I know it's hard to admire, or even like guys who play for teams that don't hold our rooting interest. Trust me, I know.
I grew up a Redskins fan and could never warm up to Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach because he wore that silly star on his helmet. But over time I learned to appreciate the skills that Staubach possessed, his competitive nature and his ability to make the clutch throw. I never actually rooted for him, but I learned to respect him, as a player and as a person. Most of all, I learned to admire him on so many different levels.
This week, I spent time with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for a NFL Network "Game Day Morning" interview, which will air this Sunday. Before reading further, please drop your team rooting interest guard down and view Brady as a person, not a Patriot, because there is much to admire about him.
When the interview was complete, a Vince Lombardi quote came to mind. Not the recognizable one ("Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.), but rather the one that I believe is Lombardi's best quote, done in the spirit of his Jesuit training and applies perfectly to Brady.
"The greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more," Lombardi once said. He was never satisfied with success, as he was constantly driving for perfection from his players and from himself. And so is Brady.
Brady is all about the next minute, the next hour, and the next challenge. He lives for the next event and holds little memory of any past success. He is the definition of driven. He lives for the competition, he relishes being able to come into the building and compete with his teammates on anything -- all in the spirit of trying to make everyone better. He is one of those rare athletes, like Peyton Manning and many others, that combine an extremely unique passion with God-given talent.
Brady is also extremely self-critical. He is always looking for ways to improve his own game, because he believes he must do everything perfect in practice to achieve success on Sundays. (For example, Brady believes his injury in 2008 was a result of him not working his fundamentals in the pocket.)
Brady has the mentality that if he doesn't come to work and work extremely hard on every detail that makes a quarterback successful, he will fail. He takes no shortcuts. He knows that his success lies in his own preparation -- that without total preparation a team cannot win.
When the quarterback of the team is the hardest worker and the best leader, the team will follow him everywhere and assume his personality. As the Patriots rebuild their roster around Brady, they know his work habits won't change, his commitment to the team won't change, nor will his will to win. Because Brady has no memory of the last three Super Bowls, all he cares about is doing it again.
The script: My first 15
1. It has taken me some time to figure out who Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles reminds me of, and after watching him run against the Colts, he looked like a young Marcus Allen. Charles has more natural speed than Allen did, but they both run with quick feet and the ability to change direction with power. The Texans are once again showing the football world, they cannot play with power or toughness, and this is a must-win for them, as they have already lost two homes games this season.
2. If Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel can't throw the ball against this porous secondary of the Texans then there should be huge cause for concern. The Texans are bad, and I mean really bad in the back end (this includes first round pick Kareem Jackson), and the Chiefs need to prove they can throw the ball. This should be an entertaining game.
3. The Packers might have quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the game, but their team has been devastated with injuries and the Dolphins are coming off an embarrassing loss two weeks ago to the Patriots. I favor the embarrassed team over the injured team. The Packers losing Jermichael Finley hurts their offense, as now teams can double Greg Jennings on the outside and not have to worry about the middle of the field being stretched. And without Clay Matthews' pass rushing presence, the Packers will struggle to cover the Dolphins' wide receivers, especially Davone Bess, who might be the best third-down receiver in the league.
4. Trouble might be brewing for the Seattle Seahawks because they play four of the next six games on the road, and they are a really bad road team. Somehow Seattle must find a way to create some big plays with their offense as they average less than 10 points a game on the road. With Jay Cutler back, the Bears must not beat themselves and play mistake-free football to earn their fifth win of the year.
5. The Patriots-Ravens game should be a war, as both teams are tough, both teams are determined, and both teams play hard each week. The Ravens are balanced on offense and so are the Patriots this season. The one advantage the Pats do have is that they can spread the Ravens out and attack their weakness at corner. The Pats must find a way to force Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco off the spot, and when he throws the ball into a crowd they must make the play.
6. The one player no one talks about who will benefit most from the Randy Moss trade is little running back Danny Woodhead. He was just what the Patriots needed once they lost Kevin Faulk for the season. Woodhead can protect and can make explosive plays in the passing game with his quickness. The Jets never wanted to let him go, but are committed to third-round pick Joe McKnight, and Woodhead was the odd man out.
7. The Giants made a statement in their win down in Houston, as they held a good passing team down and dominated the game. Now they face another good passing team with the Lions coming to town. The Giants must continue to get solid play from Osi Umenyiora, who has five sacks in the last two games and has forced four fumbles.
8. In the past, normally the Falcons have been a bad road team, but coming off wins in New Orleans and Cleveland, they might be different. Matt Ryan comes home to Philadelphia, and will face Kevin Kolb -- not former Falcon Michael Vick. Kolb might be under heavy pressure, as the Falcons front is playing well, especially John Abraham who looks like he is back to being a Pro Bowler. He will face starting left tackle King Dunlap, not Jason Peters, and the Eagles must shift their protections to help Dunlap. By the way, the Eagles have not won at home all season.
9. When I heard that Colt McCoy was starting against the Steelers, all I could think about was when NFL Films had Bill Parcells mic'd before a game against the Eagles and Parcells telling offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott, who was from Michigan, that those green uniforms on the other side were not Michigan State. Colt, those black jerseys on the other side are not Missouri. Welcome to the NFL.
10. All you need to know about why the Saints are not winning this year lies in their inability to make big plays in the passing game. Drew Brees last year averaged 8.5 yards per pass attempt, and this year he averages 7.1. They are not the same offense. The Saints are down almost 20 points from last year. The Saints are facing the same problems the 2007 Patriots found when their explosive plays were taken away. New Orleans must find ways to make big plays.
11. The Broncos failed to match the intensity of the Ravens last week in Baltimore and were beaten soundly. This week, they better play with a sense of urgency and do a better job of protecting quarterback Kyle Orton. The Broncos can make plays in the passing game, if they can protect, so the challenge for winning lies within their offensive line. The Jets only have one turnover for the season.
12. The Battle of the Bay in San Francisco goes down this Sunday as the Raiders face the forever giving 49ers. Never have I seen a team who loves to turn the ball over more than the Niners. They fumble, they throw interceptions, and they have no one to blame but themselves for their 0-5 start.
13. The Chargers have to stop shooting themselves in the foot. They might be the best team in the league -- if they never had to kick off, or punt. They have allowed 30 points in this area, and they are winless on the road this year. But they can move the ball up and down the field with their offense, and it will be hard for the Rams to keep pace -- unless they win the kicking game.
14. Has there ever been more excitement for a game featuring two 1-3 teams than this week's Cowboys-Vikings matchup? Dallas must force Brett Favre to prove he can make all the throws. His elbow is so sore and he will be a game time decision. The Vikings dominated Dallas the last time they played, as their defensive line forced Tony Romo to make mistakes. For the Cowboys to win on the road, their offensive line must play much better.
15. The Redskins were being manhandled by the Packers' defensive front last week, and I wonder how they can handle defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of the Colts. The Colts are not the same team on defense this year and are vulnerable against the run. But the 'Skins struggle up front, and even though rookie left tackle Trent Williams will play, he is playing hurt, which won't work facing Freeney.
Second and long
» The Chargers lead the league in big pass plays, having 37 of 20 yards or more. Quarterback Phillip Rivers throws the prettiest deep ball in the league. San Diego does not miss receiver Vincent Jackson, but it does miss special teams players.
» The Bucs are not giving games away this year, and in spite of not being able to stop the run, or pressure the passer, they are winning games. The Bucs have allowed only 21 points in the second half in four games.
» The Seahawks have not scored a point in the first quarter of four games this season. They had a chance in their game against the Broncos, but turned the ball over. Hard to win when you are always playing from behind.
» I'm not sure why Derrick Johnson did not play last year for the Chiefs, but he is playing like a Pro Bowler this year, along with Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs' defense are for real and play extremely physical.
» Hakeem Nicks has made every Giants fan forget about Plaxico Burress, and his ability to make big plays this year has been impressive. Nicks has huge hands. He does not catch the ball; he captures the ball. I love watching him play.
See you at the game...
I will be in Philadelphia for the Falcons against the Eagles, as the Eagles try to get their first home win. It will be a great game as the Eagles have some injuries on their offensive line, and this Falcons front is rushing well, forcing bad throws, which has helped Atlanta lead the league with 10 interceptions. I know the Eagles are due to win a home game, and the Falcons are normally vulnerable on the road, but this is a different Falcons team from a year ago -- especially on defense. They are fast, and they can run, but most of all they can rush the passer. It will be a fun game, and I look forward to seeing you at the game.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi