FOXBOROUGH — When Tom Brady arrives in the corner of the practice field, helmet in hand, the fans, some of whom have been waiting five hours for a front-row spot, erupt in cheers.
He greets them with a Pope-like wave, then immediately gets down to business.
Tom Brady hero worship is off the charts.
“He’s God,” said Lauren Dudley, a Patriots fan from Leominster.
Not quite, but Brady has reached near-mythic superhero status, according to author Scott Allison, a professor of psychology at the University of Richmond.
For many, the Patriots’ record comeback in Super Bowl LI cemented Brady’s legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time. But his entire career follows the mythic path of superheroes, according to Allison, who has studied heroism for a decade.
Brady has overcome shortcomings (199th player drafted in 2000) to show leadership and charisma, and achieve success (five Super Bowl rings). He also has triumphed over locally perceived evil (Roger Goodell) and defeated Father Time (so far).
“I think most of us need heroes to inspire us and to be role models,” said Allison. “Just think about what Tom Brady teaches us about work and discipline. Not giving up and believing in yourself.
“So there a lot of virtues that Tom Brady is role modeling for today’s youth that are extremely admirable. For the most part, hero worship can be very useful in helping us become better people.
“If there’s a checklist for greatness, he can check every one of the boxes for maximum hero worship and reverence. It’s quite remarkable.
“He’s 40 and he’s playing at a superhuman level when he shouldn’t be. That accentuates our admiration for him. He also appealed to the little man when he was suspended last year for four games and then came back and kind of stuck it to the establishment.
“The [Super Bowl] comeback was epic and unprecedented. He has a great coach and they get him great receivers. He’s also good-looking, and he’s got a beautiful wife.
“You add all these things up with his commitment to discipline and fitness, and it really is a perfect storm for the opposition with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.”
Allison said people need to put someone on a pedestal.
“Humans have a deep need for almost godlike heroic ideals that we can look up to and admire, to provide hope and meaning in our lives,” he said.
At Patriots training camp, Brady jerseys are as plentiful as traffic on the Mass. Pike.
“I’d do anything for Tom Brady,” said Ronnie Luna of Morristown, N.J. “He leads our team to greatness.”
Luna said he’d step in front of a “moving bus or a train as long as Tom Brady is OK and is a part of the Patriots.”
Omar Ali, who is 22 years old and 6,800 miles from home, wears a Brady jersey and holds a sign that reads, “Tom, I came from Pakistan.”
Ali’s list of all-time great Americans has Brady ahead of George Washington, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama.
Brady first? Really?
“It’s all arbitrary,” said the future NYU School of Medicine student. “Is there too much hero worship? Probably, but if you’re going to worship any of the hundreds of hundreds of players in the NFL or even in sports, all across the land, he’s probably at the top of the list. When the chips are down, he’s money.”
Valerie Kim, a young woman from Georgia with a Brady jersey, said she would sacrifice her own life for Brady’s.
“I would definitely,” said Kim, “because I’ve done nothing and he is just a great person.”
Allison warns, though, that hero worship can be misguided.
“If people give up their lives in order to worship some people, then they crossed the line into dysfunction,” he said.
Brady fans quickly dismiss any criticism of their hero, such as his accepting $3.25 million for his own foundation while helping the Best Buddies charity raise $46.5 million. And, of course, there was the long nightmare of Deflategate.
“That’s all hype,” said Amanda Martino of East Haven, Conn., who arrived at 4 a.m. to wait in line. “If you’re great, you have to be ready to be criticized. That’s how it is.”
“I think it’s fascinating how much we love heroes and how much we love to destroy heroes at the same time,” he said.
Psychologists believe hero worship “is a reflection of society’s values,” according to Dr. Amy Baltzell, president-elect of the Association for Applied Sports Psychology.
“It’s a status thing,” she said. “It’s such a strong desire to be connected in some way with someone so much more accomplished. He’s healthy, he’s handsome, he thrives under pressure. He is off the charts.”
But Baltzell, a clinical assistant professor of sport psychology at Boston University who counsels Olympic hopefuls, wouldn’t want to be him.
“He looks poised, but we don’t know what is really going on inside his head,’’ Baltzell said. “There’s a great possibility things are not so great inside. He can’t live a normal life. There’s probably a lot more drama and distress there.’’
Brady provided an insight into his mind-set at a National Achievers Congress event in Boston in June, the same day he threw an interception at minicamp.
“I walked off the field and I thought that I’m the worst quarterback in the NFL,” he told host Tony Robbins. “If it’s not perfect for me, I lose sleep.”
But even at age 40 and in his 18th NFL season, Brady is trying to be better.
A cheat sheet he wore on his left arm at practice reminded him, “Bend knees, fluid drop.”
Baltzell said Brady’s work ethic is admirable.
“He’s absolutely locked into the moment and he’s being the very best he can be,” she said.