The National Football League (NFL) draft is only a few weeks away. The news is filled with controversies and conspiracies about Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson. Curious fans talk about whether the Patriots will, phoenix-like, rise once more. My dad dreams — again — that his dear old Jets will, with more touchdowns, begin to take off. But this next season will be a new one. A weird one. An odd one. For the first time in 20-plus years, we won’t have Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. throwing a football.
Whether one likes him or not, whether one appreciates him or not, whether one enjoys watching him or not, he is the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time. The Unstoppable. He is the only NFL quarterback to have more than 600 passing touchdowns in the regular season (he had 649). Including the postseason, he has the jumbo jet-amount of 737 touchdowns. He has won more Super Bowls than any of the 32 NFL franchises. He is a surefire “first ballot” Hall of Famer who is statistically twice as good as the average Hall of Fame quarterback. He, of course, is Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr., the greatest of them all. Despite that, when one looks closely at the start of his career, there turns out to be countless bumps and turns, despite his “Tom Brady charm.”
Tom “TB12” Brady’s story — the real-life version of Captain America — is a tale well told. In fact, the story of Brady has many eerie and uncanny parallels with the fictional Steve Rogers. Before he began scaring the opposition’s defenses, he looked like a scarecrow. There is an infamous picture of him with a haggard, hangdog look from the 2000 NFL Combine — with more similarities to a prisoner of war who just got freedom from a prisoner exchange. He was the seventh quarterback drafted that year, as draftee number 199. Seventh. The six luminary quarterbacks drafted ahead of Brady: Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn. Combined, those six started 191 games and scored 258 touchdowns. Brady, on his own, started 258 games and scored… yes, 737 touchdowns. The collective brain trust of the NFL experts and the all-knowing sports media had deemed these six to be better quarterbacks than TB12. Even after being drafted by the New England Patriots, Brady might’ve never seen the light of day if Moe Lewis, then of the New York Jets, hadn’t rearranged the stomach muscles of Drew Bledsoe (the then-starting quarterback of the Patriots). In hindsight, Brady was like a million-dollar lottery ticket that was lying on the ground and no one noticed it. Among those six “better than Brady” quarterbacks today are an energy broker, a high-school coach, and, most interestingly, a “yoga-practicing goat farmer.” The irony is thick. Brady played for 23 years to become the GOAT. And a guy picked ahead of him is now a goat farmer.
Brady has been so exceptional that viewers take him much for granted, missing the forest of his achievements among the trees of details. He’s won as many Super Bowls as Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, and Dan Marino — combined. He has approximately 10,000 more passing yards than John Elway and Steve Young — again, combined. And he has as many touchdowns as Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Kurt Warner — you get the drift: combined. Each of the other names is a legend and a top-tier Hall of Fame quarterback. And in every statistic, Brady is miles ahead of each of them. Love him or hate him, he’s not the benchmark — he is the high-water mark for every quarterback metric.
Today, it is easy to praise Tom Brady for all his greatness. After all, he went from being seen as a noob to being called a boon. Amidst all the hyperventilating over him being number 199, the fact is that he turned out all right. And once he became good, his other advantages kicked in: cisgender, straight, white, male, conventionally attractive, etc. But what if he was not? Not cisgender, not as good-looking, or identifying as something other than straight or male? An entire industry — in college, media, NFL “experts” — didn’t expect this from him. He had a stroke of luck and he, rightfully, seized it. But what about the hundreds and thousands of people that didn’t get that sliver of luck? That didn’t even have the chance to opt into the draft? How many Black, Latine or other minorities has society lost out on because the experts were either blinded by bias or were parochial, myopic, and unimaginative? What about other fields? Not just sports like baseball, tennis, and soccer but also medicine, sciences, politics, and more.
I am 100 percent sure that the world is full of hidden diamonds and missed opportunities. This is why, it is up to those in power, in higher offices and positions of responsibility to be open-minded, fair, and cast a wide net. There are hundreds of thousands of athletes in this world that get lost in the search and recruitment procedure day by day. Equal opportunity is the greatest gift one can give to society. All saplings deserve enough water, sunlight, and food to grow and thrive. Some will definitely need more than others because access to necessities like sunlight and soil health are not uniform. Hopefully, society will have the will — and the heart — to give it to them.
Tom Brady did not know he was Tom Brady until Tom Brady was given the chance to become Tom Brady. Let’s not make it so hard to find the next Tom Brady.
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