Tom Brady is without a doubt one of the greatest players in football history. But some people never could have guessed that based on his performance at the 2000 NFL Combine, where he huffed and puffed his way through a 40-yard sprint and various speed drills.
Patriots fans know all too well how Brady was able to overcome his status as a 199th-draft pick to become a five-time Super Bowl champion, but maybe he wouldn’t have been overlooked in the first place if scouts didn’t take such a numbers-driven approach to evaluating players. Sure, stats can tell a lot about an athlete, but how fast a person can run or how much they can bench doesn’t necessarily correlate to their performance under pressure or if they can be truly great.
Gabe Polsky talks 'In Search of Greatness' and what makes Tom Brady great
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That’s the crux of director Gabe Polsky’s argument in his new documentary, “In Search of Greatness.” In the film, Polsky explores what’s really behind the success of amazing athletes, using interviews with legends such as Wayne Gretzky, Jerry Rice and Pelé. Local stars like Brady and Aly Raisman also appear via game and training footage.
While Polsky’s film takes shots at the sports world’s obsession with stats and analytics, his answer to the question of what makes an athlete great isn’t straightforward. Of course, hard work and passion play big roles, but another key factor is creativity, which the director calls the “essence of greatness.”
Gretzky and others in the film deride how parents and coaches take such a structured approach to making their kids practice, not allowing them to just play and have fun, which are integral to cultivating creativity.
“What makes us great is what makes us happy,” says Polsky, “which is the allowance of self-expression, freedom and creativity.
“People are scared of it,” he adds. “They want numbers, numbers, numbers because they don’t have any intuition.”
“In Search of Greatness” also seems to put an emphasis on the mind over the body when it comes to performing at the highest level. Polsky, a former Division I hockey player, notes how Brady may not be the best physical athlete, but his knowledge of the game and ability to see the field are unparalleled.
“He knew that if he was going to succeed, he had to understand the game better than anyone else,” says Polsky. “His intuitive understanding of the game had to be well above everybody and that’s what made him great. It’s just the bottom line. You don’t need to have the strongest arm.
“His success is tremendous,” he adds. “The consistency, his mental ability. He loves pressure and he loves being tied at the end of a game and trying to win — because that’s fun.”
“In Search of Greatness” opens in theaters Nov. 2.