The ‘Hero’s Journey’ of Tom Brady
The ‘Hero’s Journey’ of Tom Brady
There are as many as 17 steps in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey from his 1949 book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” The template has been cited and tweaked often over the years but it’s a touchstone in storytelling and screenwriting. There are many iterations of the steps, here are 12. How closely does Tom Brady’s football and personal journey resemble Campbell’s template? You be the judge.
The Call to Adventure
The hero begins in a life of normalcy but something reveals itself to him that intrigues or challenges him and the lure begins to take hold.
In Brady’s case, growing up in an upper-middle class household in San Mateo, he had four sisters who were accomplished athletes and supportive parents who were athletic themselves. He was exposed to the world of professional football and, at the age of 4, attended the breakthrough game of Joe Montana, the 49ers win over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game.
Refusal of the Call
The hero will often resist the call, maybe believing himself inadequate or having too much to overcome to realize success on the journey.
For Brady, could this be when he was a freshman at Junipero Serra and couldn’t rise to the level of starter for a freshman team that went 0-8?
Someone or something comes to the hero’s aid during the time where he wrestles with the call and reassures him that the destiny is attainable if he stays true to the tenets and wisdom he’s given. Sometimes it’s a talisman. Sometimes it’s a person.
Tom Martinez, Brady’s throwing guru, who began working with Brady in high school and remained Brady’s advisor and coach well into Brady’s NFL career before his death in 2012, is an obvious one. So too would be Greg Harden, a life coach and advisor at Michigan who Brady leaned on during his difficult ascent up the Wolverines depth chart. The mentor role has also been filled by Dick Rehbein, Alex Guerrero, Bill Belichick and Brady’s parents, Galynn and Tom Sr. Campbell wrote, "For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.”
Crossing the Threshold
At this point, with the aid of his mentor and the lure of the call to adventure, the hero embarks on his journey, leaving comfort to walk into the unknown and pursue his destiny.
Tom Brady could have stayed in California and played college football on the West Coast. He chose Michigan. I remember asking him in 2001 while standing in the locker room at Foxboro Stadium why he decided to go halfway across the country when it may have been safer at Cal, for instance. “I wanted to play against the best,” he answered. Wrote Campbell, “The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”
Belly of the Whale
The hero is immersed in the unknown and the travails and dangers are on every side. Here, in the belly, a metamorphosis occurs in which the hero is lost to view but is very much alive and changing.
This would encompass not only Brady’s time at Michigan prior to emerging as the starter but also his time in 2000 as the backup to Drew Bledsoe. Campbell write, “This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshipper into a temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal.”
The Road of Trials
This is where the hero is tested repeatedly. He doesn’t pass every test and often has to begin again, proving himself and building his will and skill throughout. Campbell: “The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land."
From the depths of the Michigan depth chart to a starting role to being nearly-usurped by Drew Henson in his senior year to being overlooked in the NFL Draft until the sixth round, Brady was told over and over he was not good enough to realize his destiny. And if his destiny was to be the best there’s been, even the crucible of winning three Super Bowls and authoring a perfect season were not enough. Nor was Super Bowl 49, won under the dark cloud of Deflategate. Winning a fifth Super Bowl and being restored remains a pursuit on the Journey.
In Campbell’s 1949 template, this is how it was described but it isn’t necessarily a woman but any challenge to the single-mindedness of the hero as he continues his journey. It could be wealth, celebrity and the trappings of fame. Or it could be the lure of resting on accomplishments realized.
For Brady to remain single-minded in his pursuit of football immortality, to be the best quarterback there’s ever been, he had to not rest on his laurels or be wholly distracted by all the attention and adoration that flowed from his success. Wrote Campbell, "The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell.”
With the trials negotiated and the hero having been steeled and prepared, he is now on the precipice of his greatest challenge. The one which will demand he marshal everything he’s learned and accomplished and face the final fight.
This would seem to be the point at which Brady is now. He’s no longer a young man, he’s been banished and now he returns. Even with all he’s accomplished, as safe as his legacy may seem, winning a fifth Super Bowl would cement his legend. He will have to do this despite all that’s been aligned against him in the past 20 months.
The fight itself in which the “good” of the hero meets head on the “evil” of the other that guards whatever the hero’s destiny has been since he answered the Call to Adventure.
Brady is currently in the ordeal. Even in defeating Seattle in February 2015, Roger Goodell and the NFL left its taint on him through the suspension, court case and ultimately, his banishment.
The hero realizes his destiny and the circle is closed as he emerges a changed man, a better man, truly heroic and celebrated.
Has Brady already realized his reward in equaling Montana? Or is the reward still out there, the chance to stand alone. If we stay true to the template, it would still to be attained.
The hero’s return to wherever he calls home. There, he straddles the life he left when answering the Call to Adventure but he’s changed. While at peace now, he carries proudly the scars of his trials and the reward he gained.
He’s not done yet.