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.

Bledsoe Turned to Borges for Advice…

A transcript of a segment of the Mike Felger show on ESPN Boston yesterday afternoon, regarding the time 5 years ago when Bill Belichick made the decision to stick with Tom Brady even after Bledsoe was ready to play again. Borges claims he felt Belichick made the right decision, but didn’t like how it was handled:


Borges: What I was up in arms about was the fact that he LIED to the guy about what the situation was gonna be in terms of what he had to do to win his job back.

Felger: OK, let me ask you about that. Why do we care so much that a football coach lies? What’s the diff? He’s a football coach!

Borges: Well, because I think if you want your players, to…I just don’t think it’s a smart way to deal with the players. If you want to lie to me, fine, they make a living doing that. They want to lie to you, they lie to you everyday.

Felger: How did Belichick lie? What did he say to Drew?

Borges: What Bledsoe said to him at the original meeting, when he was cleared to practice, and I know this firsthand, for a lot of reasons,

Felger: Why…you were sitting there on the couch?

Borges: I PREPARED THE GUY TO GO MEET HIM! Quite frankly!

Felger: Hold on…so you talked…Bledsoe called you up and said “Ron, I’m about to go talk to Belichick, help me out”

Borges: He said, you know, how’s this, what’s the, how do you think this is likely to go down? And I told him, which turned out to be exactly what it was. I said, when he says to you, uh, you’re going to have to show in practice, which is, of course what he said, you need to ask him how long you have…

Felger: Meaning what? What do you mean how long you have?

Borges: In other words, Are you going to look for a week, and then make a decision, do I have two weeks? Do I have 10 weeks? How long do I have? And according to the way that…it was related back to me what happened in that meeting, it was a question he didn’t anticipate. And you know how…you’ve seen Belichick when he doesn’t…uh…know what’s coming…

Felger: Well, he’s not really quick with the…retorts.

Borges: Right, and his response was ‘as long as you need’, Well, you know, once you say that, I think, I have as long as I need.

Felger: If I’m a professional athlete, certainly in the NFL, which has as cutthroat no-guarantee contracts, obviously we know the deal in the NFL, I don’t…I don’t buy what anyone says to me. There’s no such thing as lying.

Borges: That’s why you’re not a player in the NFL.

Then that morphed into a conversation about how players do what their coaches tell them, even when they know it isn’t going to work.

We knew that Bledsoe was a favorite of many of the media members. It was rumored that he was the source of many of the “inside” stories that would come out of the Patriots organization. Now we have Borges admitting…no, BRAGGING that the Patriots quarterback called him up to ask him advice about how to handle a confrontation with his head coach.

Maybe Drew recalled Borges’ confrontation with Pete Carroll a couple years earlier and thought, “Hmmm, now that’s a guy I’m going to turn to when I need some advice for how to best navigate a delicate situation with my coach.”

It’s a story that doesn’t reflect well on either Bledsoe or Borges. So much for the objectivity of the press, huh?

Then a little later, Belichick’s place in the history of the game came up:

Caller: …he wins one more ring, he’s the best coach in the history of the NFL. No one could argue that.

Felger: Ron, could you argue that?

Borges: Oh, I’m sure I could find a way.

Felger: You don’t think he’s one of the great coaches of all time?

Borges: I didn’t say that! There you go…you got no ears on your head, either!

Felger: Question mark. I didn’t accuse, I asked…I said do you think…do you not think he’s one of the greatest coaches of all time?

Borges: He’s one of the great coaches of all time.

Felger: That’s a big admission, right there Ron.

Borges: It’s NOT. I always say he’s a good coach. Doesn’t mean he’s not a lousy person.

Kevin Winter: You’ve said it before about inducting him if it ever happens…

Borges: Yeah, I’m the guy who’s got to make the speech. And it will be a helluva speech.

Well, that’s nice of Ron. He does manage to sneak the “lousy person” line in there even when admitting that the guy is one of the best coaches in the history of the NFL. I’m sure all the other coaches in the Hall are great people. Ron’s speech should really be a “helluva” speech…I wonder how many snide comments about the type of person Borges believes Belichick to be will be mixed in with all his career accomplishments.

Patriots Prep for Unfamiliar Foe

Mike Reiss notes that Monday night’s matchup between the Patriots defensive line and the Minnesota offensive line could be a battle for the ages, but a lot hinges on whether Richard Seymour is able to go or not. Glen Farley has Jarvis Green prepping to step in if Seymour is unable to go. Alan Greenberg writes that the Patriots are going to need a monster performance from Green against Minnesota. Rich Garven attempts to update us on Seymour and how Green will try to take his place if needed. Chris Kennedy has more on the battle to watch Monday night. Michael Parente has the Patriots getting ready for the versatile Chester Taylor. Bill Barnwell on the Patriots Game Day page takes a look at some other great Pass Catching backs along with Taylor.

Mark Farinella says that the Patriots will be blazing new ground when they go to face the unfamiliar Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. Eric McHugh has more on the new challenge that awaits the Patriots as they try to conquer the Vikings and then the rest of the NFC North. Jeff Howe has the Patriots making preparations for Minnesota’s tough run defense.

Joe McDonald has a look at Laurence Maroney’s contributions to the Patriots this season, including leading all NFL rookies in rushing, and making big plays on special teams. He talks to Maroney’s college offensive coordinator about his special skills. Ian Clark says that the future appears limitless for Maroney, who was named Special Teams Player of the Week for his long kickoff return against the Bills. Tom King has Maroney shrugging off his return to Minnesota this week.

Alan Siegel has Chad Jackson starting to get things together and break through with the Patriots. Christopher Price has the Patriots viewing Monday Night Football as just another night at the office. Albert Breer says that Matt Cassel might want to emulate Brad Johnson, who had a somewhat similar situation to Cassel coming out of college.

John Tomase has several of Drew Bledsoe’s old Patriots teammates talking about his demotion in Dallas. Bill Reynolds says these are not the best of times for Bill Parcells.

Check out the coverage from Minnesota on the pages of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which has articles today on Tom Brady’s career record in domes and a look at Laurence Maroney’s return to the scene of his college success, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which also has an article on Maroney. The Star Tribune also has a Vikings Blog which they update pretty frequently.

Reiss’ notebook looks at the Vikings trend this season of getting off to fast starts in games. Tomase’s notebook says that the Patriots are hoping Seymour can play, but have to prepare as if he will not be able to go. McDonald’s notebook has more on Seymour and the matchup with the Vikings. Farinella’s notebook has Tom Brady weighing in on Bledsoe. Garven’s notebook looks at Maroney going back to play in the Metrodome, where he had his share of success. Parente’s notebook has more on that topic.

Celtics

Bill Doyle has a look at last night’s preseason finale, a 106-102 loss to the unbeaten Toronto Raptors at TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics ended the preseason at 3-5. Doyle also looks at what we’ve learned about this team during the preseason, it’s strengths and weaknesses. Lenny Megliola also takes a look at the Celtics and what we’ve learned about them in the preseason. Shalise Manza Young has the Celtics being cautious, but still making a game of it last night. Mark Murphy has Tony Allen awaiting news that the Celtics have picked up his option for next season. Shira Springer provides an update on Paul Pierce’s infected finger. Murphy’s notebook has Pierce lamenting the Celtics inability to finish out close games last season.

Bill Doyle’s Tuning In column this week looks at Tony Kornheiser’s work thus far on Monday Night Football.

NESN has Bruins/Canadiens at 7:00. FOX has Tigers/Cardinals at 8:00. TNT has Nuggets/Lakers at 10:00.