Book Review – Moving the Chains

Moving the Chains – Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything
By Charles P. Pierce
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
264 pages


Carthusians
Ostrogothic class
Cypriot
ecclesiastical omerta
ecumenical
febrile tectonics
incantatory spells
Gutzon Borglum
carapace
Marshall McLuhan
trompe l’oeil

The above words, names and expressions found in the text of Moving the Chains should assure you alone that this is no ordinary football book. Then again, Tom Brady is no ordinary football player. Charlie Pierce isn’t your ordinary sports writer, either. In his biography of the Patriots quarterback, Pierce draws on elements that have shaped Brady into the person, football player, teammate and leader that he has become. Family is a huge part of it, as is the Catholic background of the Brady clan, and Pierce weaves aspects of the Vatican II into the narrative at various points, to show how even aspects of that council eventually and directly or indirectly had an influence on Brady. Pierce quotes liberally from a 1908 work entitled The Philosophy of Loyalty by Josiah Royce to make points about Brady. Pierce’s book is no doubt going to also help the sales of Michael MacCambridge’s America’s Game – a history of the National Football League that Pierce also quotes and draws from often.

The focus of the book is how Tom Brady has become a leader without putting himself above his teammates. He is able to balance being “one of the guys” with being a leader of them. Brady has genuine qualities that most politicians try to fake. He has the ability to make each person he talks to feel at ease and comfortable, and to feel like he thinks they are important. He is immune to the peer ridicule that many people would encounter in group situations. Brady is constantly “moving the chains”, both in his life and on the football field.

The reader is taken on a back-and-forth journey through Brady’s life. The main setting is the 2005 season, where most games are chronicled, but interwoven throughout are bits from the past, from Brady’s father’s childhood, to Brady’s high school and college days and early days in the NFL. Here in New England, for most of us, Tom Brady really only burst into our consciousness when Drew Bledsoe went down in week 2 of 2001. However, Brady had already been here for a season at that point, under the public radar, but very much in the spotlight of the coaches. In his first season, as the 4th QB, he would run the scout team, preparing the first team’s defense by running plays used by that week’s opposition, but in addition to that, he would keep his fellow rookies after practice and run the regular Patriots offense with them, just so he could get more familiar with it. By the next training camp, he had already beaten out Damon Huard to become the 2nd string QB, and there was a movement among the coaches that he should be given a chance to compete with Bledsoe for the starting job.

The Patriots have had a number of books written about them in recent years, and although this one focuses mainly on Brady, many of his teammates are profiled throughout the book as well. We get a number of looks at David Givens, who had suffered injuries at the wrong times in his career – such as just prior to the draft when he was coming out of Notre Dame – and was worried that it would again haunt him when it came time to get a new contract. Mike Vrabel is shown seizing the opportunities given to him by the Patriots after being buried on the depth chart in Pittsburgh, showing many of the same qualities as Brady in many ways. Charlie Weis is a huge figure in the book, and the time that Brady spent in the hospital with Weis’ wife as the Patriots coordinator lay close to death for several days is a memorable section. The player that is linked with Brady the most on the field in the book however, is kicker Adam Vinatieri, as the two of them teamed up for some of the biggest moments in Brady’s football life. No hint is given however of any discontent from Vinatieri towards the Patriots or that the kicker was on his way out the door just the next spring.

A recurring figure is current Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, who as an assistant at USC, lobbied hard for the school to bring Brady in out of high school. He was overruled. Then as head coach of the Chargers, Riley again lobbied hard for Brady, urging his GM to draft him out of Michigan. Once again, he was overruled. Then, during the 2001 season, Riley watched Brady throw for 364 yards and two touchdowns against his Chargers in leading the Patriots back from a 10 point fourth quarter deficit.

If you’re looking for “inside information” on the Patriots organization and game preparation, there isn’t a whole lot. This is more about Brady and his relationship with those around him. We do learn however, that Brady was pretty seriously hobbled by a sports hernia last season, and that this was the reason that many of his passes seemed to “sail” and go over the heads of his receivers during the course of the season. He also banged his leg late in the season against Buffalo, and that injury left him in a lot of pain as well. We get the stories of how the late Dick Rehbein was sold on Brady from the day he saw his pro day at Michigan, and how Brady encountered Bob Kraft in the parking lot of Foxboro stadium an evening in the summer of 2000 and told the Patriots owner that he was the best decision that the franchise ever made…and managed to not sound arrogant while saying it.

Pierce comments on the media coverage of the Patriots in the Boston area, mentioning a “low-level feud” that the team has with the Boston Globe, claiming that the Patriots count the number of articles in the paper about the Patriots as opposed to the Red Sox, and saying that the organization is “hypersensitive” about the media coverage, and whispers complaints about the Globe being “a property of the New York Times Company, which also owns a piece of -wait for it- the Boston Red Sox.” He contrasts this with the “gooey weekly infomercials” presented by WEEI, which he describes as being “in the tank” for the team. In a memorable quote, Pierce writes at one point: “local sports punditocracy blew enough sunshine up the franchise’s ass to light up the moons of Neptune.”

I just had one quibble as I was reading through the book…”Where’s Bridget?”. Brady’s moviestar girlfriend doesn’t make an appearance in the book until page 193. Even then, the reference seems to indicate that the couple is all done: “When he dated Bridget Moynahan”. She merits a few more cameo mentions in the last section of the book, but not more than 4-5 total references – she’s probably not critical to the development of Brady and thus wouldn’t be a major part of the story – but how can you have a book on Tom Brady without details about how they met and what their relationship is like?

Overall, Patriots fans are going to want to read this book. I think it’s a step above the books written by Michael Holley and David Halberstam the last few years, the only problem with this book is that the legend of Brady is likely to continue on for some time to come. Brady himself protested that he was too young to have a book written about him. That might be a true statement, but this effort from Pierce is certain to keep you turning the pages to see how Brady got to where he is now…how he has kept moving the chains.

Check back at 2:00 this afternoon for a mini-weekend post.