Is the final episode of “Man in the Arena” worth the wait? The answer likely will depend on whether you have any interest in watching Tom Brady and his dad both cry (a lot) for an hour.
That’s because the finale, which will arrive over three months after ESPN released the penultimate episode of the Brady-focused docuseries, barely touches on the juicy topics most fans are looking for. Brady and his father, Tom Brady Sr., briefly mention the quarterback’s New England Patriots exit early in the episode, and, at the end, the 44-year-old kinda-sorta discusses his reasons for continuing to play in the NFL. The events surrounding Brady’s brief, 40-day “retirement” are not addressed, and, predictably, there’s no mention of those rumors connecting the future Hall of Famer to the Miami Dolphins.
Brady, his dad and Rob Gronkowski instead talk a lot about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ road to a Super Bowl title in 2020. Throughout, Brady and Brady Sr. both shed tears while exploring their relationship, with the superstar quarterback getting especially emotional when expressing a desire to be as good of a family man as his father is. While seeing Brady cry isn’t anything new, the moments do further humanize a man often viewed as an emotionless cyborg.
As for the stuff about the Patriots, here are the only quotes that really are worth mentioning:
Brady: “I kinda had been through a personal journey, where I was maturing in different ways and different things were becoming priorities in my life. I knew things were coming to an end.”
Brady Sr.: “The only thing we want from our kids is to be happy. It became pretty obvious that he needed to make a change. It was wearing him down. It was beating him up.”
So, if prior reporting and Brady’s own words and actions left you unconvinced, let there be no further doubt: He was unhappy with playing for New England late in his Patriots career. Whether Brady still has an ax to grind with Bill Belichick and the Patriots might remain unclear, though that case probably is closed, too.
Now, in fairness, there are some interesting insights to be found in the “Man in the Arena” finale. For example, Brady reveals that, after making a call to Kevin Durant, he brought Gronkowski to a throwing session at Barclays Center, where he convinced the former Patriots tight end to come out of retirement and join him in Tampa.
These remarks also offer some insight into why a player who has nothing left to prove refuses to hang up his cleats.
“I realize life for me has become more complicated,” Brady said. “How do I make my life a little more simple, to find a little more joy in the simple moments? Because I’m so excited about achieving more, it’s like the hamster wheel doesn’t stop. And, if you stop the hamster wheel, maybe there’s a fear that you won’t ever get back on. What’s going to bring me the joy as I move forward? …
“I know there’s time for me to be sitting in the stands, I know there’s time for me to be doing other things. But there’s still a desire to win. When you’re the man in the arena, there’s no thrill like that.”
Again, those comments don’t answer the big questions we have, but it is what it is. We admittedly didn’t expect much from this episode.
However, toward the end, a teary-eyed Brady becomes genuinely introspective and self-critical.
“When I think about being a dad, I think about (Tom Sr.),” Brady said. “Because of what my dad meant to me, and I know I’m not as good of a dad to my kids (as) my dad has been to me. I use them as my example of how to keep a family together and to care and support and to love. We want our kids to be happy. I want them to be respectful of people. I want them to be kind. I want them to make the world a better place.
“I think maybe what I wish for our children is to find something they really love like I have. But I think I’ve taken it to the extreme, too. There are imbalances in my life, and I hope they don?t take things as far as I’ve taken them. I want them to experience great success in whatever they do, but there’s a torment about me that I don’t wish upon them.”
As is often the case with Brady, he forgoes giving real details in favor of keeping things close to the chest — especially when talking about the Patriots. While that’s somewhat annoying for our purposes, it does make him a more mysterious and endlessly interesting character. Perhaps he’ll bit a bit less reserved once his playing days finally are over, but leopards (err… GOATs?) don’t change their spots.
Ultimately, “Man in the Arena” was a mostly entertaining, substantive series about one of the greatest athletes in the history of professional sports. There’s a one-million-percent chance of another Brady-centric film/series being thrown at us in the near future, so here’s hoping that one gives us even more to sink our teeth into.