Brady and his New England Patriots teammates are favored to win Super Bowl LII, which would be their sixth NFL championship in eight tries under Brady and Coach Bill Belichick.
But Brady is after something bigger than football, said his friend Gotham Chopra — something bigger than wins and losses.
Brady’s on a spiritual quest.
Football has become Brady’s religion, said Chopra, a filmmaker whose latest project is “Tom vs. Time,” a behind-the-scenes documentary series about the quarterback’s preparations for this past NFL season.
“What’s really at the epicenter of it is this devotional love for the game,” Chopra said. “It is his vocation — it’s what gives his life meaning and purpose.”
The first two episodes of the series, which premiered Jan. 25 on Facebook Watch (the social network’s video platform), look at Brady’s physical and mental preparation. Future episodes will focus on other areas, including his spiritual side. The next one airs Sunday.
“I do want to know the whys in life,” Brady said in a version of the spiritual episode, according to the New York Times. “I do want to know why we’re here, where we’re going; trying to find that deeper purpose. To live it, through sports in a very authentic way, makes so much sense to me.”
For Chopra, son of best-selling spiritual writer Deepak Chopra and a devoted Boston sports fan, seeing sports as a religion makes sense. Both create community, have saints and rituals, and take place on hallowed ground.
And — in a polarized nation — both can unite disparate groups of people, at least for a few hours.
Sports might bring people together better than religion, said Daniel Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University in Kentucky. People who might never talk to one another in real life can bond at a sporting event.
“It has the ability to integrate people from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds,” Wann said. “I don’t know any pastime that does that better than fandom.”
The Patriots certainly have a devoted group of fans. They have their own creed: “In Bill We Trust,” a sign of their unshakable faith in Belichick, who has led his teams to more playoff victories than any other coach in NFL history.
And Brady has been the chief apostle of the Patriot Way — the team’s combination of intense preparation, relentless focus and ruthless determination to win, summed up by the phrase “Do your job.”
Fans have bought in with near-religious devotion, said Chris Beneke, professor of history at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.
People invest a lot of hope in the team, Beneke said. And while they trust the coach, known for his gruff demeanor and ragamuffin fashion sense, they adore Brady.
“Brady is a kind of messiah figure for a lot of Patriots fans,” Beneke said. “It would be hard to describe Belichick that way. He doesn’t exude any of the qualities that we typically associate with charismatic figures.”
Beneke worries that devotion to the Patriots can overshadow other kinds of faith. During the football season, Sundays in New England often are devoted to watching the Patriots and talking about the team, even in church, he said.
Some Patriots have tried to keep the focus on faith in God, rather than the team.
The Patriots have a number of spiritual players, including Pro Bowl special teamer Matthew Slater, known for his off-field evangelism. Slater and other Patriots will be featured in Football Sunday, a national church-based outreach event on Super Bowl Sunday.
Rick McDaniel, a Patriots fan and the pastor of Richmond Community Church in Glen Allen, Va., says there are faith lessons in Brady’s example — even if you don’t buy his TB12 Method.
Brady’s commitment to his craft allowed him to overcome the odds, McDaniel said. Brady began his career as a sixth-round draft pick and now is arguably the best ever at his craft. And he’s shown the ability to rebound from adversity: Last year, the Patriots were down 28 to 3 in the Super Bowl before coming back to win in overtime.
“He is a great example of what can happen if you are radically committed,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel believes Brady’s commitment to the TB12 Method is sincere.
“I think he really believes this stuff,” he said. And just like a preacher who wants to share good news, McDaniel said, “Brady wants to let as many people as possible know about what he believes.”
Bob Ryan, a longtime-but-now-retired columnist for the Boston Globe, is more skeptical.
He’s fine with the on-field success. And promoting good nutrition and fitness is fine, as is having spiritual beliefs. But spare him the idea of Brady as a spiritual figure.
“He’s trying to sell us a bill of goods,” Ryan said. “It’s cultlike. The book, to me, is creepy. And it looks like that’s going to be his life after football.”
As for Brady, he appears focused on the big game. And he shows no signs of quitting.
“So if you’re going to compete against me, you better be willing to give up your life,” Brady says in the first episode of “Tom vs. Time.” “Because I’m giving up mine.”