More specifically, "the sheer force of his will."
That's the answer I have given every time I have been asked by somebody over the years what makes Tom Brady so special, based upon my time in New England.
Yeah, he has "it" (whatever you want to define that as), but the real question is how "it" is different from other stars in the league. In Brady's case, there is a passion burning inside him that is uncommon. I don't know if I ever played with another guy on my five teams in seven years that possessed his level of determination, and that is truly saying something when talking about the alpha males that make up the NFL.
Couldn't you just see it Sunday night against the Cincinnati Bengals? It was in his eyes, it was in his body language and it rubbed off on the team around him. He has an ability to get the guys around him to play at a level that they themselves didn't even know they were capable of, mainly because they are doing it for him. Heck, they even say as much.
"I told my brother before we came to the game, 'I'm going to make 12 look like Tom Brady,'" tight end Rob Gronkowski said after the Patriots' destruction of the previously undefeated Bengals. "And I went out there with my teammates, and we made Tom Brady look like Tom Brady after you guys were criticizing him all week -- the fans, everything. And it feels so good. He's such a leader, and went over 50,000 yards today. He's an unbelievable player, and I'm so glad to play with him."
I know exactly what Gronkowski is talking about, on a much smaller scale. I was only with the Patriots during the 2005 season and the 2006 offseason until I was traded to the Cleveland Browns. But even during that short stint, I saw a number of examples both on and off the field of Brady's unique ability to make everyone feel like they are important.
Even in training camp back in 2006, I distinctly remember Brady looking me in the eyes before calling the play in the huddle and saying, "It starts with a great snap, Ross -- you and me," before addressing the rest of the offense and calling the play. With all the other responsibilities that he has on every single play in that offense -- and there's a lot -- the fact that he would take the time to single me out is mind-boggling.
I never wanted to snap the ball so perfectly in my life.
Think about that. At the time, I was a six-year veteran in the NFL on my fourth team in the league with 24 starts under my belt. This should have been just another August practice for me, like all the other ones since I started playing football in sixth grade, yet him singling me out made me feel like an eager sophomore trying to impress the senior guys on the high school team.
And that was just his intensity on the field.
Off the field it showed up as well. Brady is famously slow, at least among his teammates, yet that never stopped him from doing offseason agility drills over and over again in order to post a better time.
His preparation is legendary. On all the teams I played for over the years, I can probably count on one hand the number of guys that ever got to the facility in the morning before I did. Brady was one of them. I lived five minutes from the stadium; he had to live at least 45 minutes away in Boston.
I probably only went out socially with Brady on two or three occasions, but even then his competitive spirit reared its head.
We went to a local barbecue place near the stadium in Foxboro after practice one time, and there were two different occasions where Brady's eyes displayed his trademark fire.
The first was when some of the veteran offensive linemen started talking to the rookies about a chugging contest. No big deal for these guys and given that they were fresh out of college, you would think they'd be at the top of their game. I was surprised to see Brady take part. The rookies looked at the seemingly pretty boy quarterback and laughed. I think I snickered myself.
We all should've known better.
I still have never seen anybody chug a beer faster than Tom Brady. You should've seen the way he slammed down his cup -- it was like he was spiking the ball after a TD. It was hilarious. It was awesome. It was textbook Brady.
As if that wasn't enough, when I got up to pay for my meal, he jumped out of his seat and came over and said he would get the tab. I thanked him, but assured him it was no big deal and I would take care of it. He looked at me like he was going to either beat me up or die trying unless I let him pay. So I did.
So what do these random stories from eight years ago say about a 37-year-old quarterback now?
Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.
All you really need to know is what you saw on the field Sunday and how his teammates responded. Actions always speak louder.