Tom Brady: Unique Backgrounds and Opportunities.

By Christopher Stein | Athletic Training Major, Biology Minor

Two minutes and two seconds remain in Super Bowl XLIX. Tom Brady has just thrown his fourth touchdown to Julien Edelman to put the New England Patriots ahead of the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks, 28–24. It is the Seahawks turn to respond to Tom Brady’s go-ahead touchdown pass. Russell Wilson is under center. He grabs the ball from his center, drops back into the pocket, and heaves a pass. The ball is juggled and miraculously caught by Jeremy Kearse at the five yard line. “It’s like shades of David Tyre all over again!” the announcer says, referring to the catch that sealed the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots in 2008. After a four yard run by Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks are one yard away from back to back Super Bowl wins. “Our D’s gotta make a play!” Tom Brady exclaims. With a little over thirty seconds left in the game, hopes for a victory seem very slim for the Patriots. “Green-eighty!” Wilson yells over the exuberant crowd and the ball is handed to Wilson. Wilson cocks back his arm and throws the ball towards the intended Seattle receiver, but out of no where comes Malcolm Butler to catch the ball and seal the win for the New England Patriots. On the sideline, Tom Brady throws his arms up in the air and screams, “Oh my God! We did it!” Tom Brady has just won his fourth Super bowl (“Seattle’s Final Drive Ends In Doom”).

Tom Brady is now considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback in history. He has won four Super Bowls, which is tied for the most Super Bowl victories by any quarterback in history. Surprisingly, he isn't an athlete. In fact in many ways, he is unathletic. In his NFL combine, he ran a 5.28 second forty-meter dash, which is the slowest time out of any starting quarterback in the NFL (Larsen). Furthermore, Brady did not become a starting quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines until his junior year. Since Tom Brady is relatively unathletic, there remains the question of how he became so highly successful. Many factors have contributed to his successful career. Tom Brady’s unique background has helped him become one of the greatest quarterbacks in history.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he writes about the importance of a PDI (Power Distance Index). A PDI essentially measures the distance in power between a person and that person’s authority figure and how much a culture respects that authority (Hofstede). In Outliers, Gladwell writes about a South Korean Airline that, for some reason, has had an extraordinary amount of plane crashes.This airline was losing 4.79 planes out of every million departures. This might not seem like a lot, but compared to American Airlines, that is an extremely high rate. American Airlines was only losing .27 planes for every million departures (Gladwell 180). At that time, South Korean pilots had a very high PDI. This meant that co-pilots would have a very hard time disagreeing or questioning orders from an authority figure (pilot or an air traffic controller). For example, if a plane was running out of fuel, the co-pilot would be reluctant to ask the air traffic controller to let the plane land at the airport. Since this communication was so bad, many South Korean airplanes would crash (Hofstede). If having a high PDI meant timid and poor communication with authority figures, then having a low PDI would mean that a citizen in that country would see themselves as equal to the authority figure, and instead of being timid when asking for something (Example: a place to land on an airport) they would demand it.

According to, Tom Brady Sr. (Tom Bradys Father), is one hundred percent Irish while Galynn (Tom Brady’s Mother) has recent German descendants. The PDI of Ireland is the fifth lowest in the world (28) and the PDI of Germany is 11th lowest in the world (35) (Hofstede). All together this means that Tom Brady, in theory, should have no problem speaking up to authority figures. He has a certain amount of entitlement that causes him to demand something if he wants it. Additionally, having a high PDI can affect one’s leadership skills. Tom Brady is one of the greatest leaders in football. He demands perfection from his teammates and his teammates have a very high level of respect for him. Gronkowski, the patriots tight end, was asked, “What was the most meaningful thing that Tom Brady has ever done to you?” Gronkowski’s response was very interesting. He said, “He always used to yell at me and get on my case a lot…and I kinda noticed why. He always just wanted me to become a better player.” Gronkowski goes on to say that Tom Brady always would yell at him for not making a catch and demand the best from him because he saw his potential (“Gronkowski’s relationship with Brady”). It’s possible that this gift of leadership and strong communication wasn't something that he developed on his own. There is a good chance that these gifts were handed down because he is a descendant of two parents who come from places with very low PDI’s. If Tom Brady came from a family that had a long line of ancestors that came from countries with very high PDI’s, would he be as demanding as he is today? Would he be as strong a leader? Mostly likely not.

Another theory that Gladwell emphasizes is the idea of 10,000 hours. According to Gladwell, it takes about 10,000 hours for someone to become a master at something (Gladwell 47–50). Finding out how many hours Tom Brady put into football as a child would be near impossible, but finding out how many hours he put into football as a college player is possible to find out. At the University of Michigan, the school that Tom Brady attended, the average football player would be doing football-related activities about 43.3 hours a week throughout the whole year (Wieberg). The University of Michigan is in session for about 41 weeks long (“Michigan academic calendar”). That adds up to about 7,101 hours of football for an average four-year football player playing for the Wolverines (not including summer practice). Although this doesn't add up to 10,000 hours, it can be assumed that with the addition of his high school and pre-high school years, Brady would easily hit that mark.

Lee Duckwell, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, said ”Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking to your future, day in day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. Grit is working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it is a marathon not a sprint”(“The Key to Success? Grit”). Tom Brady has grit . Football has been a part of Tom Brady’s life ever since he was a four year old child, sitting in Candlestick park watching his idol Joe Montana (Wilson). He had to have grit to stick to his future when he was a back-up quarterback for Michigan and a back-up quarterback for the Patriots. Fourteen years ago, he had to have grit to persevere for long periods of time and understand that his chance would come eventually.

It is 2001 and Drew Bledsoe is under center as the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots. Bledsoe has just signed a ten year, one hundred million dollar contract. He was the future for the New England Patriots. Tom Brady is on the sideline, as he has been his entire NFL career. The football is handed to Drew and he sprints toward the first down marker where Mo Lewis is there to deliver a punishing blow. The hit on Drew Bledsoe almost killed him and he was sidelined indefinitely. Tom Brady had his chance. His chance to get on the field and play quality football. Win after win, Tom Brady was looking like the real deal. Weeks later, when Drew Bledsoe was healthy enough to play football again, he noticed that he was no longer the starting quarterback for the Patriots. The starting position had been usurped by Tom Brady. Tom Brady would later lead the Patriots to their first ever Super Bowl Championship (“Bledsoe to Brady”).

In Outliers, Gladwell writes about the importance of special opportunities. For example, Bill Gates had access to one of the only computers in his city (Gladwell 65–67). Tom Brady had the opportunity to enter the football game for the injured Drew Bledsoe. One simple opportunity changed American football history. Suppose Drew Bledsoe decides to pass the football instead of run. He wouldn’t have suffered that injury, and Tom Brady never would have entered the game. Suppose Mo Lewis never hit Drew Bledsoe. What would have happened to Tom Brady’s legacy? It is very possible that Brady never would have won a Super Bowl and he would have retired an unknown quarterback.

In the early 20th century, Lewis Terman conducted an interesting experiment. In this experiment, Terman found kids with extremely high IQ’s. After he located these kids, he kept track of their lives to see how their families’ social and economic class affected their success. After years of studying these kids, Terman found out that kids who came from families that were richer had a higher likelihood of becoming successful, but the kids who were raised in poor living conditions were unsuccessful. Despite the extremely high IQs, they ended up as postal workers, struggling store owners, and some of them were even unemployed (Gladwell 89–90).

Tom Brady was raised in the upper to middle class. His dad, Tom Brady Sr., owns a successful insurance firm named “Thomas Brady and Associates.” because this business was successful, Tom Brady’s Sr. was able to send Tom Brady Jr. to Junipero Serra High School. The tuition at Junipero Serra High School today is $18,990 a year (“Junipero Tuition Faqs”). Junipero has colleges all over the country come to their school and recruit student athletes. The University of Michigan was one of the recruiting colleges (“Padre Athletics”). Tom Brady is similar to some of the kids in the Lewis Terman study. The kids with richer parents were more successful. Tom Brady was raised in a wealthy family which enabled him go to Junipero and build connections with his future college. This suggests that a parent’s social and economic class can play a large role in the success of their kids. God-given talent isn't enough to become successful. The brilliant children in the Terman study who were raised in poverty were not able to capitalize on their intelligence because they were raised in a poor families who couldn't afford to give their kids the same opportunity that the rich family could give to their children.

During a game against Kansas city in 2014,. Jimmy Garoppolo, a rookie quarterback for the New England Patriots was called from the bench to play. Bill Belichick had just pulled Tom Brady from the game after he had just thrown his second interception of the game. Jimmy came in and gave the dead New England offense some life and took a struggling offense all the way down to score a touchdown. Despite the touchdown, the Patriots would go on to lose to the Kansas City Chiefs 41–14. After suffering the second worst defeat in the Tom Brady era, people began to talk. “Is this the end of the Brady?” A week later the Patriots are up against the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati came into the game favorites to win. The Patriots were underdogs and Tom Brady had something to prove. He had to demonstrate that he was not done yet. When the game was over, he threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns to beat the Bengals 43–17. The Patriots would stay red hot and win their next seven games and eventually win the 2015 Super Bowl in Phoenix Arizona (Schwab). The season wasn't over after the Kansas City game and Brady knew that. Brady had to prove he wasn't done yet and that was easy because he is hardwired to win.

Tom Brady is not a complete self-made winner. He was made into one because of his family’s German and Irish roots as well as their social class. These aspects are arbitrary; Brady didn't choose his family. However, aspects such as grit and hours of work as well as his never-give-up mentality are factors that only Tom Brady could work for and control. He never gave up even when his career was at its low point. He had to have grit to stick to his future in the 2014–2015 season when there was talk that Brady was washed up and that he should retire.

One can learn a lot from Tom Brady’s success story. His story proves that working hard isn't all that makes a person successful. A person needs to embrace his family legacy and understand how their culture can help or hurt his or her future. Becoming successful without opportunities is impossible. When an opportunity comes around, which they will, one has to be ready and capitalize on that opportunity. Hard work and grit will prepare someone for those moments.

Work Cited

Brady, Thomas. Home Page. Thomas Brady and Associates. Web. 5 April, 2015.

Duckworth Angela, The Key to Success? Grit. TED April 2015. Lecture.

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. 1st ed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print.

Hofstede, Geert. “Power Distance Index” Clearly Cultural Making Sense of Cross Cultural Communication. Web. 2 May. 2015.

Larsen, Ben. “Tom Brady May Be the Worst QB in the History of the NFL, According to NFL Combine Numbers.” Web. 12 May 2015.

Schwab, Frank. “Was This the End for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ Dynasty?” Yahoo Sports (2014). Web. 09 May 2015.

Wieberg, Steve “NCAA Survey Delves into Practice Time, Coaches’ Trust” USA Today. Gannett Company, 15 Jan. 2011. Web. 02 May. 2015.

Wilson, Ryan. “LOOK: 4-year-old Tom Brady Was at Candlestick Park for ‘The Catch’” CBS Sports. 13 Feb 2015. Web. 09 May 2015.

“Bledsoe to Brady: The Hit that Changed History.” Web. 19 April 2015.

“Gronkowski’s Relationship With Brady.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Dec. 2014. Web. 09 May 2015.

“New England Patriots 2014 Regular Season Schedule.” Web. 02 May 2015.

“Spring/Summer 2016 Academic Calendar” University of Michigan. Web. 02 May 2015.

“’Super Bowl Sound FX’: Seattle’s Final Drive.” Web. 13 May 2015.

“Tom Brady Family Tree And Bio of The New England Patriots Quarterback Family Man.” Make My Family Tree. Web. 09 May 2015.

“Tuition & Financial Aid Faqs and Padre Athletics .” Junipero Serra. Web. 09 May 2015.


Christopher Stein is a freshmen athletic training major from Lino Lakes, MN. Stein likes professional football, social networks and being active with friends.


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