to get into football shape.
But he was still fighting for a spot on the team. Now he was a third stringer. Still technically expendable.
Switch to behind the scenes of the evil genius that is the Patriots brain trust. Bill Belichick knew he had a quarterback controversy on his hands, and to do something about it would mean complete anarchy in the New England region. This Brady kid was better than Bledsoe. But he wasn’t sure what he was going to do about it.
The problem wound up taking care of itself. Mo Lewis of the New York Jets delivered a violet hit to Drew Bledsoe that almost killed him. Instead of putting in the veteran second string quarterback, Belichick sent Brady in.
Cue a collective “What the fuck?” resonating throughout New England.
I had tickets to that next game, versus Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning. No one had any idea we would be watching the start of the greatest rivalry in this era of football. I expected a thorough ass kicking, and to be sent back to the parking lot with our collective tails between our legs, to pick up where we left off drinking. But something happened that no one expected. Everything clicked. There was no film for the Colts to study on Brady, and they had no idea how to prepare for him. The game was a whoopin’ alright, but the Patriots brought down the mighty Colts.
The excitement in the stadium was tangible. Everyone was jumping up and down, screaming, and basically, not believing what they were seeing. It is still the best game I ever went to.
You guys know the rest of the story, as far as the Patriots are concerned. But the effect of what happened with Brady led team was felt far off of the field. It was right after September 11th. We needed something to root for. For myself and many other people, it gave us the audacity to dream big. To want to be great. This particular team was just that, greater than the sum of its parts. To be a part of something bigger, to want more than anyone said was possible, it felt good.
Why did I tell you this story? Watching all of the Brady vs. Manning stuff this weekend, all those feelings from that first Brady season came flooding back. Maybe no one wants to give you a chance. Maybe no one believes in you. But if you keep working hard at your craft, good things can happen. Maybe even great things.
It’s not a story about football. That season, I was the manager of Structure. I wound up taking over the story in the midst of drama. We were the bottom of the barrel. I built a team that wanted I wanted to work with, and more importantly, wanted to work for me. And we turned that bitch around. All the way to #3 in the company. I borrowed heavily from the teamwork philosophy, and we didn’t care that we were a little store in the middle of nowhere with no merchandise. We were determined to shine. And we did.
If your writing career is off to a stellar start, that’s alright. You can’t climb the ladder if you don’t take the first step. Keep honing your craft. Keep writing. People will notice. You might not be the #1 pick in the draft, but those later round picks can surprise us all.