categories: Bad Advice / Cocktail Hour
There he was, late in the fourth quarter, sacked again at third-and-long, the game out of reach. The game, that is: the AFC Championship game, the one that would have led him directly to a record-breaking sixth Superbowl. I averted my eyes in sympathy, reluctant to witness his marrow-deep humiliation, the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer sitting on the 30-yard line, legs straight out, shoulders curved in despair. Tomorrow’s front-page photo: the great Tom Brady posed like a kid in a sandbox, wondering, like the rest of us, what the hell went wrong. People fail. All the time. But to fail like this? So publicly? In the narrowed eyes of a loosely bonded, fickle, unforgiving, sharply fanged outfit we call “Patriot Nation”? A Nation where nothing short of a Superbowl win counts for a damn thing? This, friends, is failure Capital-F. Gotta hurt.
We should know, we writers. Our own version of Patriot Nation asks, “Did Oprah pick your book yet?” “Did you get a movie deal?” “Hey, isn’t that woman who won the Pulitzer a friend of yours?” Literary success in America has its own eccentric measures, nearly impossible to attain. And here I’m speaking of published writers. The rest of our tribe—the unsung scribblers hoping for their first break—must sit on the equivalent of that 30-yard line, a gloating herd of monsters blocking the end zone. “When’s your book coming out?” “Whoah, you’ve been writing that one for a while now, huh?” “Did you get an agent yet?” Once we declare ourselves—”I’m in the game!”—we invite a public sacking, whether our public is the readers of our bad review in the Times, or the parents who warned us to take up something “practical.”
And so, my friends, let us lift our eyes to football for solace. Tom Brady, as it turns out, is not invincible. Like a first-book wunderkind whose second book got savaged, the greatest quarterback in NFL history had an off game at the worst possible moment. And not for the first time (see under: Pats v. Giants). The humbling of our heroes can be strangely consoling, making our own striving more bearable. Football players and writers share a peculiar DNA, distinguished by more than our share of single-minded drive and bottomless resilience. Next year, Tom Brady—at the advanced football age of 36—will take to the field again, heart set on another Superbowl, haunted by failure and driven by the pursuit of excellence. That’s what it means to be in the game, no matter what game you’re in.
[Monica Wood is the author, most recently, of the dazzling memoir When We Were the Kennedys, a Bill and Dave’s top book of 2012.]