Tom Brady has seen them all come through the New England Patriots’ locker room over the past 19 seasons. The straight arrows and the frayed edges, the hyped rookies and the last-chance veterans. He himself was once an afterthought, a sixth-round pick projected to be a career backup (and that career is usually brief).
There are endless reasons why the Patriots have captured five Super Bowls with Brady at quarterback. One that can never get enough attention though is his ability to connect, motivate and lead his teammates in a rather unique way: by perfectly balancing his star power with his everyman persona.
This is Tom Brady, after all. Most of his teammates grew up watching him. Yet he operates with few airs about him, eminently decent, the guys say, eminently fair, eminently part of the team. He doesn’t lecture, they say. He just leads.
Brady arrives early and leaves late. He gets called out by Bill Belichick as much, if not more, than anyone, a point of frustration at times for the QB, but an important tool for corralling the locker room. Coach and star are totally aligned. Do. Your. Job. Everyone understands. If you get with the program in Foxborough, if you follow Brady, then championships and glory are there to be had. If not, he and they move on without you.
Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns’ troubled and talented wide receiver, is headed to the Patriots. The worst team in football finally gave up on him after he tweaked a hamstring Friday while shooting a hype video for his “Flash” clothing line and then showed up late to a meeting Saturday, according to Zac Jackson at The Athletic. That follows repeated suspensions for failed drug tests and other assorted flare-ups. He has appeared in just 11 games since 2013. He missed most of 2014 and the entire 2015 season because of suspension. He spent one of those years working at an Ohio car dealership.
Gordon brings with him immense potential. He is the rare combination of an outside threat and a big body who can go over the middle and make yards after contact.
New England traded just a fifth-round pick for him, so he is also easily expendable. This is it for Gordon, fight or flight. That he gets a chance to leave the Browns’ den of dysfunction for the victorious ways of New England is a found lottery ticket for life. It’s up to him to cash it in.
What he won’t get is a bunch of speeches or one-on-one meetings or holier-than-thou preaching about the so-called “Patriot Way.” This isn’t about phony rah-rah stuff. It’s serious and purposeful, but also very courteous.
Brady spoke Monday night on Westwood One radio and offered up comments that show that for all his fame, success and, at times, dorky ways, he remains a master of connecting with teammates.
It starts with a clean slate and a very basic challenge.
“I’ve never met Josh, personally, just like I hadn’t met some of the guys who have come in the last couple of weeks,” Brady told Westwood One’s Jim Gray. “We’ll see how it goes this week. Hopefully, he can work hard, put the team first, and end up helping us in any role that he can find for himself on the team.”
Simple. Universal. As for all of Gordon’s history? Brady expressed a lack of concern. You can’t change the past, just the future.
“Any time you get someone in the middle of the season, there’s obviously a lot of things that have happened that have got the team to a certain point that they weren’t a part of,” Brady said. “So not sure how many of those things matter.”
Expectations? None. Special mentoring? None. Don’t insult a grown man. Don’t baby him. It probably won’t work anyway, at least not for long. The Browns tried that.
“I’m just going to be the positive, enthusiastic leader that I am and try to be a great quarterback and try to embrace whoever is on the team,” Brady said.
Then he spoke to what is a part reminder to Gordon of what the expectations are in New England, but also, and more notably, a bit of a nod that while Josh Gordon was a problem for the Browns, it stands to reason the Browns were also a problem for Josh Gordon. Chaos breeds chaos. Yes, Brady needs to be able to count on Gordon and every other teammate. But Gordon, in turn, can now know that he can count on his quarterback, and Brady knows that’s what he needs to do for Gordon.
“You want to know that the guys you’re lining up next to that they’ve got it — they’ve got their responsibility taken care of,” Brady said. “That frees you up to think about what your responsibilities are. But if you are worried about this guy, that guy, or this or that, it just takes away from what your focus needs to be as an individual. Everybody wants good teammates that can focus on, as an individual, what they have to do in order to help the team.”
Did Josh Gordon read or hear these words? Who knows? He eventually will. This will be the message from his quarterback and one that will be repeated in words and actions over the ensuing weeks.
The past is the past. There is no reason to treat someone differently because of that past. An acknowledgement that losing can make losers of good people, and maybe, just maybe, Josh Gordon is good people and just needs a chance to be a winner. To that, it’s a two-way street, and Brady will aspire to be the QB that Gordon deserves.
It’s worked at times through the years. Randy Moss reinvigorated his career, and Aaron Hernandez had a run of success. It hasn’t at others. Chad Ochocinco never got back to form. The message never changes though.
It’s all there right in front of him. Tom Brady is laying out the easy, respectful, judgment-free road to greatness.
Just like he always has. Just like he always will.
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