- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

FOXBORO, Mass. — One listen to the multitude of sports radio talk shows in Boston makes this clear: The city known for its suffering loves to embrace a winner.

So it’s understandable that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the Big Man in Boston these days.

“Women want to be with him, and men want to be him,” said Brady’s Patriots teammate, Christian Fauria.

It’s easy to see why.

Whereas New England’s favorite team, the Red Sox, is known for its postseason chokes, Brady is undefeated in the postseason, the author of last-minute drives that earned Super Bowl triumphs in 2002 and 2004. By contrast, the Celtics haven’t won an NBA title since 1986, the Bruins a Stanley Cup since 1972 and — most infamously — the Red Sox a World Series since 1918.

Plus, he’s a handsome 27-year-old who might have stolen more female hearts than native movie stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon combined.

When the Patriots take the field at training camp here, the fans scream the loudest for Brady. Only Joe Montana, one of Brady’s heroes growing up in San Mateo, Calif., has more than Brady’s two Super Bowl MVP awards. But not even Montana led his team to two Roman Numeral trophies before his 27th birthday or in his first three years as the starter.

There’s no reason to think he’s done, either. Hall of Famers Sid Luckman and Bart Starr and sure Hall of Famer Troy Aikman are the only quarterbacks to win three NFL championships in four years, but Brady could make it a foursome if he can direct the Patriots to another Super Bowl victory in February in Jacksonville, Fla.

“What makes Tom exceptional is that he’s calm, cool and collected in that huddle,” guard Joe Andruzzi said. “He’s not going to scream at you and make everybody else nervous. He’s not going to sit there and bite his fingernails.”

Unless it’s over the way people react to his mere presence in public. Linebacker Mike Vrabel, a starter on both Super Bowl teams, remains virtually anonymous in Boston. But Brady was recognized even on a postseason vacation in Europe.

“It’s like, ‘How can I hide now?’” Brady said.

Especially with his movie star girlfriend (Bridget Moynahan of “I, Robot”) and his elevated status in the city now that the Red Sox dealt their most popular player, five-time All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, to the Chicago Cubs.

“Everyone always talked about Nomar,” Brady said. “I saw his jersey everywhere. He did a lot for the community. He was a great role model. He was kind of the face of the franchise.”

So is Brady these days. But instead of isolating himself from lesser athletic kin a la Michael Jordan and Barry Bonds, he’s happy to be one of the guys. He hasn’t allowed his success to inflate his ego. In fact, he would be delighted if the media would focus their attention on some of his more senior teammates.

“Tom’s even-keeled, but he has a spark, a presence, an enthusiasm for the game and what he’s doing that’s … contagious,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Tom has been as consistent as any player I’ve been around in terms of his work ethic, his preparation, his diligence. He’s one of the guys that really sets the pace for everybody else.”

After the first Super Bowl triumph two years ago, Brady enjoyed a fast-paced offseason, even serving as a judge for the Miss USA pageant. Brady posted similar numbers the following season, but the Patriots failed to make the playoffs. So it’s no coincidence the much more sedate highlight of Brady’s recent offseason was visiting Pope John Paul II.

“I was very excited after the first Super Bowl,” Brady said. “There were a lot of great opportunities that were presented. It was the same this year, … [but] every year you evaluate what you did the previous year, [and] you try to work smarter. I wish I had been a little more prepared for the start of last season. I got into the mode of being really comfortable with our offense, with what we were trying to do. It was like, ‘I got that. I know that.’ … This season I’m more conscious of not taking anything for granted.”

The Patriots don’t take Brady for granted, certainly not with only over-the-hill Jim Miller and unproven Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury and Kurt Kittner behind him. But Belichick didn’t have big expectations after taking Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

“I don’t think we were looking at a John Elway,” Belichick said. “You don’t [even] pick a starter in the sixth round. Tom had the leadership, work ethic and accuracy, but his mechanics, his overall body strength [weren’t as good], and he has become a lot better decision-maker. Tom was our fourth quarterback when he came to camp as a rookie. We had John Friesz and Michael Bishop, who never played another down in the league, and Tom wasn’t better than them. But he worked very hard and got a lot better from year one to year two.”

Brady hasn’t stopped improving. Last year he topped the NFL with 28 touchdown passes to a league-record 11 receivers. He already has produced 15 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, and his 7-0 overtime mark is the all-time best. Brady also is the only active quarterback with at least 25 regular-season starts who has won at least 70 percent of them (34-12, .739). And that’s not counting his 6-0 postseason record.

“Tom has that leadership ability in crucial situations, end of games and big games,” Belichick said. “You can talk about arm strength, 40-yard dash [speed] and all that, but in the end the No.1 criteria is putting the ball where it’s supposed to be and making good decisions.”

As far as the Patriots are concerned, drafting Brady was the best they ever made.

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