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Sports

Filling Tom Brady’s Cleats

BU’s sports shrink on what he’d tell the Pats

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Injured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Photo by Phil Selig

When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady grabbed his knee and collapsed on the field during the team’s home opener last Sunday, football fans around the world felt his pain. In addition to his status as New England’s favorite son, Brady is an international celebrity, thanks to his lucrative endorsement campaigns, his high-profile relationships with actresses and supermodels, and — most important — his three Super Bowl rings.

Now, the news that he’s out for the 2008 season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) has left Pats fans and sports media wondering how good the home team can be without him. BU Today asked Leonard Zaichkowsky, a professor of counseling psychology at the School of Education and at the School of Medicine and director of sports psychology training at BU, what advice he’d give the Patriots.

BU Today: What kind of counseling would you give to a team in the Patriots’ situation?
Zaichkowsky:
An ACL is a pretty tough injury: you’re out for the year, and often it’s never the same. So I’d say whatever counseling comes in is probably trying to help the athlete recover. With the team itself, there’s that initial stage where they say, ‘Jeez, this is a tough break.’ But they realize that everyone has to step up a notch to cover for someone — in this case, someone as talented as Brady. He’s what made the engine go, and I think they all realize it’s a moment for them.

What effect do you expect this to have on Brady and on his career?
I don’t know Brady personally, but we’ve learned a lot about him through the press because of how good he’s been. He’s been blessed, in a sense, that he played all of these years without injury — he’s had bumps and bruises, but he’s always been in proper health to start and complete games. So he hasn’t experienced a lot of this injury stuff. I’d categorize him as a mentally tough person, but something like this is different.

I think the single most difficult thing he’s going to have to adjust to is that it’s difficult for coaches to include injured players in all of the team activities and preparation. I don’t know the culture of the Patriots, but one of the things I recommend to all teams is to try and work injured players in, so they’re actively involved. That’s the hardest part.

How much damage does the loss of a star player do to team morale?
I think a good coaching staff will really persuade the players to step it up a notch, because they’ve lost an important member of the team. What’s interesting will be the other teams that say, “Now we’ve got an opportunity.” Brady could keep that offense on the field a long time, but now they can say, “Let’s pressure the rookie and give ourselves a better chance to win.” It’s the animal sniffing out a wounded animal, and going after them.

What would you say to Matt Cassel, the rookie quarterback under pressure?
That I don’t know, because a quarterback is probably one of the more high-pressure situations in all of professional sports — it’s quick and accurate decision-making. I’m sure the coaching staff is going to structure play-calling in such a way that he is going to succeed. If I had to make a recommendation, I’d say you’ve got to be yourself and keep it simple. As you get more and more repetitions, you can go beyond simplicity.

Finally, how would you counsel the devastated fans and sports media?
Just be thankful you got seven years out of Brady where he never left the action. Tom is going to heal, and time is going to heal the fans as well.

Davide Nardi can be reached at dnardi@bu.edu. Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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