- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

NEW ORLEANS.
You didn't need to dial the Psychic Friends Hotline to figure out who was going to start at quarterback for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Come on, as long as Tom Brady wasn't using a cane or a walker in practice this week, he was a mortal lock to get the nod.
It was that simple. Or at least, it should have been. Drew Bledsoe is a swell fellow and has done a great deal for the franchise, but Brady has angels in his outfield or rather, his end zone. He's the guy who rescued the Pats after Bledsoe went down, the guy who, in just his second season, has led the team to victory in 10 of its last 11 games. Sitting down Brady because he's a little dinged would be like pinch-hitting for Roy Hobbs in the last scene of "The Natural." It just isn't done.
Fortunately for New England, Bill Belichick read the situation correctly and made the right call (though he tried to add some suspense to the proceedings). Yes, Bledsoe has played in the Super Bowl before and, yes, he performed wonderfully coming off the bench in the AFC title game and, yes, his left ankle is probably in better shape right now than Brady's. But the decision has nothing to do with Bledsoe and everything to do with karma.
The Patriots' presence in New Orleans is a 100-to-1 shot given their 5-11 record last year and Bledsoe's early-season injury. And Brady's subsequent heroics, which earned him a Pro Bowl invite, are a 100,000-to-1 shot. Any coach who would mess with odds like that is asking for trouble if not for lightning to strike his house.
This is New England, remember. There are plenty of Red Sox fans who think the club would have won the '75 World Series if Darrell Johnson hadn't changed pitchers in the ninth inning of Game 7 and replaced Jim Willoughby with Jim Burton. And there are plenty of Patriots fans who would be cursing Belichick's name a quarter-century later if he had contrived some reason to give Bledsoe the start over Brady and the team had lost. Who knows, it might have turned into the football equivalent of the "Curse of the Bambino" the "Brady Hex" or something.
I mean, it's not like Brady is David Woodley. In fact, his numbers this season were as good, if not better, than anything Bledsoe has put up. For instance, Drew has never completed 63.9 percent of his passes in a season (career best: 60.2), and only once has he had a passer rating as high as 86.5 (in '97, when he posted an 87.7). As for Brady's 18-12 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio, Bledsoe has topped that only twice (in '96 and '97).
So why the heck wouldn't you start Brady in the biggest game of the year unless you had a death wish? Frankly, I've always thought Bledsoe's reputation was a little inflated, in part because he got to the Super Bowl at such an early age (24). (The same age, interestingly, that Brady is.) But that had as much to do with Bill Parcells as anything else. Bledsoe, to me, has never been in the same class with Brett Favre, Steve Young, John Elway and some of his other contemporaries. He was more of an old-style quarterback big arm, but not very mobile. And with all the blitzing being done nowadays, a QB has to be able to move.
Brady is no Fran Tarkenton, but as Rams linebacker London Fletcher points out, "He'll make more plays on the run, whereas Bledsoe has a gun and will stand back there in that pocket." Another factor in Brady's favor is that he has played against St. Louis before in Week 10 this season.
"It's a tremendous advantage," he says. "Being able to see the speed they have, how they attack with their front, their coverage schemes."
Here's what I like about Brady the most, though: In the playoff game against Oakland the first time he ever played in the snow he completed 32 of 52 passes for 312 yards and a single interception. And most of the yards came after halftime, when the conditions were growing steadily worse.
Where does this toughness come from? Maybe it's a byproduct of the ultracompetitive environment at Michigan, where Brady had to compete against Brian Griese and Drew Henson. "So many of the guys there go on to be pro players," he says. "One year, I think, it was 20 of 22 [offensive and defensive starters]. So you play with other [future] pro players in practice every day. It's not just tough on the game field, it's tough on the practice field, too."
The closest thing to the Brady-Bledsoe situation I can think of is when Roger Staubach, who had been out almost all of the '72 season, came off the bench to rally the Cowboys to victory in a playoff game and Tom Landry opted to start him over Craig Morton in the NFC Championship game. It wasn't one of Landry's more brilliant moves. Dallas got whipped by the Redskins 26-3, and Staubach looked like a quarterback who hadn't played all year.
I'm also reminded of the '81 World Series Game 3, to be exact when Tommy Lasorda refused to take out rookie phenom Fernando Valenzuela even though he gave up nine hits (including two homers), walked seven and threw about 1,000 pitches. After the Dodgers beat the Yankees 5-4, Lasorda said, "I had to leave him in there. It's the kid's year."
That, ultimately, is what it comes down to with Brady. The Patriots simply can't switch quarterbacks now. It's the kid's year.


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