Football, supposedly the ultimate physical game, is also largely mental. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was injured and couldn’t play in last year’s Super Bowl, is overcoming a concussion to participate in this year’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles in Minnesota on Sunday.
The Pro Bowler’s presence will be inspirational and will provide a mental as well as a physical boost to his teammates. Of course, as a physician I am hoping and praying that his head and brain are OK – concussions are a risky business, especially in contact sports like football, no matter how tough the player. Gronk is quite tough, having finished a game with a punctured lung back in 2016.
Even more significant than Gronk’s presence on Sunday will be the overpowering mind control of his teammate, Tom Brady. The legendary quarterback, who just won his third MVP Award despite his aging physique, will try to win the NFL championship at age 40, just as he did last year by practically willing an incredible second half comeback, and just as Peyton Manning did at age 39 the year before. In fact, Brady is the odds-on favorite to win again.
Does physical age no longer matter?
Remember when John Elway, at age 38, led the Denver Broncos over the Atlanta Falcons to win his second straight Super Bowl in early 1999? How was he able to complete 18 of 29 passes in that game, including an 80-yard touchdown pass?
How was Peyton Manning, at age 39, able to overcome spinal surgery to win the ultimate goodbye game for the Broncos two years ago? And why is the 40-year-old Brady favored to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles to win his sixth Super Bowl ring and second in a row this Sunday?
The answer is conditioning, experience and, above all, mind over matter.
Brady has a fervent commitment to his diet. He avoids nightshade vegetables (peppers, eggplants, tomatoes), which can cause inflammation. I believe, as many physicians do, that the capsaicin, anti-oxidants and phytochemicals in peppers are actually good for health, as are the lycopenes in tomatoes. But I am very impressed that 80 percent of Brady’s diet is reportedly organic vegetables and whole grains, and that the rest is fish, which contains omega 3, and lean meats.
I believe these “brain” foods help Brady focus and succeed. David Blaine, the endurance artist who held his breath underwater for over 17 minutes on "Oprah," used a nutrition program of “wholesome, energy-driving, fat-burning energy” that was developed for professional cyclists.
“Food is my medicine,” Blaine told me in an interview. “I look for nutritional impact, the exact nutrition I need to do the job.”
Brady has the same approach. He seems likely to win yet again, no matter how healthy Gronkowski is and despite Eagles quarterback Nick Foles’ incredible effort in the postseason. Foles took the helm on Dec. 11 when stellar quarterback Carson Wentz tore the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee. The Eagles soldiered on. They are a strong team and will put up a good fight.
But in the end, my medical prediction comes down to the deep primitive center of the brain, where stress hormones and emotional memory predominate and late-game charges are fueled by fight or flight.
Brady has long overcome the humiliation of “Deflategate” and his mother’s health issues to fight another day. History and human courage predict that he will prevail as he did last year and as Manning and Elway did before him.
I predicted that Brady and the Patriots would win the Super Bowl on these pages last year, and I predict it again this year.
As the poet Dylan Thomas famously wrote, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”