Tom Brady on the Early-Career Struggles That Forged His Superstardom
"I learned to control what I can control, and that's how it is now."
Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Nothing was ever expected of him. But in 2001, when New England Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe got hurt, backup Brady stepped in and led the Pats to a Super Bowl win. And again in 2004. And again in 2005, 2015, and 2017. Yes, five Super Bowl wins and four Super Bowl MVPs later and Brady's become the stuff of legends.
No, nothing was ever expected of Tom Brady. But Tom Brady expected something of himself. And, through a series of small Defining Moments below, he prepared himself to become the quarterback of the century, winning the most playoff games in history.
"I had a lot of Defining Moments on the practice field, a lot steps along the way. I learned the mental toughness of playing football out there. Through high school and college, I wasn't necessarily the best player on the team. I was never the fastest; I was never the biggest or strongest. I had to compete as hard as I could. That taught me how to work harder. And here's what I figured out: If things weren't really working out for me, in high school, in college, early in my pro career, my solution was always to work harder and internalize. That way, whenever I got an opportunity, I was always prepared."
"It was a great training ground. When I look back, I'm like, Man, wouldn't I have loved to be a 4-year starter in college? To not have to compete for a starting position in my last year? But I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. I learned to control what I can control, and that's how it is now. I can control my actions and my attitude: how hard I prepare, how hard I work, and whether I gain the respect of my teammates through my actions or if I'm all talk."
"There are a lot of guys who are all talk. They always say they want to work harder and be the best, but they never pay the price. I love paying the price. My take on leadership over the years is you can't ask people to do things or set expectations of themselves without doing things or setting even more expectations of yourself. You expect someone to carry out a certain responsibility, and if you're the one screwing up or screwing off, it becomes just a lot of talk. One thing I've always tried to do is be one of the guys who expect the most out of themselves and demand that on the playing field, so when I do ask those other guys to do the same, they'll look at me and think, Well, Tom does the same things. Maybe he isn't so full of crap. He's been to the big game. You gain credibility with past performance, and that's what you use."
"It's taken a long time for me. If you want that position of responsibility, you have to earn people's trust, earn their respect. I did that early on, but I also let the older players lead vocally while I led by actions on the field. It's tough listening to the new guy, so you have to just go out and execute."
"Leadership by example lets you become that vocal leader later on. My early success was fortunate because, bottom line, we won. Then we did terrific in the following years. New players then come in and say, hey, these guys won Super Bowls here. It's all earned."
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