Thursday, January 31, 2008

Great Tom Brady mini-autobiography on his days at Michigan

posted by Mike Sando:
In my fourth year, Drew had come in and he was competing and a great player. I'm surprised he is not playing today. And we did pretty good when I was there my last couple years, 10-3 and 10-2, finished fifth in the country one year. There was a lot of teams that didn't choose me coming out and I really feel that I have improved a lot as a player as well and had great coaching, I've had a great system around me and maybe some of the attributes that it takes to be a great professional quarterback aren't really the same things that require a college quarterback to be a great player.

"I feel some of my strengths are my awareness, my decision making. I've never been a great athlete and those tend to be some of the great players in college because when you are playing against linebackers who run 4.9 in college and you run 4.7 in college, you can outrun those linebackers. In the pros, those guys are running 4.5s. so if you run a 4.7 and you are a slow guy, you have to focus on the abilities that there are a lot of ways to be a great quarterback. You can throw it, you can run it, decisions, accuracy, arm strength. I've tried to improve with the coaching I have had and take that coaching so I can continue to find ways to improve your game.
What resonated with me most is the propensity to peak too early (e.g. Drew Henson), and how a second tier performer in one context can be a first tier performer in a higher context. There's a lot of spiritual truth in this, and it remind me of the travails and ultimate victories of Joseph of the Old Testament, who was kicked to the curb by his family, then his employer, and then his sommelier friend, only to be promoted from prisoner to Treasury Secretary in less than a day, which positioned him to save his family from starvation (along with the rest of civilization in that part of the world).

UPDATE: An even cooler bio of Ernie Adams by Wright Thompson. Adams is the "Q" to Belichick's James Bond; the Forrest Gump to the Baby Boomer generation of football:

Who, exactly, is Ernie Adams?

"I don't know what his job title is," linebacker Adalius Thomas says. "I didn't even know his last name was Adams."

"Ernie is a bit of a mystery to all of us," offensive tackle Matt Light says. "I'm not sure what Ernie does, but I'm sure whatever it is, he's good at it."

Finally, I approach receiver Wes Welker. "I'm writing a story about Ernie Adams," I tell him.

"Who?" he says.

"The guy who's always with Belichick who doesn't ever really talk."

"Oh," he says, recognition washing over his face. "Ernie."

Adams and Belichick met in 1970. Adams had been at Phillips Academy in Andover, an elite New England boarding school, for three years. In that time, he'd become a campus legend, famous for his quirky attire and habits. He wore high-top cleats and old-fashioned clothes, looked and talked like something from the 1940s. His three obsessions were Latin, naval history and, strangely, football. So he consumed books, mostly obscure titles, with a scholar's thirst. One he ran across was called "Football Scouting Methods" by a Navy assistant coach named Steve Belichick. As Halberstam details in his biography of Belichick, "Education of a Coach," only about 400 people bought the book: professional scouts and 14-year-old Ernie Adams. So, imagine Adams' surprise when, as his senior year was beginning, he walked out onto the football field and encountered a young man with "Belichick" written on tape across the front of his helmet.

Bill Belichick had recently enrolled at Andover for his senior year, hoping to raise his grades and test scores so he could get into a good college. A few questions confirmed Adams' suspicions. Are you from Annapolis? Are you related to Steve? Yes and yes. Belichick thought it was strange that a kid would have read his dad's book. Adams recognized something familiar in Belichick. He recognized himself. "He actually was pretty good in his judgment of people," says Hale Sturges, the professor in charge of South Adams Hall, where Adams lived.

They've been like brothers ever since, spending hours after practice breaking down film, diagramming famous plays of Vince Lombardi, Adams' idol. They snuck into Boston College practices to "scout." Together, they played on the undefeated Andover team, the first time the two men tasted perfection.

So, every week, the Patriots get the kind of analysis that only high-powered hedge funds or, say, NASA can afford. "Nine times out of 10," Bissinger says, "Ernie sees something nobody else sees."

That memory and those hours of studying film make him an unparalleled resource for assistant coaches. Want to know what a team does, and why? Want to know what a team has done on third-and-short in the red zone in the past 10 years on the road? Ask Adams. He'll know.

Adams' reach doesn't stop there. The Patriots are famous for compartmentalizing: The scouts can't watch practice, the game planners don't know who they are going to draft, and so on. But Adams is into everything. During the draft, according to Michael Holley's "Patriot Reign," he's in charge of running through the team's value chart, figuring out who will best fit their needs. This is the perfect assignment for someone who spent several years in the late 1980s as an analyst and trader on Wall Street and, as an investor, is known for spotting profitable trends shockingly early.

Adams' official title is director of football research, and he does a lot of that, too, trolling the world for things that might offer the slightest advantage. A year or two ago, an Andover teammate ran across an obscure out-of-print book on nonlinear mathematics. He thought Adams might find a use for it, so he mailed it to him. Adams had already read it. Or there's Rutgers statistics professor Harold Sackrowitz, who got a call from Adams a few years back. Adams wanted to talk about some research Sackrowitz had just completed, dealing with how teams try two-point conversions far too often. Adams sent the professor the Patriots' when-to-go-for-two chart, and asked Sackrowitz to tear it apart. Of the 32 NFL teams, the statistician told the New York Times, only the Patriots called.

Obviously, he admires great men. His reading list includes Warren Buffett, featured in Train's cult classic on investing, presidents, czars, prime ministers. Adams seems to enjoy the tiny spaces inside great lives, seeing them from behind the curtain. Could that be behind his close connection with Belichick?

Adams also seems to enjoy not only watching greatness work, but also seeing it fail. Carlisle thinks the central message of Halberstam's Vietnam classic appeals to Adams: that people incredibly well-educated and well-intentioned could be so flat-out wrong about something. It's a helpful notion to keep in mind about the conventional-wisdom-obsessed world of football, where pedigree and tradition dictate many overly conservative decisions. Indeed, when Adams agreed to participate in Halberstam's Belichick book, he did so with this caveat: For every two questions the journalist got to ask Adams about football, Adams got to ask one back about Vietnam. Did that trait allow Adams to make sure the mistakes of Belichick in Cleveland were not repeated? Maybe.

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