Article 21 Band of Brothers
When two or more face hardship together, they bond in fellow kinship. When a couple share passionate intensity, their intercourse produces new life, new kin. Life is born out of struggle. As an inner voice proclaimed to the actor Jon Voight in a moment of intense personal hardship when he prayed asking why everything had to be so hard: ‘it’s supposed to be!”
This may or may not hint at another proof of life after death in that the climax ending of one process always leads to something else afterwards, but that is not the subject of this piece. Rather, the idea is to just touch on the notion of shared intensity, of how going into a ‘bright light’ situation together, results in fellowship.
After the 2021 Superbowl, the US sports world – or at least those who still follow the NFL which has allowed partisan politics to enter their arenas too much of late and driven many life long fans away, at least for now – has been all ago about the legendary veteran quarterback Tom Brady, who went from a dynasty he helped create in New England, playing for the Patriots, to an historically under-performing team in Florida, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – or now Tompa Bay Bucs as some call them. They had no training camp or pre-season because of COVID – indeed they were not even allowed to meet individually during the spring months – and yet he went down there, helped push for a few key additions to an already talented team, persevered through a difficult early and middle season and ended up with an eight game winning streak culminating in holding aloft the Lombardi Cup in his new home stadium at Tampa Bay, the first time a team whose city was hosting the Superbowl had done so. Quite a feat.
Numerous videos have been made, some by established outfits, many by amateur You tubers combing through pre-existing materials. There seem to be two main themes emerging. One is that the long-established myth that New England had some special system thanks to their coaches, especially Head Coach Bill Belichek, no longer really holds up, meaning that Tom Brady had more to do with their success than his many critics for many years had insisted was not the case. In current rankings he still comes third (or lower) behind Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rogers, both of whom are widely acknowledged to be far more ‘talented’ quarterbacks. Famously, Tom Brady was the 199th pick of his draft year out of 259 total; interestingly, none of the six other quarterbacks drafted before him have names that anyone – except hard core fans – would recognize. In other words, the criteria the experts use to evaluate ‘talent’ seem to be lacking in certain areas, something they often dub ‘intangibles.’
So what are those intangibles? In a word: leadership. Football is a tough, complicated and extremely confrontational sport involving two teams, one on offense, one on defense, in combat with each other. Each franchise team is itself comprised of two teams, its own offensive team and its own defensive team. These two teams are never on the field at the same time; the defense plays against the opposing side’s offense; the offense plays against the opposing side’s defense. In contrast to tennis, which pits one individual against another, NFL football is a team sport par excellence.
(That said, if you listen to the post-championship speeches by the leading tennis professionals, they always thank their own ‘team’ for all the hard work that went into this latest victory, and often congratulate their opponent’s team for everything they did too. Turns out there is a team dynamic in tennis too, even though each team only fronts one individual champion in actual combat against the other team’s champion.)
In terms of the team aspect in the Tompa Bay Buccaneers story, numerous videos have been published recently going over this. The talking heads in sports are obsessed with whether or not Tom is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) and debate it endlessly, every such debate being fatuous and boring – at least as far as I can be bothered to watch any of them. However, when Tom is asked about such things, he always points out that football is a team sport. When he gives speeches after matches, he always congratulates the entire team, which includes the coaching staff (about 50 people in Tampa Bay apparently). He maintains relationships with all the players, though last year’s COVID restrictions curtailed that somewhat, especially in terms of his getting to know players in the defense; and if you listen to many of the interviews by the defense – with whom Tom never plays and never will – they too were highly inspired by his presence on the overall team.
This is because Tom is a winner. He has won 7 Superbowl rings and been at three other Superbowls on the losing team. But just getting to the Superbowl is something that only a small percentage of all the NFL professional players achieve, let alone many times. No other quarterback now playing, for example, has won more than one Superbowl ring. Tom has seven and is a favorite to win again next year given the entire team who won last year is coming back and this year they have time to practice together. Such a winning record makes him a living icon in the minds of his team mates especially, but also most young players (and fans) in the NFL realm. In their minds, he is a type of bright light, radiating a sort of aura in the mind which all great leaders inspire. Whether the aura exists or is imagined matters not at all: functionally speaking it is there. That aura lifted up the entire Tampa Bay organization as their coaches have explained many times. When they won the NFC Conference Championship against the extremely gifted Green Bay Packers led by Aaron Rogers, widely regarded as one of the most talented quarterbacks in the game’s history (and yet who has only won one Superbowl), the Head Coach Bruce Arians said that the victory was all due to ‘one man,’ Brady, because he knows how to win and he inspired the entire team to believe that they could win too. Many of his fellow team mates say the same thing. Turns out that Brady’s leadership intangibles, just like courage some say, are contagious.
In some sense, winning is over-rated. But the desire to win and the effort it takes to do so consistently involves a huge amount of discipline, otherwise known as ‘hard work,’ day after day, not to mention playing through injuries – which it was revealed a few days ago that Tom did the last few games, injuries much more painful than previously reported. What is of most value, perhaps, is not the winning per se, but rather the path, the journey, the process. Indeed, as Tom was walking through the underpass into the wide open Superbowl arena a few yards ahead, he turned to the team mate beside him and said: ‘what a journey, eh?’ As the old Buddhist saying rightly points out: ‘the journey is the goal.’
Leadership involves inspiring a group of men – at least in the case of football and most military combat – to head into ongoing difficulty and find a way to prevail. All such groups need leaders in order to come together as a winning team, a group that prevails, a group whose story is one of victory not defeat, glory not degradation. Their sense of camaraderie is what fuels the passion that drives the hard work that inspires the courage even in the face of death. The bright aura around any great leader inspires his followers to enter the arena together, to face whatever challenges arising therein, to give it their all, sacrificing even their lives if necessary, on the field of battle.
In this way, for example, racism is clearly transcended, whether on the field of football or life-and-death military combat. Men who face great hardship or death together become a veritable Band of Brothers. There is no black or white race among those sharing a foxhole being bombarded by enemy mortar fire, each man perhaps about to be blown to bits any moment. They are brothers.
Facing hardship, entering intense bright light zones of ‘men in the arena’ creates kinship, fellowship – or again as in the case of a couple embracing the intensity of love and passion: new life, a new family.