Tom Brady’s ‘Man in the Arena’? No thanks.

Andy Hart
May 26, 2020 - 7:06 am
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Tom Brady couldn’t care less what I think.

Listen to your team news NOW.

We don’t just have to accept this as an obviously safe assumption, rather it was made quite clear based on the title of Brady’s forthcoming, 2021, nine-part ESPN series – “Man in the Arena: Tom Brady.”

As Brady himself notes in the trailer for the “documentary” on the quarterback’s nine trips to the Super Bowl as a member of the Patriots, the title is a reference to the most well-known portion of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1910 “Citizen in a Republic” speech.

“It is not the critic who counts…” Roosevelt declares in the widely-quoted speech that Brady first encountered as a player at the University of Michigan, seeing it painted on the Wolverines’ weight room wall in 1995.

Similarly, I first became aware of “The Man in the Arena” through football, one of my high school coaches reading it to our team at the annual postseason banquet.

As with Brady, it always resonated with me. But, alas, the G.O.A.T. quarterback and this lowly critic have had divergent football paths since coming across Roosevelt’s famous words, even if those paths ran parallel to each other in some ways over the last two decades in Foxborough.

He is the star quarterback defying what he’s perceived as long odds to reach the absolute top of the mountain of the football world. Me just one of the many, many meaningless faces in the media crowd chronicling his journey.

Now, capitalizing on the popularity of “The Last Dance” on ESPN which drew huge ratings and rave reviews for all 10 episodes during this sports-free, coronavirus-controlled world we live in, Brady and his people have decided to get into the long-form TV arena to document the tales of his record nine trips to the Super Bowl. (Oh, and don’t think Brady, ESPN and all of Tampa Bay aren’t selfishly dreaming of it being adjusted on the fly for a 10th trip!)

Like the rest of the world, I’ll admit I ate up the story of Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Jerry Krause and the breakup of the 1998 Bulls after they won their sixth NBA title in a three-peat repeat. Even with all its flaws and potential Jordan-driven biases, two decades later it was must-see TV that introduced a new generation to the greatness of his Airness.

But this critic, this man who was never in Brady’s arena, could not care less about ESPN’s next G.O.A.T. project.

A supposed documentary produced, in part, by Brady’s 199 Productions (Not sure if you heard, he wasn’t drafted until the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. Oh the horror!) which focuses on Brady telling the story of how much Brady had to overcome for Brady to reach Super Bowl greatness nine times?

No thanks.

No interest.

“Realizing my potential is what my career has been all about,” Brady said in the trailer announcing the production. “The things that I’ve dreamed about have actually come true. Things have happened in my life as I kind of hoped they would happen. It’s been, I mean, just a complete evolution. How I just kept fighting and clawing to continue to power forward. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other and you just keep trying to make progress. So when I look at it over 20 years, look how far I’ve come. But there is not one step I took where I realized look how far I’ve come. But those series of steps that I put together I go wow, man, that’s quite a journey.”

It’s a journey. One that we’ve all lived and documented pretty closely along the way. One that isn’t even over yet.

And how grand a journey it is can be debated, even if the end results are the stuff of legend.

As Walt Disney and Shakespeare would both tell you, great stories include triumph, sure, but also tragedy. Or at least challenge. Angst. Something.

Brady has plenty of triumph, as he himself freely admits of a life that’s gone exactly where he dreamed it would.

“Bambi?” Immediate death.

“The Lion King?” Early death.

“The Natural?” Premature, legend-derailing death.

What’s Brady’s greatest hurdle or tragic event he had to overcome in his career?

Having to prove he could beat out Drew Henson to win the Orange Bowl for one of the greatest football programs in history?

Being drafted 199?

Waiting until his second season to start in the NFL and win a Super Bowl?

His Deflagrate suspension at the hands of Roger Goodell?

“The Last Dance” saw Jordan claw his way to the top of NBA basketball over time, deal with multiple off-court scandals including the murder of his father, talk about poor relationships with his teammates and, ultimately, the razing of a dynasty.

Brady, as he’s told us ad nauseam over the years, is mostly about positivity. Doesn’t make for great drama, sorry.

There is also the question of just how much new and honest information will actually come from “Man in the Arena,” even if it is the undertaking of talented and respected producer Gotham Chopra.

Is Brady going to detail his divorce from the Patriots, one that he had some degree of control over, in tear-filled detail?

Doubtful.

Will he honestly wonder aloud why Malcolm Butler didn’t play in the gut-wrenching loss to the Nick Foles-led Eagles in Super Bowl LII?

Unlikely.

Can we count on seeing Bill Belichick offering his thoughts on the entirety of Brady’s time in New England, answering all the tough questions on camera like he’s been injected with truth serum?

No chance.

In all likelihood it will be a repackaging, too-soon version of what we’ve all seen before.

Whether you watched it unfold in living color over the last 20 years or via such predecessor productions as “Three Games to Glory,” “America’s Game,” “The Brady 6” or “Tom vs. Time,” it’s nearly impossible to envision “Man in the Arena” being anything dramatically different.

Brady convincing us of how much he’s overcome, how positive he’s stayed along the way, how important his TB12 business/lifestyle has been to his success and how little time he spends assessing his own greatness will almost certainly be at the heart of the nine-part series “Man in the Arena” assessing his own greatness.

Maybe some people will eat up. There will certainly be a segment of Patriots fans that will, although that group probably shrunk a bit when Brady took his talents to Tampa Bay this offseason. Maybe Bucs fans will enjoy the origin story of their new franchise QB.

But me? The lowly critic who can’t get into Brady’s arena without buying a ticket?

I have absolutely no interest in “Man in the Arena.”

Maybe come talk to me in 20 years, maybe then.

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