CLEVELAND – He stood apart from his teammates during the anthem Sunday, hands clasped behind his back, eyes closed, head bowed. From one foot to the other he rocked, lost in his thoughts.
Those thoughts weren’t likely about vengeance, retribution and ripping the Cleveland Browns’ collective head off and fishing their heart from their chest.
More likely, Tom Brady was thinking of his breathing. Feeling the inhale. The exhale. And nothing else.
Over and over, the people close to Brady I spoke to during his four-game suspension would say, “He’s in a good place.”
The inference? That he wasn’t climbing the walls but had come to an uneasy truce with the reality of it. He’d laid down his arms and let it be when he gave up the fight. There would be no useless energy expended on “what ifs” or worrying or bitterness.
The way to allow the NFL to really win during the month of September? To let himself be tortured by things he could no longer control.
Until the anthem ended and the game began, there was zero that Tom Brady could do to help the New England Patriots in a positive way.
If he’d spent September the right way mentally and physically, it would show up after the anthem. And it did. Brady turned what would be a memorable day into an unforgettable one. He went 28 for 40 for 406 yards and three touchdowns. Save for that moment on the Browns’ sideline when Brady ran and picked up a tumbling third-down conversion and punctuated it with a gaudy first-down signal, Brady was a relative flatliner.
After the game, after his press conference, when he was heading to the team bus, I asked Brady how he was able to seem so mellow.
“I’ve never been mellow out there!” he protested with a smile.
Well, not mellow but at least not over the top with passion.
“I know how to get to the right point, you know, emotionally,” he said.
It’s not an easy point to reach. There have been days when he worked himself into a lather and it worked – Super Bowl 36 – and days when he may have been over the line – Super Bowl 46.
He can go to the reservoir of slights to motivate himself – whether it be draft standing, mouthy corners or vindictive commissioners – but that’s not a whip he can employ time in and time out. And after a month away, precision and composure were what the doctor ordered as Brady re-entered, not a foaming-at-the-mouth 39-year-old trying to get payback on everyone all at once.
Let everyone else make this day all about Tom Brady and what a transcendent performance would mean to them. Tom Brady would make it about everyone else but him.
Stay himself. Stay in the moment. Let the body react.
It’s an awful fine line between calm and transcendent and ODing on emotion. Tom Brady found it Sunday in Cleveland.