ONE FOR THE BOOKS
Dec. 15th, 2020
The other day I was at a book signing for The Dynasty. A man in a Tom Brady jersey handed me his copy and asked: “Of the all the books you’ve written, which one’s your favorite?”
I get that a lot. And I always hem and haw. Each book – from Little Pink House to Poisoned to Steve Young’s autobiography to Tiger Woods – represents an unforgettable chapter in my life. I signed my first commercial book contract right after our first child was born. That was twenty-four years ago. Our four kids have grown up with books and all the adventures that come with writing them.
My job as a non-fiction writer has enabled my family to live a life that sometimes feels fictional. After penning Without Reservation during my final year of law school, I received death threats. Connecticut state troopers were assigned to protect my wife and our two little boys. It was surreal.
But that same book, which is about Foxwoods casino, also resulted in me getting an out-of-the-blue phone call a few years later from world-renowned equine veterinarian Doug Herthel, who cared for Ronald Reagan’s horses, Michael Jackson’s exotic animals at Neverland Ranch, and a number of Kentucky Derby winners. Herthel was too humble to mention any of that. He simply introduced himself as David Crosby’s neighbor in southern California and said: “Hey, do you like Crosby, Stills & Nash?”
I chuckled and said: “Doesn’t everybody?”
Thanks to Herthel, that night I found myself in Crosby’s tour bus hours before a CSN concert in New England. David introduced his lovely wife, Jan. And I introduced my soulmate, Lydia. Then David pulled out a well-worn copy of Without Reservation. “Helluva book,” he said, adding his favorite expletive for emphasis. “I read it twice.”
Hearing that from one of my all-time favorite songwriters was a thrill.
It turned out that Crosby and Herthel were part of a grassroots coalition that was trying to stop a Foxwoods-like casino from overrunning the Santa Ynez Valley. As soon as the CSN tour ended, I took my family to LA. Crosby and Herthel put us up and introduced us to their neighbors. We teamed up to do important things. Even went to DC together to lobby Senator John McCain and testify before Congress. The Crosby family and the Herthel family became cherished friends.
I have stories like that for every book I’ve written. Many of my closest friends are ones I’ve collected as a writer. Similarly, many of my most treasured experiences have sprung from writing.
So I’ve always been reluctant to choose one book as my favorite. But in the moment, after scribbling the words “GO PATS!” and signing my name on the title page of The Dynasty for the man in the Brady jersey, I looked up, handed him his book, and said: “This one.”
I vividly remember the first time I met with team owner Robert Kraft in his office at Gillette Stadium. It felt as though I had entered a museum. Of course there were game balls from historic victories, shiny trophies, and iconic pictures of legendary Patriots. But that’s not what caught my eye. It was the diverse array of framed pictures of U.S. presidents, world leaders, diplomats, and famous entertainers. There was even a shiny red guitar from Bono, who had used a silver Sharpie to scribble some lyrics from “Beautiful Day.”
What you don’t have, you don’t need it now.
I knew then that The Dynasty was going to be different because the man who built it was a true citizen of the world. That day Kraft and I didn’t discuss much football. Rather, we talked about family, relationships, faith, adversity, disappointment, perseverance, triumph, and the burdens and complexities that come with unparalleled success and fame. It was a prelude to everything I’d end up writing about.
The Dynasty afforded me an opportunity to go places I’d never gone as a writer. I’m not talking about physical places, like stadiums and locker rooms, although I spent time there as well. But I mean places on the page. For instance ….
I got to show readers a scene “as serene as Walden Pond” – Tom Brady standing alone, looking down on an empty Gillette Stadium, before the start of his final season as a Patriot. That moment – which is the start of Chapter 1 – still gives me chills.
I got to quote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “Great is the art of beginning, but greater the art is of ending.” Spoiler alert: that’s from the last chapter, which still makes me cry.
I got to write about Elton John, U2 and Jon Bon Jovi, each of whom have connections to the Patriots.
I got to take readers to the White House and the Kremlin.
I got to write a scene with Tom Brady and Robert Kraft in the Holy Land.
I got to write a scene in which novelist Dan Brown introduced Robert and Myra Kraft to Tom Hanks and Ron Howard at Louvre Museum in Paris during the first night of shooting “Da Vinci Code.” Then I sent the scene to Brown to fact-check. He ended up rewriting it and sending it back to me. I promptly sent him an email and thanked him for the honor of being edited by Dan Brown. (Yes, that really happened.)
Ultimately, I got to profile the greatest owner, the greatest coach, and the greatest quarterback in the 100-year history of the NFL. And I got to compare them to The Beatles. Here’s a passage from the epilogue:
Kraft’s biggest achievement as an owner was keeping Belichick and Brady together for so long. They needed each other to reach heights that had previously seemed unimaginable. For Belichick and Brady, the 2018 season was their magnum opus. When they walked off the stage in Atlanta in February 2019 with their sixth Lombardi Trophy, it was the football equivalent of the Beatles leaving the studio after recording “Abbey Road.” Although the Fab Four would end up releasing one additional record and didn’t officially break up until the following year, their final musical masterpiece was behind them when they crossed the street on August 8, 1969.
Similarly, after winning a sixth championship, Kraft, Belichick and Brady stayed together for one more year. But their swan-song season in 2019 was filled with the kind of frustrations and challenges that are unique to having occupied the top of the mountain for so long. Nonetheless, the Patriots got through it without the public or private acrimony that so often accompany breakups. And in the end, the parting scene was a testament to the character of the men who built the dynasty and the depth of the relationships forged between them.
While I wrote that passage, I listened to the final song on Abbey Road, appropriately titled, “The End.”
And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love …you make
But maybe my most lasting memory of The Dynasty will be what transpired after the book was published. Due to COVID, many bookstores were closed and no authors were doing book tours. But I wrote letters to independent bookstores throughout New England. And I offered to do COVID-safe, outdoor signings. Both my publisher and the stores went to great lengths to insure my safety and the safety of employees and customers. And over the past eight weeks I’ve traveled around New England for what will go down as the most unforgettable book tour of my life.
Patriots fans came out in force. They thanked me profusely for writing the book and for being willing to sign books in-person. So many of them just wanted to talk about how much the team had meant to them and how their family’s best memories were formed around what transpired in Foxboro on Sunday afternoons these past two decades.
Best of all, my 14-year-old daughter Clara Belle went on tour with me. Every weekend we’d pack our face masks, hand sanitizer, layers of clothing for warmth, and two CDs for the long rides – Lover by Taylor Swift and Fine Line by Harry Styles. We wore those records out.
When I am old and grey, I will look back with indescribable joy for the two months I had with my daughter, speeding down the Mass Pike and the Merritt Parkway, listening to her favorite records en route to meet Pats fans at bookstores. I will see Clara in the passenger seat, making Taylor Swift proud, belting out the words:
I've been sleeping so long in a 20-year dark night
And now I see daylight, I only see daylight