on winning through "corruption" (5/16)

Football was pretty easy for Tom Brady.

He rarely missed the NFL playoffs. He won his first NFL start against a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback. He had conquered numerous opponents, broke records, and won the Super Bowl – all in his first two years.

But when safety Lawyer Milroy, a crucial part of the Patriots defense, was released ahead of the 2003 season, his success was the last thing on his mind.

“It was the first time that I recognized that this was, you know, a really tough business,” Brady would say. “I just couldn’t understand why we let this guy go, who had meant so much to the team.”

Months later, Milroy would sign a four-year, $15 million contract with the Buffalo Bills – and then pummel the Patriots 31-0 in his season opener.

It was a bittersweet moment for Milroy, a safety who had been so crucial in the team’s Super Bowl run just a year before. “The way [Coach Belicheck] handled it, trying to wait until the Monday before the first game, which really disgusted me,” Milroy said. “It took me a while to even mention the Patriots the way it went down.”

It’s a type of corruption that writer Anthony Doerr mentions in one of his novels, one where life slowly chips away at our comforts, our senses of security, our innocence. Painful losses, missed opportunities, unforeseeable roadblocks get "stuffed into" our experiences, making it their own.

For Brady, the release of Milroy had represented just that – a painful erosion of the stability and successes he had faced so often in his early career. And to make matters worse, the harsh 31-0 pummeling by Milroy’s new team only compounded that corruption. An exciting opportunity for redemption, transformed into an unpredictable cruelty “stuffed” into his experience. 

Yet, the corruption proved not to be Brady’s downfall, but perhaps just another facet of his upbringing. The Patriots would finish the regular season 14-2, barring their initial loss against Milroy. Brady would lead his team to win the Super Bowl, his second in three years. Milroy’s departure may have been harsh, but the impact wasn’t detrimental – simply a kind of pothole to overcome en route to immortality.

And Brady, despite his emotions, even seemed to recognize that. “That was kind of my welcome to the NFL moment.