William Faulkner once claimed he wanted his tombstone to read simply, “He wrote the books and died.” Such gracious ability to be judged by one’s body of work is all too often lacking.
Recently Tom Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl winner and three-time league MVP, determined the world needed his opinions on the decline of football. The sport’s slide, in his opinion, just so happened to coincide with his retirement.
Brady can surely be considered among the greatest football stars of all time. He does not, however, seem ready to let his accomplishments speak for themselves.
In an appearance on the ESPN program, The Stephen A. Smith Show,” he claimed, “I think there’s a lot of mediocrity in today’s NFL. I don’t see the excellence that I saw in the past.”
The past for Brady was just last year when he finished his career as the second-highest-rated passer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Brady’s 23-year career arguably lasted too long.
He was not Willie Mays in centerfield for the New York Mets, but he was not Tom Brady of the past.
He went on to say, “I think the coaching isn’t as good as it was. I don’t think the development of young players is as good as it was. I don’t think the schemes are as good as they were.”
As time passes, the mind plays tricks on us. We often think of the past as the good old days. I was trained as a historian of the nineteenth century. Often, people will tell me how much they appreciate those simple times and that it was a better era. Sure, unless you needed a tooth filling or any type of surgery or you were a person of color or female. Other than those things, it was pretty solid.
I wonder if Tom Brady has spent much time ruminating on the rule changes designed to protect passers. Joe Namath, Don Meredith, and Fran Tarkenton were passers who were regularly mauled during an era where the head slap was legal and roughing the quarterback was encouraged, not penalized.
Not content to disparage professional football, Brady had to pile on (pun intended) with the college game.
“I actually think college players were better prepared when I came out than they are now,” he noted “Just because so many coaches are changing programs, and I would say there’s not even a lot of college programs anymore.”
Ironically, his college program, Michigan, is embroiled in a controversy over stealing signals. Who knew he was such a keen observer of the college game?
“So as they get delivered to the NFL, they may be athletic, but they don’t have much of the skills developed to be a professional. When I played at Michigan, I essentially played at a college program that was very similar to a pro environment. I think things have slipped a little bit.”
The numbers fail to indicate this trend. Players are playing and starting much earlier in their careers than they did previously. This year ten rookie quarterbacks have started games, perhaps accounting for any perceived decline in game quality.
Professional athletes have a hard time understanding when their time has passed. Making the transition from elite performer operating in the limelight to suffering outside the bright lights of competition
Building a historical legacy by dragging down the work of others is unseemly. It also fails to work.
Dallas is blessed to have luminaries with links to sports that follow this rule. Roger Staubach starred for the Cowboys for eleven seasons, guiding the team to two Super Bowl wins and a Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl VI. Captain Comeback earned his name for his dashing play on the gridiron.
Off the field, he’s also been the model. He further burnished his reputation for excellence by building a national real estate business, while also being a great parent, husband, and citizen. Everything he has done has been about excellence and building a team. (His daughter, Jennifer Staubach Gates, demonstrated the same type of determined excellence at Dallas City Hall—no easy place for team-oriented leadership.)
Staubach has consistently avoided the personal spotlight, allowing other Cowboys to follow and lead America’s team. Troy Aikman, winner of three Super Bowls, has continued to follow in the mold of Staubach, crafting a career in business and now as the finest color commentator of his generation. In so doing, he appreciates the role and current excellence of today’s gladiators, while modestly, and only rarely, acknowledging his personal experience.
Dirk Nowitzki spends no time dragging down the game, and gives every opportunity for Luca Doncic to emerge comfortably as the face of the franchise. It does not threaten his legacy or accomplishment for the Mavericks.
Importantly, each of these athletes only played for one team. They did not try to further their accomplishments. Instead, they have aged gracefully (there’s a lot to be said about Brady and aging since he’s the only footballer that has more hair and fewer wrinkles when their career started), allowing others to take center stage.
Most importantly, President George W. Bush sets a remarkably good example. Without regard to party affiliation, the former president has worked with other former presidents to forge a winning team and friendships. His winning way allows for the inclusion of other winners.
Los Angeles Lakers owner, Jeanie Buss, maybe summed it up best on Brady, “I’m sort of ashamed to admit it. Because he’s probably a nice guy. But I hate Tom Brady.”
I rarely agree with anyone that has something to do with the Lakers, but in this instance, I’m thinking Jeannie Buss was way ahead of me.
Makes me think of another pearl of Texas music wisdom: Mama, don’t let your Patriots grow up to babies.