Brady, Saban, Rodgers and the Search for More

By January 30, 2018blog

It’s Super Bowl week. 

Some of you are hyped and others of you don’t care, but we can all at least agree that there better be some good commercials on Sunday evening.  As we await Super Bowl 52, I once again have to put all my eggs in the basket of “whoever is playing against Tom Brady.”  If I didn’t know the Bible well enough to understand that God doesn’t care who wins, I would probably think that being a lifelong Jets fan and having to watch the Belichick/Brady combo go to the biggest game year after year is God’s wrath upon me. 

Either way, there’s something I’ve noticed amongst athletes and football stars over the years that I’ve been wanting to flesh out for some time now, and so Super Bowl week is as good a time as ever.

Here’s the reality.  There are tens of millions of men who, if given the chance, would swap lives with Tom Brady in a second.  Further, there are tens of millions of boys who dream about growing up to be the next Tom Brady.  You would get to play the most prominent position in America’s most popular sport, you would get paid over $20 million a year to do it, and then go home to your McMansion every night where you live with your supermodel wife.  Tom Brady has it all – there is nothing to be upset about, nothing more you’d ever want or need, you’d just kill it day after day after day, right?  Everyone believes this with one notable exception.  Everyone, except Tom Brady.

You may have seen this back in the day, but after winning his first 3 Super Bowls in four years, Tom Brady went on 60 Minutes in 2005.  The burning question in the segment was, what it would be like to be Tom Brady?  What do you do when you have it all?  Brady’s response to this was shockingly honest:

“Why do I have three super bowl rings and still think there’s still something greater out there for me?  Maybe some people would say, hey man, this is what it is – I’ve reached my goal, my dream, my life.  Me?  I think, God, it’s gotta be more than this?”

To which the host asked, “What’s the answer?”

“I wish I knew…I wish I knew.”

Perhaps the only thing worse than chasing a worldly dream for meaning and purpose is actually attaining that dream and realizing it still didn’t give you what you hoped for. 

Well, Brady is a weird guy, you might say.  No one else would think that way – he’s an isolated case.  Yea, well, except when he’s not.  Read on:

Legendary Coach

If Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time, then Nick Saban may very well be the best college football coach of all time.  Just a few weeks ago, the Alabama head coach won his sixth national championship. Saban is in total control within an industry where virtually no one is in total control.  The old axiom in coaching is that “you get hired to get fired”.  It’s a carousel, unless you’re Nick Saban.  He defines his own terms, and he will leave only when he says it’s time.  Nick Saban has it all, so he is in search of nothing, right?  Wrong.

In Monte Burke’s biography entitled, Saban, we read this after the coach won his first championship back in 2003 with LSU: 

“Saban, at the age of fifty-two, had finally made it to the apex of his profession, fulfilling his potential.  He was in no mood to enjoy it, though.  After the game, he gave Fisher and his staff an earful about the sloppy way the game ended.  Saban barely smiled after the win.  Weems says he went down to the locker room after the game and found a brooding Saban sitting alone in his dressing room.  ‘I asked him, what’s the matter?’  He says, ‘What am I going to do now?  How am I going to follow this up?’

According to one of Saban’s friends, shortly after the national championship win, Saban called Rosen and asked him: ‘Why don’t I feel happy’?

It’s a horrid feeling to reach the top and realize it wasn’t actually the top, but just a false summit.  Ok, but Brady and Saban are both kind of crazy, no?  Surely that’s not the norm.  Ok, one more example.

The Cool Quarterback

This past summer, ESPN the Magazine did an in-depth article on Aaron Rodgers.  While Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the NFL, Aaron Rodgers is thought to be the coolest (and not only because of his first name).  He’s laid back, has an air of mystery surrounding him, and always seems to be in control of the game.  He doesn’t just dominate, but he makes it look easy while doing it. Cool as a cucumber, they say. 

Rodgers won the Super Bowl seven years ago, but he waited until this interview to share what was rolling through his mind following the biggest win of his life as he was leaving the stadium.

The bus rolled along, and he ran it all back in his mind, then pressed rewind and visualized his entire career…As he reflected on the sacrifices and the slights, he wondered whether it was all worth it, and then he felt something unexpected – not regret or fulfillment but a different sensation, like a space had opened inside of him.  He thought about life and football and everything he had invested in his sport, and a jarring realization sprang into his mind.

‘I hope I don’t just do this’.

Three titans in the sport of football, three names that will never be forgotten as long as the game is played.  And upon getting to the top, each of them reacted the same way.  Disappointment, still on a search for more.  Maybe they’re crazy.  Or maybe they’re right.

The “More” We All Want and Need

There’s a man in the Bible named Solomon, and you may even say (for the sake of this blog) that Solomon was the Tom Brady of the ancient world.  He was the King of Israel, and not just figuratively speaking.  There have been efforts to compute his net worth based upon the information provided in 1 Kings, and conservative estimates place it at somewhere around the equivalent of $2.1 trillion in modern US currency.  Oh, and 1 Kings 11 tells us he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and no those are not typos.  I’m sure everyone wanted to be Solomon, because he didn’t have a care in the world, right?  Well, everyone may have thought this, with one notable exception: Solomon.

He wrote a book in the Bible called Ecclesiastes, a book that tells it how it is.  Ecclesiastes is realistic, and it teaches us that all that happens on earth (including what we “get”) is often empty and pointless at the end of the day when compared to eternity.  It doesn’t mean that everything is bad, but rather that everything pales in comparison of importance when put up against a right relationship with the earth’s Creator.

Ecclesiastes reminds us of our limitations, and how God has put eternity into man’s heart (Ecc 3:11), a gap that cannot be filled or satisfied with worldly pleasures and accomplishments.  This means that no matter what happens, what we “win”, we will still sit back after the fact and go, “there’s got to be more than this”.

Ecclesiastes puts us on a search toward what will fill that gap of eternity, and the pathway of the Old Testament keeps pointing forward until it finds it in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  All of God’s promises have found their “yes” in Him (2 Cor 1:20), and it’s in Christ alone where the search for more comes to an end.

Once a heart receives the grace to see the beauty and eternal worth of Jesus and his death & resurrection, it can’t help but see that it’s reached its true destination.  Once that happens, we don’t quit everything else we’re doing in life, but everything we do is given new purpose and meaning that fully satisfies.  That new purpose is to glorify His name in all you do (1 Cor 10:31) and commit to follow Him in all of your ways.  The true freedom here is that it’s possible to glorify God in all circumstances, even suffering, in such a way where He is lifted high and others may see.

Final Word

It’s not wrong to work hard and be intensely motivated to thrive at your craft, whatever it is.  God created man and woman to work, to subdue the earth and have dominion, to be fruitful and multiply.  Brady, Saban, and Rodgers did not err in their desire to work hard.

Rather, they erred in their effort to find ultimate meaning and purpose in something that could never follow through on that promise.  The vast majority of people never get to the “top of the mountain” to realize this, but these three did, and they each made it clear to the rest of us that it’s not the actual top.  It’s a false summit.  The “more” must be elsewhere.

God provides the answer in his Son, Jesus Christ.  He restores and renews, he provides purpose, he is the filling that will last for all of eternity.  It’s only a life in Christ where we can lay in bed at night, stare at the ceiling, and be assured, “surely this is what it’s all about”.  Praise God for that.

And GO EAGLES.