Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Gridiron Wisdom, Part 1: Tom Brady

a "back-to-basics" series which uses football -
a prominent part of life in Jefferson Hills & Pleasant Hills,
the two communities I consider to be
the JUMC "parish" - as a "hook";
it will be "fleshed out" later in the week)

"...they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."
- Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)

Many of us have been amazed in the past decade or so while watching the football career of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. This California native was an excellent athlete who grew up idolizing Joe Montana, and was actually drafted out of high school to play professional baseball for the Montreal Expos. Preferring football - and who wouldn't? - Brady went to the University of Michigan where he was seventh on the depth chart, and worked his way up slowly. By 1998, he led the Wolverines to a Big Ten title; the following year, he led his team to an Orange Bowl victory over Alabama.

Tom Brady was drafted in the sixth round by the Patriots, pick #199, which some consider to be the biggest "steal" in the history of the NFL Draft. He was the team's fourth string quarterback when he started; eventually, he had worked his way up to become the lead back-up for then-starter Drew Bledsoe. In September 2001, Bledsoe was severely injured in a game against the New York Jets, and Brady took over, winning 11 of 14 games. He was named to the Pro Bowl and, more importantly, led the Patriots into the playoffs.

You may recall the Super Bowl that year, when the Patriots played against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, who had won it all the previous year. Just a few months removed from the horrors of 9/11, it seemed appropriate, somehow, that the "Patriots" would be involved in the biggest sporting event on the planet, led by a young upstart who had virtually stumbled into his leadership role. I remember watching the extremely emotional halftime show that year, in which U2 - the best and certainly the most important band since the breakup of the Beatles - rocked the stadium with a powerful musical tribute to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy; it remains the best halftime performance in Super Bowl far.

Then, Tom Brady led the Patriots to victory against the mighty Rams, whose offense had been dubbed "the Greatest Show on Turf". Brady was named the MVP of the game and a football superstar was born. Since that time, Brady has appeared in three more Super Bowls, winning two of them - only his hero Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw have won more. He has won another Super Bowl MVP and last year had the greatest statistical season ever for an NFL quarterback, being named the MVP of the entire league.

Most impressively, for the past two years he has been dating supermodel Gisele...proof that God indeed loves Tom Brady.

What has made Tom Brady the most successful NFL quarterback of the 21st century? He may, in the end, be considered the best ever to play the game. How did this happen?

Certainly, a monstrous competitive streak has helped. He is as intense a player as any on the field.

But it can't be denied that he lacks the unearthly leadership gifts of Peyton Manning, the superheroic toughness of Brett Favre, and the explosive cannon arm of Terry Bradshaw. How did Tom Brady get to be perhaps the best ever?!

I believe that Brady is the leader of the pack because he is an expert at "working the system". Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has been justifiably condemned for cheating, has nevertheless devised a system that requires complete devotion for success. The offense utilizes multiple confusing formations which, in the end, run only a few relatively simple plays. Bill Cowher ran a similar offensive system in his early years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense is designed to maximize the freedom of aggressive linebackers...also a pretty "Steelers-friendly" idea.

Tom Brady is a master at the system put in place in New England. When he has been hurt and the team has relied on back-up leadership, they have faltered. The system needs Tom Brady in order to succeed, and no one "works the system" as well as this future Hall of Famer.

How does this relate to our faith journey in Christ?

We have in the Scriptures a "system" for success. Being United Methodist, perhaps it would be better to say that we have a "method" for success given to us in Acts 2. When we prayerfully and faithfully adhere to the system, we experience personal growth in the Spirit and are better equipped to help build the Kingdom of God. When we lose focus on the system, things don't go nearly as well.

Our system - the Acts 2 system - consists of devotion to the apostles' teaching (reading, studying, living out the Scriptures; doctrinal faithfulness), fellowship (intentionally spending time with sisters and brothers in Christ), the breaking of the bread (faithfully and regularly celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion), prayer (as individuals, couples, families, small groups, and a congregation), doing signs and wonders (performing any number of acts which point to Jesus Christ and the transforming truth of his could be something supernatural, as many of our charismatic and Pentecostal sisters and brothers believe, or it could be something as simple as sharing a hug with someone in pain or a sandwich with someone who is hungry), and sharing (being obedient in our tithes and offerings).

This is our system. Simple? Perhaps. But it can be difficult to master with the distractions of life continually knocking at our door. We need to be intentional about our system. Tom Brady, knowing that he lacked many of the gifts of Manning, Favre, or Bradshaw, chose to master the Patriots system, and has become the best quarterback in the NFL.

Isn't our devotion to Jesus and our journey of faith more important than how many Lombardi trophies the Patriots or Steelers win? Isn't Jesus worth our best efforts? I think so, and I'm sure you do as well.

The end result of faithfully mastering our system is even better than winning a hundred Super Bowls: "The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." But we as individuals, as a congregation, as a Conference, as a denomination, as the Church of Jesus Christ around the world, need first to work the system provided for us, to be devoted to it, to work hard at it, to do our best to be the people that God has called us to be on the journey toward holiness and perfection. Jesus is worth it, and the stakes are high.


Brett Probert said...

I think if I could read all of what you wrote, I'd say "that'll preach!"

Keith H. McIlwain said...


Greg Cox said...

And the MRI goes to . . .