Key excerpts from Tommy's EXCELLENT Sportsman of the Year Writeup in this week's issue of SI:
Plato...realized that every performance is an act of generosity, because of all the solitary effort it takes to make that performance possible. The generosity that begins in the rough draft blossoms in the novel. The generosity that begins in the rehearsal space blossoms on the stage. The generosity that begins on the practice field blossoms in the stadium.
Plato saw something else, too. 'The mere athlete', he wrote, 'becomes too much of a savage'. There's generosity in putting yourself through ceaseless preparation, but there must be an end product, an act of public sharing, or all the preparation is sterile. Plato did not anticipate the National Football League, but what he wrote about athletes is more conspicuously true in football than it is in any other sport. Even the best quarterback--even, say, Tom Brady, a quarterback who rose from the Mel Kiper-ish netherworld of the sixth round of the draft to lead his team to three Super Bowl championships in four years--gets to actually play only once a week. The rest of the time is repetition, a Baltimore Catechism with sweat and collisions. The rest is off-season workouts, and voluntary minicamps that aren't voluntary at all, and hours and hours of meetings...
This is the life of any great quarterback. What makes Brady different is how vividly you can see not only the results of that work every Sunday, but also his innate ability to carry the logic of practice to the conclusion of the game. 'I love seeing us get better,' Brady says, 'and I don't think you get better in games. The improvements come in practice'."
His generosity is not just in the ritual graciousness with which he talks about the Saints, but in the way he brought his talent to bear against them, the way he took everything he'd honed and polished in solitude and put it on display in an orphan game against an orphan team. The generosity lies in the way he gave them his best and cut them to ribbons. Joe Montana would understand. Plato would have thrown him a parade. Or at least handed him an urn.
Brady knew that preparation and rehearsal, the griding work of constructing football excellence, pays off in the public performance. Sooner or later, to be complete in what you do and who you are, you have to leave the silence and walk toward the cheers. 'I love it so', Brady says. 'Just running out there in front of 70,000 people...' And then his voice trails off, as though he's given explanation enough.
As SI's brilliant editor Andre Laguerre wrote of Stan Musial, the Sportsman in 1957, "The victory may have been his, but it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather it is the quality of his effort and the manner of his striving." The same goes for Tom Brady.