Tom Brady, the New England Patriots, Winston Churchill, the Fat Lady, and What It Means to Be a Winner

On Sunday, the New England Patriots transformed themselves from the most hated professional football team to comeback darlings and heroes for the ages. By halftime, 99.5% of NFL talking heads and millions of viewers – me included – thought the Atlanta Falcons would win their first Lombardi Trophy, but the men in the white jerseys had only Churchill’s admonition in mind: “Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

For the first two thirds of the game, Brady and his team looked nothing like the juggernaut which had swept aside so many formidable opponents. Then, just when hope for even the most stalwart was dimming, they became supermen executing their offense, protecting their franchise quarterback, and shutting down Matt Ryan and the Falcon offense like they were a high school team. Everyone thought the Fat Lady had begun warbling her tune except the Pats, and their belief in their coach, quarterback, systems, leadership, and planning returned them to football’s pinnacle.
The Super Bowl illustrated eloquently what has made the Patriots so special over the last 15 years and what family businesses might learn from their organization and their amazing run of success.

  1. They plan. When New England fans were hanging their heads in despair, the Patriots knew in their hearts they had a solid game plan. They didn’t panic. They knew the plan was carefully conceived and would produce the results they ultimately wanted. Did the great Belichick and his staff tweak the plan and make adjustments? Of course they did! Heavyweight champ Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In spite of being punched repeatedly, they held to their overarching plan, made modifications where necessary, and were patient until their execution caught up with their design.
  2. Talent. Other than Brady, Belichick, and a handful of others, can you name specific Patriot superstars from the last 15 years? Clearly they have the requisite talent to be among the NFL elites each year, but it’s not so much individual talent as a team approach emphasizing proper roles, responsibilities, and mutual accountability that makes New England’s system so impressive. Belichick is famous for jettisoning superstars in favor of younger, hungrier, and, let’s face it, cheaper talent that better fits the overall personality of the organization. Team needs come before individual needs.
  3. Leadership. Clearly, Tom Brady is the team leader; however, even the acknowledged leader knows his place. Late in the game when the Patriots were in a position to pull even with the Falcons, Brady, for the first time all game, walked over to the defensive huddle and put in a few encouraging words. However, he didn’t milk it. He offered his input respectfully, and turned and walked away. He knew it was appropriate at that point, as the leader, to say something to his teammates. He also knew that the defense has its own coaching staff and leadership hierarchy, and he elected to respect their leadership system when the chips were down. A wise leader understands that there are certain circumstances that demand situational leadership from others, and he doesn’t hijack the leadership role when is it inappropriate to do so.
  4. Faith. How many Patriots players, Brady included, did you see on their knees giving thanks after the game? They were expressing their faith in God and publicly demonstrating their commitment. But the Patriots have another kind of faith as well: a faith in a culture and a system of mutual support which breeds faith and trust in each other. Brady was consistently harassed or sacked for much of the game, but his faith in his team’s culture and his teammates gave him the confidence that, at crunch time, his protection would be where it needed to be. And it was.
  5. Family. The press was all over Brady after the game, and he respected their needs for a quick quote. He gave them a few lines and concluded by saying he just wanted to celebrate with his family. As the camera panned around, you could see Brady and the other players surrounded by their children. They could’ve elected to have their faces in front of cameras and to be lionized by the sports media. Instead, they focused on what was genuinely important and, as quickly as they could, joined with their families.

It was a Super Bowl for the ages, maybe the best ever. It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how winners can become transcendent and teach us valuable lessons about ourselves, our families, and our businesses.

  1. Great commentary! Great Game

    • Thanks, Maryanne!

  2. Winston’s Churchill’s historic comments made in the context of Great Britain’s stand-alone struggle for national survival against Nazi Germany in the summer of 1940 seem completely out of place to describe the outcome of Super Bowl 51 which is a hyped up sports entertainment event. A small business owner struggling against government regulation would have been a better example of grit and determination for the five points you outlined.

    • Relax about the Churchill comparison. Geez Louise. It’s a metaphor for not giving up…regardless of the circumstances. I think everyone would agree that war is much more serious than a football game…give the author a little leeway in trying to demonstrate his point, namely, winners have systems in place and respect for one another, etc. Cheers!

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