- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

HOUSTON — He owns two Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVP trophies and two Cadillacs. And at age 26, Tom Brady may just be getting started.

“Yesterday, as great as it was, it wasn’t perfect,” Brady said the morning after leading his New England Patriots to a thrilling 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. “I think there are always things to improve on. I just enjoy playing football. I like lifting weights, and I like offseason stuff, and I like training camp. Isn’t that sick? I like training camp. But I do. Hopefully, I just keep doing this for a long time.”

If he does keep this pace up, Brady might go down as the most-celebrated quarterback in NFL history.

Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Tom Brady. Those are the only men to win multiple Super Bowl MVPs. And none of the previous three (all Hall of Famers) managed to do it at such a young age.

For a league that often boasts its collective talent over one megastar, the NFL finally may have its poster-boy in Brady.

“There are a lot of great players in this league, and they all certainly deserve whatever recognition they get,” New England coach Bill Belichick said. “But for a guy like Tom Brady to do what he’s done this year, including the postseason and again last night, he certainly deserves all the recognition he gets.”

Confident, attractive, the object of affection from women throughout New England and beyond, Brady is living the ultimate dream.

“I think his conduct on and off the field speaks for itself,” commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday in presenting the MVP trophy to Brady. “He’ll keep playing for a number of seasons, so we can expect to have the privilege of more great performances from Tom Brady.”

Brady doesn’t have the physical gifts of Brett Favre, Peyton Manning or Michael Vick. Nor has he reached the echelon of legends like Montana and John Elway.

But he’s certainly well on his way to joining that elite group. And along the way, he’s establishing his own legacy as one of the best late-game quarterbacks the league has ever seen.

Two years ago, the then-unknown Brady led the Patriots on a last-minute, game-winning drive to defeat the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Sunday night, he duplicated the feat to near-identical proportions, leading New England 37 yards in 59 seconds to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning, 41-yard field goal.

“There are a lot of guys who get more publicity than Tom Brady — other than his love life,” New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said late Sunday night. “But who would you pick to run a two-minute drill at the end of a game?”

Montana and Elway — Brady’s childhood idols — certainly made a name for themselves with late-game heroics. But each managed to pull off such feats in the Super Bowl only once. Brady already has done it twice in three years, the latest coming at the end of perhaps the greatest Super Bowl to date.

With the score tied 29-29 and 1:08 remaining, the Patriots took over at their own 40. Brady calmly completed a 13-yard pass to Troy Brown, then following a questionable offensive pass interference call, found Brown again for 13 yards to the Carolina 44.

He hit tight end Daniel Graham for a quick 4-yard gain, then put Vinatieri in position to win the game with a 17-yard strike to Deion Branch.

“Having the ball at the end of the game was kind of how we wanted it,” said Brady, who wound up completing a Super Bowl-record 32 passes for 354 yards. “We still felt we had the timeouts and enough time to move the ball and bring it home.”

Even though he had been unsuccessful in running the same two-minute drill against his own defense in practice the week before.

In chilly Foxboro, Mass., New England coach Bill Belichick called out both his first-team offense and defense for a rare head-to-head drive. Brady and strong safety Rodney Harrison began jawing at each other and wound up making a bet on the spot: Brady bet he would throw a touchdown pass, Harrison bet he would intercept a pass.

The safety won, costing Brady two first-class airline tickets to anywhere in the world.

“The most expensive two-minute drill of my life,” Brady said yesterday.

Considering the MVP trophy sitting next to him and the Lombardi Trophy on its way to Foxboro, it was a small price to pay.

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