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Sean Glennon’s “Tom Brady vs The NFL”: Stats, Intangibles and Goosebumps


He had me at hello.

The introduction to Sean Glennon’s new book, The Case for Football’s Greatest Quarterback; Tom Brady vs. The NFL (2012, Triumph Books) reads like a note that I might write to myself, only more well written.  In November of 2001, I would attest to anyone who would listen to me that Drew Bledsoe should have gotten his starting job back…

…which is a mistake that most Patriot fans would eventually have to own – though no one would blame them.  How was anyone supposed to know what to expect from a 6th round draft pick?  He had filled in well for the long time Patriot quarterback, but was essentially still an unknown quantity.

When Glennon writes that as the first sentence of the introduction to the book, it baited me.  It made me wonder if he thought “it” was a fumble.  The affirmation of one’s beliefs is a powerful motivator, and as I watched Charles Woodson knock the ball from Brady’s hand and onto the snow covered field at Foxboro Stadium, I thought it was a fumble, and I still do to this day.

And “it”, of course, is the Tuck Rule play.  In the serene, surreal snowscape of Foxboro Stadium’s last breath, many people find their argument against Tom Brady.  Many believe he is the beneficiary of – and even a product of – that call.  For sure, had the call of fumble been confirmed on replay, the Raiders would have gone on to play Pittsburgh the following week and Brady would have been cleaning out his locker.

I never did find avouchment of that belief in his book, but as I started into the first three chapters that covered Brady’s college career and his first two seasons as a Patriot, Glennon’s matter-of-fact style had me curiously certain that he didn’t think that it mattered anyway – and it doesn’t.

What does matter is that these first three chapters took me back to a cold, overcast night in early February of 2002 where I found myself at my friend Norm’s house, drinking coffee, eating red hots and playing cribbage until the Super Bowl was about to begin…

The walk to Norm’s house was a mess. 

Walking in the roads to avoid the slushy wet snow cone ice on the sidewalks, I was able to navigate my way the two miles from work to Norm’s in reasonable time, and arrived just as he began to saute the onions and peppers for the red hots.

The coffee was already brewed and the cribbage board was set up on the kitchen table.

Norm went over to his circa 1970’s refrigerator, beckoned for my attention and, opening it, pointed to the two bottles of Heineken chilling in the void of the middle shelf.  Closing the door, he shuffled to the cupboard and pulled out a quarter-full bottle of Crown Royal and set it on the table in front of me.  “This is our victory dance” he stated.

As he used a paper towel to wipe the considerable dust from the decorative bottle, Norm explained that he hadn’t touched it in six years, not since he had consumed nearly the entire bottle after Desmond Howard broke his heart – and every Patriots’ fan’s heart – with his dagger of a kickoff return for a touchdown in the Green Bay Packer’s victory over New England in Super Bowl XXXI.

I laughed at first, then recalled my own binge and the pain of that loss.  Norm had known the exquisite pain of being a Patriots’ fan for many years longer than I, as he was 20 years my senior, but with that age came a curious certainty, a knowledge like a sixth sense – like he knew what would happen.

At halftime, with the Patriots up 14-3 on the St. Louis Rams, Norm was again shuffling around in the kitchen, washing his crystal tumblers with the old throwback logo etched carefully on their face, returning with the glasses and the bottle, placing them between us on the coffee table.  He said nothing, just winked.

A flurry of activity found the scored tied at 17 with just over a minute remaining in regulation.  I looked at Norm who said simply “It’s time.”  Against the backdrop of John Madden criticizing Bill Belichick for not taking a knee and playing for overtime, Norm twisted the cap off of the whiskey and poured equal amounts in both glasses, then retrieved the Heinekens from the fridge.

As Brady coolly spiked the football with 7 seconds left and inside Adam Vinatieri’s range, I turned to Norm, who already had his beer opened and tumbler in hand ready to ingest the smooth spirit.

“No way we win this game.” I said, now standing, staring at the TV screen as Vinatieri lined up for the 47 yard field goal – excited beyond reason, 30 years of loyalty to the Patriots about to be realized, though I was half expecting Desmond Howard to suddenly come running out of the Superdome tunnel to miraculously block the attempt, sending our Patriots to yet another championship game disappointment…”No way”…

But Norm was confident.  “It is time, young Grasshopper” he said in his best Master Po voice, winking “It is destined.”, a tear running down his cheek now, 40 years of waiting for this moment about to be justified.

The third chapter of the book gives the finest written account of the drive that I’ve ever read – to the point that the memory that it evoked gave me goosebumps, just as Madden had when he finally realized that he was wrong about chastising Belichick for trying to win the game in regulation.

That drive to win Super Bowl XXXVI is why Tom Brady is the best quarterback that ever played the game.  Glennon didn’t need to write another word after the introduction and the first three chapters – But he did.   His comparisons between Brady and many of the best quarterbacks in history are, by design, subjective.  It’s like reading Reader’s Digest condensed versions of each passer, only to be informed at the end that he doesn’t stack up.

And the book isn’t going to convince a Peyton Manning fan or a Joe Montana fan that Brady is better.  Nothing would.  If God appeared to a Manning fan as a burning bush, claiming that Tom Brady was the best Quarterback of all time, and that their penalty for not believing was to be confined to the desert for 40 years, they would immediately go home and check online listings for dwellings in Barstow.

This is the case, so why write a book such as this in the first place?

For perhaps the same reason that I wanted to know if Glennon thought “it” was a fumble?  To affirm his own belief that Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time and, as we know, the ratification of our personal beliefs is a powerful motivator – motivating enough for the author to do the exhaustive research.

And not just technical research, for the book is well balanced with fact in numbers as a way of comparison and also with chapters dedicated to telling the story of each season as it unfolded, told with the same passion as the account of the final drive.

I’m not a numbers guy, which means I don’t feel that statistics should be a sole representation of a player’s total body of work.  Glennon runs heavy on stats for the individual matchups, but also presents each competitor in a light which accentuates their individual personalities and the intangibles that they brought to the field.

And what is made clear is what Brady has over the rest of the group is the ownership that he takes over not just the offense, but also the team, the franchise and the league.  None of the other players mentioned in this work were as charmed as Brady, but all had the opportunity to grasp the brass ring that is the National Football League, and to own it.

Only Brady did, and he still does.

Not Manning, not Elway, not Favre, Marino or Young.  Joe Montana had the cool factor like Brady, but even his intangibles fall short of Brady’s – which will become clear as you get further into the book.

The career of Tom Brady is the closest football will ever come to a reasonable argument of the theory of Randomness vs. Determinism, and that is the only argument left for anyone after reading this book.  Was the way Brady’s career unfolded a series of random accidents and karmic response or was it the product of a defined string of events that, given the conditions at the time, nothing else could have happened?

That’s a question for philosophy students, and probably shouldn’t be pondered until we can view his entire body of work when his career is done. But in the end, just like whether “it” was a fumble, these things don’t  matter because they are insignificant due to their ommision from history and record – and just get in the way of a really good story…

Tom Brady is the best Quarterback ever to lace up a pair of cleats, that much is made abundantly clear in this book.

He just is.