Blasting off: Tom Brady

There is no trait in sports that is more talked about and dissected than the “clutch gene”. The ability to stare down the barrel of an immeasurable situation and deliver the goods, despite what may feel like the odds being heavily stacked against you.

This discussion is perhaps loudest when discussing the performances and careers of National Football League quarterbacks. Analysts spend hours on end debating which quarterback in NFL history is the most “clutch”.

After his performance in Super Bowl 51, where he brought his New England Patriots back from the dead against the reigning MVP Matt Ryan and his Atlanta Falcons for the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, Tom Brady has largely put these discussions to rest.

Read about Brady’s Rocket athlete type, and how his mental mindset is a key factor in his performances during the biggest moments of his career:

The Tom Brady Era

It’s hard to be as successful at anything in  life as Tom Brady has been at playing quarterback in the NFL.

He’s been in the league for 17 seasons, and has been the starter for the Patriots at the sports most important position for 15 of those campaigns (he only dressed for one game as a rookie and lost the entire 2008 season due to an ACL tear).

In the 15 seasons in which he has been behind center for New England, they have made it to the Super Bowl eight times, winning the Lombardi trophy in five of those appearances.

Put into perspective, this means during his time as the quarterback for the Patriots, Tom Brady has appeared in more than half of the Super Bowls during that time span, and has won exactly one-third of them.

We could go on for days listing Brady’s on field accomplishments, from his three MVP seasons, to his five Super Bowl rings, with 66,000+ passing yards and 488 touchdown passes to his name.

So what makes Tom Brady so different compared to his NFL quarterbacking peers? It’s simple: his mindset.

Consummate Rocket

There has been a decrease in the amount of Rockets entering the NFL over the last few seasons, but Tom Brady is a Rocket athlete, and when the characteristics of a Rocket are laid out, there is almost no person better representative of this mindset. The three words that best represent the Rocket athlete type are: bold, calm, and confident. It’s inarguable that Tom Brady is all three of these things.

A Rockets biggest strengths mentally is their ability to get things done, willingness to push in order to accomplish their goals, and the ability to remain cool under pressure.

The calm-confidence is something Brady has developed over his career in the NFL, according to Dwight Freeney, who was a common opponent of Brady’s during the Colts/Patriots domination of the AFC during the 2000’s, which bred a rivalry that Brady shared with Eagle quarterback and football legend, Peyton Manning, who led the Colts during the same decade of Brady’s dominance. 

“He’s so calm. When he first got in the league, you could make a move and he all of a sudden he’d get shook in the pocket, and I’m not going to say happy feet, but somewhat of happy feet in the beginning of his career,” Freeney said. “Now, there’s nobody even rushing him, he’s in there just taking his time patting the ball and he can do that because he has so much confidence. He’s done it for so long. He trusts in the guys. He trusts in his scheme and when you win all those games — that’s why you can be as comfortable as you can be and the way he is in the pocket.”

The fact that opponents could sense this calm surrounding Brady speaks to how mentally prepared he truly is, something his teammates also swear by when they talk about the franchise’s leader for the last decade and a half.

Winning is important to Rockets, and they are attracted to competitive situations, because those situations help stimulate their competitive itch as well as their desire to win.

Coming out of high school, Tom Brady was lightly recruited by a multitude of division one schools, and ended up deciding to go to Michigan, one of the most storied programs in the nation that already boasted established upperclassmen like Brian Griese and Scott Dreisbach.

After making his decision, Brady was confident he could make an impact for the Wolverines, a program that would continue to bring in blue-chip quarterback recruits (most notably Drew Henson) during Brady’s time in Ann Arbor, he is quoted in his senior yearbook sayingIf you want to play with the big boys, you’ve got to learn to play in the tall grass,” which showed his high level of confidence.

Competition Drives Rockets

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When talking about Tom Brady’s competitive drive, you can turn to the testimonials from his teammates, who have witnessed the Rocket in action.

“He’s never willing to give up a rep. I remember when I was in practice, Josh [McDaniels] would be like, ‘Alright Cassel, get in there. You’re up.’ And as soon as he put me in, Tom would be like, ‘No, I want to get this one.’ I remember having this conversation with him,” said former Patriots backup quarterback Matt Cassel. “He said, ‘Look, as you play this game, you never want to see somebody else doing your job, because everybody is good in this league.'”

Brady wants to take every single rep. Competition is what drives him. Losing a rep means losing a chance to compete, and worse yet, conceding a repetition to a player who is in theory, competing for your job. It didn’t stop there for Brady on the practice field though, according to former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison:

“When we were down in the Super Bowl at Houston [in 2004], it was practice and it was a competitive one. The defense had its way with Tom that day — knocking down balls, forcing incomplete passes — and we were all pumped up. Then I stepped in front and picked Tom off, running down the field, high-stepping, talking trash,” Harrison said. “When I come back, he started chasing me, throwing footballs at me, yelling obscenities at me. It was unbelievable. Here we are at the Super Bowl, about to play the biggest game of our lives, and this dude is mad — and then wouldn’t talk to me for a day and a half — because I picked him off.”

Darrelle Revis, who can view Brady from a unique perspective, due to being a former opponent and teammate, once described the quarterback’s competitive desire as a “sickness”.

Rockets are seldom ever afraid of opponents, and Revis says that drives Brady to want to destroy them.

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“I think Tom, I don’t know, he talks a lot of trash. He does. I think that’s just him being very competitive. Some of us great players, we have a sickness about just trying to be the best, trying to be the best at our craft and trying to do anything we can to just be awesome and be elite,” Revis said. “I think he has a sickness of just being very competitive and wanting that edge all the time and wanting to destroy his opponents. I think from the outside looking in, you know he’s competitive. But when you’re here every day with him and you see how he works, man, it’s like, Wow, I see why he’s so successful because of how he approaches the game every day.”

It’s that competitiveness that sets Rockets like Brady and lacrosse all-star and face-off artist Brendan Fowler apart. They have the drive to compete and excel in whatever they decide to tackle.

Delivering in the Clutch

Rockets excel in the biggest moments, we’ve seen it from baseball superstar Buster Posey, when his Giants needed him to come up big in crunch time, as well as from softball phenom and home-run smasher, Lauren Chamberlain, who answered the call in the WCWS for Oklahoma.

This all boils down to what makes Tom Brady the greatest Rocket of all time: his consistency when the lights are shining the brightest, and his team’s back is against the wall. 

The most glaring example of this came during the finale of the 2016 season, with the Patriots trailing the Falcons 28-3 nearing the end of the third quarter, Brady flipped a switch and put it in gear.

Brady described his mindset and what he said to his team in a long-form interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King in 2017: “We come off [the field] again, and I’m like, ‘Guys, at some point we all gotta just start making the plays.’ [Atlanta] went down the field and scored to put us down 28-3. And at that point, you can say a lot of things, but ultimately it comes down to what we do,” Brady said.

He remained calm, given the situation, and kept in perspective all the big games he had played in before, that led him to that moment.

“The Super Bowl is a strange game. I’ve been in a lot of them, and it may go one way and then it may go the other way, and I know at the end of all those games that I’ve played in the Super Bowls, the defenses have a hard time stopping the offense at the end, in every game.” Here, Brady said, “I felt like, man, we’re back in the game.”

Rockets carry with them, an optimistic demeanor and the instincts to go for the kill.

Brady completed 25 of 33 passes (76 percent) from the third quarter through overtime, for 259 yards and two touchdowns, leading his team to an improbable, and seemingly impossible 25-point comeback on the sports biggest stage.

“We always have confidence. We really do. It’s never really over until it’s over with this team. I was proud of the way we fought,” Brady said during his postgame press conference. “You cherish these moments and opportunities. We’ve had quite a few of them, which we’ve been blessed to do. It’s just been an unbelievable run.”

When Brady says the Patriots have had quite a few opportunities to comeback and win in amazing fashion, he is not exaggerating. The season following his Super Bowl heroics, Brady led the Patriots from behind in the AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, clinching his eighth Super Bowl appearance.

Brady has 42-game winning drives in his career, with 34 total fourth quarter comebacks. Those numbers put him in pretty illustrious company, and explain why Bleacher Report named him the most clutch quarterback of all time in 2017.

“Tom Brady has led 10 game-winning drives in the playoffs, four more than any other quarterback in history and as many as John Elway and Dan Marino combined,” the article reads. “Brady has thrown 63 career postseason touchdowns, the most in history; Joe Montana is second with 45.”

The G.R.O.A.T

Tom Brady, the cool, confident, and bold quarterback has probably broken your favorite NFL team’s heart at some point or another.

He’s got the killer instinct and competitive drive that most Rockets have.

His success on the field is what qualifies him to be called not only the greatest quarterback of all time, but also, the greatest Rocket of all time as well.

“I have the answers to the test now,” Brady told Peter King. “You can’t surprise me on defense. I’ve seen it all. I’ve processed 261 games, I’ve played them all. It’s an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience in their job, it’s not as hard as it used to be.

“Other than playing football,” Brady said, “the other thing I love to do is prepare to play football. Football to me is more than just a sport. It has become my life. Every choice that I make … what I have for breakfast, how I work out, all of those things. I love the game. I love playing.”