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NFL Playoffs | Diane Pucin

Scouts' Dishonor

Despite the Extensive Resources Committed to Evaluating Prospects, the Quarterbacks Still in the Playoffs Fooled the So-Called Experts

January 26, 2002|Diane Pucin

There are your draftniks and your draftoids. There are your Ourlads' Guides and your Mel Kiper Jrs. There are the combines and 40-yard-dash times and tests of arm strength and accuracy and personality tests and tryouts and workouts.

Lots of tryouts and workouts. Serious men, the scouts, with big clipboards and little stopwatches, staring and writing and timing and nodding knowingly and acting as if their little toys, their boards and watches, scales and tape measures can predict who will be a good NFL quarterback.

But based on this year's final four group of quarterbacks, maybe NFL teams should have the scouts dump the stopwatches, roll up the tape measures and just look and listen.

Maybe ESPN could dump Kiper. Maybe there's no sense in reading the Ourlads' Guides and the dozens of other draft publications that are already being quoted breathlessly about who will be the top quarterbacks picked in the next draft. David Carr from Fresno State. Joey Harrington from Oregon. It won't be a Kurt Warner.

The story of Warner is legend. A benchwarmer at Northern Iowa. A grocery stock boy. An Arena League player. A starter for the St. Louis Rams only because Trent Green was injured in the exhibition season. A two-time NFL MVP.

Warner has taken the Rams to Sunday's NFC championship game. The opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, is led by quarterback Donovan McNabb, whose name was booed and whose talent was demeaned all around Philadelphia by "those in the know."

In the AFC championship game are a couple more accidental quarterbacks. Kordell Stewart of Pittsburgh has fought to not be a wide receiver or a defensive back, has spent five years trying to become "Slash," the multi-purpose player Coach Bill Cowher first made him.

And then there's Tom Brady, the starter for the New England Patriots only because Drew Bledsoe got hurt in September. Brady, in his second NFL season, was also an accidental starter at Michigan. Brady was never deemed good enough to beat out Drew Henson. Henson was a baseball player, is now a baseball player and will probably always be a baseball player. Brady was a quarterback, is now a quarterback, will probably always be a quarterback.

Tell that to the experts.

Brady, 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, doesn't have much use for the experts. It was the experts who made him the 199th choice in the draft two years ago. He was the 33rd pick. In the sixth round.

So phooey to the experts. The experts at Michigan booed him early because he wasn't Brian Griese and then booed him late because he wasn't Henson. Griese took Michigan to a Big Ten title his senior year. Brady didn't follow up with another. Henson was famous. The New York Yankees wanted to draft Henson and finally did. The perfect credentials for a Big Ten quarterback.

Brady doesn't have much use for anything except studying film, listening to his coaches and keeping a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead so that when he leaves his house, people don't know they are at the grocery store with Tom Brady, Patriot quarterback.

You'd think it would be possible to get a rise out of Brady this week by expressing some doubt that the young quarterback who has been second string most of his life won't be overwhelmed by all the pressure he will find Sunday in the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh.

"Oh, I don't think so," Brady says. "I think everything I've gone through has prepared me pretty well."

That's mostly all Brady will say about his fight to play at Michigan and the tense times he has faced at New England since Bledsoe returned but stayed demoted. Bledsoe, who was never accidental and always the chosen one, has been unhappy with the loss of his starting job. Brady stayed stoic.

"From the first day I walked in at Michigan I was competing against Brian Griese and then later in my career, with Drew Henson," Brady says. "You deal with competition. Competition is the same whether it's for your job or for your team to win."

The Patriots weren't expecting Brady to be 12-3 as a starter or lead them to the AFC title game. Honestly, the Patriots weren't expecting Brady to ever be a starter.

Brady won 20 games as a starter at Michigan and lost only five. Not bad. But he wasn't Henson. He wasn't Griese.

He isn't Bledsoe. He is only a winner.

As Brady stood up before the national media Friday, as he looked the cameras straight on and answered the questions politely and confidently, what you saw was a leader. Brady is only 24, practically a rookie and certainly a novice in this most pressure-filled occasion. But Brady takes command. Of a podium, of a football team, of an NFL season.

There is no stopwatch that can time a leader, no instrument that can measure leadership.

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Diane Pucin can be reached at diane.pucin@latimes.com.

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