Us­ing the game, not be­ing used by it

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SALLY JENK­INS

Tom Brady’s ultimate vic­tory is over the whole dumb, stick-a-nee­dle-in-it Na­tional Foot­ball League cul­ture. A 39-year-old man com­pleted the great­est come­back in Su­per Bowl his­tory, and he walked off the field without a limp or a chip on his shoul­der. How about that? He has played this game bet­ter, for longer, than any­one in the an­nals of the game, out­smarted and out­lasted not just the un­scrupu­lous com­mis­sioner, Roger Good­ell, but the hack doc­tors and the ham-fisted train­ers and all of the locker-room scroungers who would use him, or sully him, or steal the jersey from his back, yet leave him crip­pled up for life.

He’s still up­right, hav­ing proved that there is no sneaky ball trick, no amount of air that can put the sub­stance and com­po­sure in a man to come from 25 points down with 23 min­utes to go in the big­gest game and win. His legacy is not just the record-ty­ing five Su­per Bowl rings; it’s the last­ing in­flu­ence he will have on younger play­ers, guys such as re­ceiver Chris Ho­gan, who was all of 14 when Brady won his first ti­tle, in how to go about things in the face of re­ver­sal, and re-seize the nar­ra­tive of your own life and ca­reer.

You wait pa­tiently for your chance, and you play “to the last whis­tle,” Brady said as he put an arm around Ho­gan in the postgame locker-room. “To the last whis­tle.”

No player has given a greater les­son in how to use the game of foot­ball in­stead of be­ing used by it, how to build your­self up in­stead of let­ting it break you down.

Among other things, Brady is the health­i­est great cham­pion the NFL has ever had, both phys­i­cally and men­tally. That is the most in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant as­pect of his ca­reer tra­jec­tory.

For­get the re­venge and re­demp­tion nar­ra­tive, the way he made a fool of Good­ell over De­flate­gate. Brady’s far more revo­lu­tion­ary act has been to seize con­trol of his own body from a league that spe­cial­izes in ru­in­ing men with Me­so­zoic train­ing meth­ods and cor­rupt med­i­cal prac­tices rife with painkiller abuses and MRSA in­fec­tions.

Make fun of Brady’s av­o­cado ice cream if you want, but, on the cusp of 40, he has never looked or played bet­ter in his life, and he ap­pears to have more years left in those strik­ingly lim­ber arms and legs.

“You know, I don’t feel 39,” Brady said Mon­day at a news con­fer­ence to ac­cept his fourth Su­per Bowl most valu­able player tro­phy. “I hang out with a bunch of 20-yearolds, and that makes you feel young.

“I try to take care of my­self with things I’ve learned through a lot of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. I’ve found a unique way, a lit­tle out­side the box, that’s re­ally worked for me.”

Some­where around a decade ago, Brady told the NFL doc­tors and train­ers to get their hands off him, the same way he told Good­ell to get his hands off his rep­u­ta­tion.

In 2008, he un­der­went knee surgery that was com­pli­cated by a staph in­fec­tion that re­quired a sec­ond surgery, six weeks of an­tibi­otics and wound washes. His shoul­der hurt, too. “When I was 25, I was hurt­ing all the time, and I could never have imag­ined play­ing this long,” he said.

Credit for his re­mark­able longevity goes, whether any­one likes it or not, to the fact that he sought out an un­con­ven­tional Eastern­medicine masseuse-trainer, Alex Guer­rero, at whom NFL doc­tors look askance. Brady has been mocked, and Guer­rero has been called a quack and a fraud, be­cause of a dicey past in which he made ex­trav­a­gant claims about un­proven prod­ucts.

But much of what he and Brady have done makes noth­ing but sense. NFL weight-train­ing was hurt­ing his joints and rob­bing him of flex­i­bil­ity, and the food he was eat­ing was in­flam­ma­tory and mak­ing him stiff.

Brady now con­sumes no dairy, white sugar or white flour. He uses re­sis­tance bands and anti­grav­ity tread­mills and fo­cuses as much on pli­a­bil­ity as strength. He med­i­tates and does yoga. What’s more, he has steered about half the team to Guer­rero’s care. “I’m 39, and I never hurt,” Brady says. “My arm never hurts, and my body never hurts. I know how to take care of it . ... Hope­fully I can keep pass­ing that mes­sage on to a lot of young ath­letes.”

The mes­sage is that you don’t have to wind up with an old man’s body pre­ma­turely. Ev­ery year, the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots do phys­i­cal test­ing in pre-sea­son. Each of the past three years, Brady has ac­tu­ally im­proved some of his phys­i­o­log­i­cal val­ues.

Young play­ers, ob­serve. This is how you con­trol your own des­tiny. At ev­ery step in his ca­reer, Brady has re­fused to let other peo­ple de­fine him.

In col­lege, at Michi­gan, he was branded a grinder who wasn’t good enough to win the start­ing job. On en­ter­ing the NFL, he was the 199th draft pick, with awk­ward feet. Dur­ing De­flate­gate, he was a cheater who or­dered the game balls un­der­in­flated.

In ev­ery in­stance, he erased the old per­cep­tion and re­placed it with a new one, re­mak­ing him­self, his body and his per­for­mance. “I’ve never been the fastest guy in the world,” he once said. “I’ve never moved the best. I’ve never been very strong. Peo­ple have al­ways said, ‘You can’t.’ ”

Brady’s con­stant de­ter­mi­na­tion to be self­de­fined is why, in De­flate­gate, he ul­ti­mately emerged the winner and Good­ell the dam­aged loser. The Pa­tri­ots’ vic­tory and Brady’s per­for­mance ex­posed the com­mis­sioner all over again as a de­vi­ous user, will­ing to sac­ri­fice a player’s ca­reer to shore up his own — but Brady ac­cepted Good­ell’s con­grat­u­la­tions with pure class and no out­ward ap­pear­ance of hard feel­ings.

One rea­son for that, as it turns out, was that he had big­ger things to think about. His mother, Ga­lynn, has been bat­tling can­cer, un­der­go­ing chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion.

Another rea­son is that Brady and the Pa­tri­ots un­der­stood all along how to wrest the nar­ra­tive back from Good­ell: by sim­ply prov­ing who they re­ally are. As Coach Bill Belichick sug­gested Mon­day at the winner’s news con­fer­ence, the trou­ble with the re­venge-and-re­demp­tion nar­ra­tive is that it sug­gests Brady some­how needed them.

“With all due re­spect,” Belichick said, “I think it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate to sug­gest that in Tom’s ca­reer he’s been any­thing but a great team­mate, a great worker, and has given us ev­ery sin­gle ounce of ef­fort, blood, sweat and tears that he has in him.”

AN­THONY BE­HAR, SIPA USA

Tom Brady em­phat­i­cally holds up the Vince Lom­bardi Tro­phy after Su­per Bowl LI.

KEVIN C. COX, GETTY IM­AGES

Tom Brady cel­e­brates with wife Gisele Bund­chen, daugh­ter Vi­vian Brady and his mother, Ga­lynn.

DAVID J. PHILLIP, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NFL com­mis­sioner Roger Good­ell hands Tom Brady his MVP tro­phy dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

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