Tom Brady rose from obscurity to become a standard-bearing quarterback hero, jousting with many characters along the way. We asked experts in various fields if they could cite similar sagas through history.
The arc of Tom Brady’s career — his rise to Super Bowl mainstay as quarterback of the New England Patriots and now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — reads as if it were a folk tale.
An unwanted N.F.L. orphan out of college is consigned to a woebegone, frosty football hamlet. Something akin to a miracle — a near-death experience by a co-worker — vaults him from obscurity into his dominion’s brightest spotlight, where he slays a two-touchdown favorite to win the Super Bowl. Next, this one-time nobody wins two more Super Bowls.
He has it all: fame, fortune, a goddess for a wife. But he is also controlled by a Svengali-like mentor (the Hoodie), who draws him into a secretive clan known for outlaw tactics. As its ringleader, Brady is demonized outside his kingdom, the fiefdom of Dunkin’, and is briefly banished by the princely overlord, Roger the Goodell of Park Avenue.
Brady plots his revenge, leading a patriot army to three more championships, achieving deity-like status signified by mythic comparisons of him to a mountaintop goat. Alas, in time even Brady’s powers diminish and he appears ready to be dethroned. Then, in yet another twist, Brady spurns his crafty swami to launch a new crusade in a foreign land where Ponce de León once sought the fountain of youth. Imbuing a bunch of football wannabe-greats with Brady wizardry, he claims another kingdom, from which he plots utter sovereignty.
Quite a story, right?
Folk tales gain their popularity for being universally applicable. So we wondered, are there other fields in which a Tom Brady-like figure exists? Whose storied life has been comparable? In the worlds of literature, politics and business, who is their Tom Brady? In the Bible? Theater? Greek mythology? TV or music? Does Tom Brady have any analog?
Like everything else related to Brady, opinions clashed. Imagine Alexander the Great in a sword fight with Madonna.
For example, in a chat room created to discuss which fictional character, or historical figure, might be an apt comparison to Brady, the first response typed was “Harry Potter.”
The second reply: “Voldemort,” the literary saga’s villain.
On second thought, a roll call of experts from myriad fields was consulted — with entertaining results.
The filmmaker and author Gotham Chopra, who made Brady the subject of a 2018 documentary film and of a nine-part documentary series set to air later this year, suggested that Brady was two conflicting biblical figures, David and Goliath.
“He’s the ultimate underdog who came out of nowhere,” Chopra said. “But with all the success, over time he turned into Goliath, which is sort of interesting.”
Hunter R. Rawlings III, a classics scholar and the former president of the University of Iowa and Cornell University, said there was no perfect fit in history for every part of Brady’s life narrative, even in mythology, but he found a link to Alexander the Great.
“He never lost a battle, though fighting against Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Afghans, Indians, and countless others,” Rawlings wrote in an email.
Rawlings also noted, for those who believe that Bill Belichick is pivotal to the Brady story, that Alexander’s childhood tutor was none other than Aristotle. Alexander was also occasionally despised.
“Alex and Brady, it strikes me that there is never enough winning for such people,” Rawlings said, adding: “Those two are definitely G.O.A.T.’s, but somehow seem to spawn as many detractors as admirers.”
David Bianculli, a television critic and professor of film and TV at Rowan University, cited the 1978 movie “Heaven Can Wait,” a fantasy-comedy that starred Warren Beatty as a resolute N.F.L. quarterback who overcomes numerous obstacles. Beatty’s character dies and comes back to life twice, which is undoubtedly the ultimate fourth-quarter rally.
The resourceful, adaptable community of world leaders seemed a ripe sub-society to mine on the subject of Brady analogies. David Maraniss, author of best-selling biographies of presidents and prominent athletic personalities, said he found elements of Bill Clinton and Winston Churchill in Brady.
“I mean in terms of latching onto a Machiavellian sort of master of the dark arts to help you,” Maraniss said, pointing out that Clinton had used the adviser Dick Morris “as his political manipulator to get where he wanted to go.”
“There’s a little bit of Churchill there, too,” Maraniss added, “for coming back at an old age and being at his best again.”
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author who frequently writes and comments on religious and spiritual topics, said the parts of Brady’s narrative with the most striking historical similarities were his career comebacks or revivals.
“I do not, however, think he’s exactly Lazarus,” Martin said.
Martin believes the most obvious comparison in the Bible is King David, who Martin noted led a “very complicated life and was clearly seen as someone who had fallen but still was a revered leader of the people.” King David conspired to kill Bathsheba’s husband, the soldier Uriah, by having him placed up front in battle and then abandoned to the enemy.
“He basically has him assassinated, and people are obviously upset with that,” Martin said. “He is a person who’s not perfect but nonetheless beloved in his area. And his people knew his flaws better than anyone.”
Martin, whose book “Learning to Pray” was published this week, also suggested Pope Francis as a possible parallel to Brady, because he did not ascend to the papacy until he was 76.
“Pope Francis is not married to a supermodel,” Martin said. “So that’s where the comparison slips a bit.”
After warming up with David and Goliath comparisons, Chopra mentioned Muhammad Ali and LeBron James as cultural figures similar to Brady, and Madonna because she had persevered.
“Madonna the artist today versus the Madonna when she was 19,” Chopra said. “Radically different and yet equally accomplished.”
Chopra, who has remained friendly with Brady, also told a funny story of a recent walk with Brady on the Great Wall of China. Two women passed by, and one excitedly recognized the quarterback. The other woman did not understand why he was famous until her friend said: “He’s Gisele’s husband.”
“So, he’s super grounded,” Chopra said, laughing.
Literary fiction seemed to be an especially fertile place to find characters who resemble Brady.
Heather Klemann, a lecturer at Yale University whose specialty is 18th century British novels, pointed out Sir Charles Grandison, a central figure in a famed mid-18th century novel that bore his name. Grandison faces trials and tribulations but does so without moral flaws or malicious intent.
Perhaps proving that not much has changed in 270 years, Klemann recalled literary criticism of Grandison along these lines: “Annoyance that this guy is perfect, you know?”
Finally, James Shapiro, a renowned Shakespeare scholar at Columbia University, said he could find no one like Brady among the thousand or so characters in Shakespeare’s plays, though there is a reference to a “base football player” in “King Lear.”
Shapiro instead saw a distinct parallel in the centuries-old play “Doctor Faustus,” about a man who makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange for 24 years of having his heart’s wishes met. By Shapiro’s calculation, such a deal for Brady would date back to his days riding the bench at the University of Michigan.
“Which kind of makes sense since that’s when things turned around for him, almost miraculously,” Shapiro wrote in an email. “It makes you wonder, no?”
Such a deal could expire not too long after this weekend’s Super Bowl.
“But,” Shapiro conceded, “that’s a Giants fan speaking.”