Go pro the Tom Brady way
Rick Chandler, blogging at NBCSports.com, has an interesting interview with Bill Harke, a pro golf caddy who caught the first pass Tom Brady ever threw in organized football. It wasn’t when both were age 6, or 8, or 10, or 12. It was when both were freshmen at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif.
That sounds kind of late to get started at quarterback, doesn’t it? These days it sure does. And it’s not like Brady was even supposed to be a quarterback for the freshman team. Harke’s story — as well as the yearbook photo of Brady that accompanies yet — feeds into a big part of the mythology of Brady that is as powerful a story as Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball varsity team as a sophomore. That is, that your kid, like Brady, might not look like much athletically even into high school, yet could still grow up to be a Hall of Fame quarterback and impregnator of beautiful women the world over.
Here is Chandler talking to Harke and talking about what lead up to, and followed, that first pass:
[Brady] arrived at his first day of football practice in Sept. of 1991 as an unknown quantity, having never played a down of organized football. Brady had been a baseball standout, and indeed, he went on to become an all-league catcher at Serra, being drafted by the Montreal Expos. But on the first day of freshman football practice, his coaches took one look at the ponderous, somewhat chubby youngster and said “lineman.”
Because of his work ethic and throwing ability, Brady actually gravitated to starting linebacker and backup quarterback. But he didn’t have what one would call “wheels,” unless the wheels in question were attached to a dump truck. He didn’t play QB much, and in fact, completed only one pass his entire freshman season. It was an inauspicious beginning, but never before has the term “first in a series” been packed with more meaning. …
The team wasn’t exactly a juggernaut. The Serra freshmen went 0-8-1 that season, and were shut out in three league games.
“Tom was a linebacker, and also our third-string quarterback,” Harke said. “Our first-string quarterback was Kevin Krystofiak, who was pretty fast and athletic. It was the fourth game of the season before Tom ever got to play quarterback.”
That game, against St. Francis, also happened to be the first time Harke set foot on the field.
“The first time I got to play also happened to be Brady’s first series at quarterback,” Harke said. “We were behind by 20 points or something, and they were emptying the bench. I had always worked my ass off in practice, so they decided they’d let me in for a couple of plays. So I get into the huddle, and the first play they call to me.
“I remember thinking, ‘It’s coming to me?’ There wasn’t a lot of time to think out it. I just did this little out pattern, and Tom threw it right in my numbers for seven yards. I caught it and ran out of bounds.”
Tom Brady’s first pass, and first completion. It would also be Brady’s only completion that season. And as it turned out, it would be the only reception of Harke’s football career. …
Krystofiak, now a partner in an insurance firm in San Francisco, says that he doesn’t remember that play specifically.
“I don’t know why I wasn’t playing then,” Krystofiak said. “I just remember that we weren’t very good that year. Tom had a great arm, but he couldn’t move very well. We all thought his big sport would be baseball.”
Krystofiak gave up football following his freshman year to concentrate on basketball, where he became an all-league point guard. That opened the door for Brady to become the starting quarterback his sophomore year.
And it also meant that Kevin Krystofiak would never get the chance to bang Gisele Bundchen. (Instead, Krystofiak served as the third wheel in the “Bachelor” romance of Andrew Firestone and Jen Scheft.)
So Brady had no quarterback school. He didn’t start playing as a toddler and get drilled by his dad every waking moment. He was just a chubby kid who got a chance and took it. Great inspiration for your own child, no?
It’s a little more complicated than that. Yes, there are Tom Bradys who seem like they’re pretty good and suddenly wow you in the pros when junior high hotshots have long faded. But here is the recipe you need if your child is to be Tom Brady:
1. Natural athleticism and size
Brady indeed had established himself as an athlete, just not in football. He played catcher, so he had already been working on his arm strength and throwing long before he stepped on a football field. If your child is going to come out of nowhere to do well, even in school sports, he or she has to be somewhat athletic to begin with. I’m not sure how tall Brady was then, but he grew up to be 6-foot-4, so it’s probably safe to say he wasn’t 5 feet tall. Without athleticism, without the right size and shape, your child isn’t going to make waves in sports, no matter how many high-level quarterbacking schools you make him attend.
It’s not in Harke’s story, at least not the one told in Chandler’s blog, but Brady, even as a small child, had well-established himself as being maniacally competitive, in a good way. He didn’t yank his ball and go home if he failed. He worked hard to figure out what he had to do better. One story that’s made the rounds is that he would challenge the fastest kid in the neighborhood to a race, get smoked, and then analyze what he could do better next time, eventually figuring out how to beat them. Another is that he was dissatisfied with his high school’s football conditioning program, so he developed his own drills. I coach so many kids who love the sport, but don’t like the work. Even if you seem born to football, like son-of-a-quarterback Peyton Manning, you accomplish nothing if you don’t work hard when no one is looking.
At every level he played — high school, college and pro — Brady was handed nothing. He had to be patient and wait for his opportunity, which he did rather than throw a hissy-fit about not being handed a starter’s job. (He did see a sports psychologist in college to deal with not starting, but he didn’t throw a tantrum in front of his coach.) This point is related to point No. 2: you have to love what you’re doing enough, and work hard enough at it, to make your own opportunities and take advantage when they come.
A little good fortune doesn’t hurt. Brady got the starting job in high school when the quarterback got injured. Brady seemed destined to ride the bench in New England until Drew Bledsoe got hurt his second year. No. 4, of course, was nothing without Nos. 1, 2 and 3 giving Brady the ability to take advantage of it. Another stroke of luck: hooking up with Bill Belichick as his coach in New England. Belichick drafted him and kept him around when no one else probably would have, what with Belichick, known for having loads of Nos. 2 and 3, recognized that in Brady. As well as the fact that both can be equally douchey. (Well, regarding Brady, I base that declaration of doucheyness on my wife’s opinion of how Brady and Bundchen treated his ex, Bridget Moynahan, when she was pregnant.)
Of course, your child can have all four of these straits and do no better than the high school second-string and a date with a member of the prom court. But whatever the level of success, what all four of these traits have in common is that ultimate success for your child athlete has less to do with your pushing them and more to do with genes, luck and a whole lot of self-motivation.