[ccfic caption-text format="plaintext"]
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
If you enjoyed watching any of Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl championships, you have Leigh Montville to thank for it.
Well, sort of.
Fresh off the heels of the Patriots’ championship over the LA Rams, longtime Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated sportswriter Leigh Montville spoke to a crowded room of Medfield sports fans in the basement of the First Parish UU. While Montville had many stories about run-ins with famous athletes, it was his Tom Brady stories that most excited the crowd.
Montville’s claim that he “helped in getting Tom Brady’s motivation going” was said with tongue firmly planted in cheek - though there is some truth to it.
When Joe Montana was named SI’s “Sportsman of the Year” in 1990, Montville was tasked with writing what would be the cover story. But when Montana refused to do an interview, Montville struggled to find an angle before settling on a hugely unique piece told from the second-person perspective. Montville noted Montana’s lack of freakish God-given athleticism, tremendous work ethic, and ultimately told readers that “You could be Joe Montana. You could do the same things he does. Yes, you could,” before ending the article: “You could have been…would have been…who knows? You still might be.”
As a kid, Tom Brady discovered this piece, and years later would claim he read it over and over when he needed inspiration to metamorphosize into the star quarterback he eventually became.
Another thing that must have inspired Tom Brady was watching the man who wrote his favorite article, ever, fawn over another Michigan quarterback.
Yes, Leigh Montville first learned of Tom Brady when he was sent to profile the sure-to-be next great NFL quarterback out of The University of Michigan, golden boy Drew Henson. He knew of Tom Brady only as Henson’s backup, and an afterthought to Henson’s future greatness.
But Montville did more than just inspire Tom Brady to his eventual GOAT status. He has written biographies of sports icons such as Muhammed Ali, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Manute Bol (about which Montville joked ”you probably didn’t read that one”), Dale Earnhardt and Evel Knievel, whom he considers the only truly bad person he has written about. When asked why, Montville shrugged before playfully answering: “He was a vicious narcissist with yellow hair who was always wrapping himself in American flags,” pausing to see how many people got the joke before adding, “there might be a parallel there.”
When asked about why he covered so many athletes about whom books had already been written, Montville retorted: “there’s a new book about Lincoln every year.” He then relayed the story of how difficult it was to pitch a book about sportswriter Will McDonough - publishers demanded a fifty page outline - compared to how easy it was to pitch a book about Ali, about whom publishers asked for only a two paragraph synopsis.
Interestingly, while Montville had many stories about Ted Williams, so did the people in the crowd. Before Montville had spoken a word, various Medfield residents divulged their stories of meeting the “Splendid Splinter.” So many spoke, in fact, that Montville’s opening line was a sincere question to the crowd: “Anybody else want to talk?”
While Montville and his fans did lament the loss of must-read sportswriters and the changing landscape of both journalism and book publishing, as long as people are interested in interesting stories, there will always be room for a writer looking to cover iconic sports heroes.
Somebody out there is going to be the next Leigh Montville, so why not you?
You could’ve been… you would’ve been… who knows? You still might be.