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Published: Sunday, 2/1/2004

Brady s got it all

HOUSTON - There are a lot of words used to describe New England quarterback Tom Brady. Handsome. Rich. Single. (There s the trifecta right there, ladies.) Humble. Celebrity. Champion. Super Bowl MVP. Charismatic. Leader.

His teammate, linebacker Ted Johnson, says Brady has “fatal charm,” whatever that means. But charm works. He has spread it from the White House to the Playboy Mansion, from the halls of fame to the halls of Congress, where he recently was Laura Bush s guest for the President s State of the Union address. We re not sure what caught her eye, although as the mother of two single daughters it might have been the trifecta.

But deep in the heart of Texas, where there is a game to be played later today, the words used to describe Brady are pretty repetitive.

“Tom is really intelligent,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“He s an extremely smart quarterback,” said Carolina coach John Fox.

Intelligent. Smart. Different words, same meaning.

What did you expect? After all, Brady is a Michigan man. (OK, Buckeye fans, reading beyond this point is optional).

Brady, 26, says everything he has accomplished in such a short period of his still-young life can be traced to his days in Ann Arbor.

“Looking back, that was really the turning point of my football career,” Brady said last week. “Every step of the way there has been competition and adversity, mental toughness [while playing] at a high level.”

Arguably the most successful quarterback in the NFL these days wasn t unanimously considered to be the best quarterback at Michigan, you might recall. Brian Griese was there when Brady arrived. There was Scott Dreisbach. Drew Henson came in before Brady s senior year. Talk about an embarrassment of riches.

“Henson came in and he was a great athlete and could really play quarterback,” Brady said. “There was tough competition every day. I swear competing on the practice field was almost tougher than in games because of the pressure you put on yourself.

“I went to coach [Lloyd] Carr and I said, Coach, they are not giving me a fair shake. I am the best quarterback you have. And he said, You know what, why don t you quit worrying about everything else, quit worrying about Drew, quit worrying about the weather, quit worrying about a bad call, and just go out and do the best you can do. If a receiver runs a route at 10 yards and it should have been 12, and you throw it to him and it gets picked, it s still your fault. Don t blame him. You re the one who threw it.

“It s all of those things he said that helped me realize that I m the leader of this ship and it s going to go the way I want it to go. You take the responsibility on yourself and things turn out a lot better.”

And things have been going very well indeed for the 199th pick in the 2000 draft. After a year as Drew Bledsoe s understudy, Brady was forced into the lineup in the second game of the 2001 season when Bledsoe was injured. The Pats lost that game, but by the end of the season Brady was the Super Bowl MVP after a stunning victory over St. Louis. With a record of 39-12 as a starter, Brady goes for another title today against Carolina in Super Bowl No. 38.

He was the unheralded quarterback on an underdog team the first time. That would be the Panthers Jake Delhomme this time. Mr. Spunk vs. The Hunk.

“I was with New Orleans and we played New England in late November,” Delhomme said, recalling the 01 season. “We d heard about this young guy who had taken Bledsoe s place, but seeing him first-hand was such an impressive thing. Tom had an opportunity and was ready for it. He took it and he ran with it. In the Super Bowl he refused to let the game get too big for him. He s a winner.”

No, he s more than that, said teammate Ty Law, another ex-Wolverine.

“Tom Brady is the greatest winner in football right now,” the cornerback said. “Maybe his numbers aren t eye-popping, all the yards and touchdowns. But he knows how to win ballgames. What good are stats when you re sitting at home?”

Perhaps no one in the NFL is better at marrying time and space. New England s offense is based on a short, possession-type passing game in which Brady is tremendously accurate and efficient. It produces long, time-consuming drives that either result in points or dictate field position that makes the Patriots vaunted defense even tougher.

“I think he s a great quarterback,” Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan said of Brady. “We ve faced some good ones, but he ll be the best we ve seen this year. He s so precise and has such a great understanding of what defenses are trying to do against him.”

Added Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers: “His release is so quick, he gets the ball out so fast, and it s hard to get a hit on him. We ll try to get to him in some way, but it ll be difficult.”

Smart. Precise. A quick-draw artist who is a winner. Yes, so much has been said about Tom Brady. Perhaps no one went as far as former San Francisco coach Bill Walsh, who said recently that Brady was the closest thing he had seen to Joe Montana.

“Joe Cool,” Brady said, laughing. “He always brought his team back, always showed great poise and leadership. And man, was he cool. Remember the story from the Super Bowl, that late drive against Cincinnati? The biggest game of the year is on the line and he turns to Harris Barton and says, Look, there s John Candy sitting in the stands.

“Joe Montana and me? That s crazy talk. He was the best quarterback in the history of the NFL. I m no great quarterback. I just play on a great team and happen to be the quarterback.”

We warned you. The word humble was listed at the top of all this.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at dhack@theblade.com



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