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He's Leader of the Pats

Tom Brady is a star who understands how quickly fame and success can unravel

August 22, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

FOXBORO, Mass. — The golf cart rolled quietly through the darkness under Gillette Stadium. Quarterback Tom Brady was riding shotgun. Around the corner, about 100 New England Patriot fans were standing in a roped-off area, unfazed by the drizzle, unaware of which player had been chosen to sign autographs that day.

The shrieks came when Brady turned the corner. The 100 sounded like 1,000. Brady, wearing a five-day beard and a wool cap, smiled sheepishly before climbing out of the cart and walking over to the crowd.

"It really embarrasses me," he said later of getting the rock-star treatment. "I don't think I enjoy that. It's not my personality. I just like to be one of the guys. On the field it's a different story; you expect the quarterback to lead. But when you're off the field, I don't think of myself differently than I did when I was a 12-year-old kid."

If that sounds too humble to be true, it probably is. There are definite advantages to being a star quarterback who has led his team to victories in two of the last three Super Bowls. Two years ago, he took a coast-to-coast trip aboard Hugh Hefner's jet, was a judge for the Miss Universe pageant and was chosen one of People magazine's "Most Beautiful People." This off-season, he hobnobbed with President Bush and had a private audience at the Vatican with the Pope. His dating life is breathlessly covered in the Boston gossip pages, and this summer the buzz had "Tom Terrific" on the verge of marrying actress girlfriend Bridget Moynahan.

("No sir, no sir," Brady insisted last week. "No plans to get married.")

In many ways, though, the quarterback with the looks of a leading man has the ego of a Hollywood extra.

Clearly, that has helped him keep his edge in a league that nearly passed him by -- letting him go almost six full rounds before the Patriots selected him with the 199th pick in the 2000 draft.

It took him 29 months to go from a virtually anonymous rookie just hoping to make the roster to two-time Super Bowl most valuable player. His .739 winning percentage is best among active quarterbacks with at least 25 starts, and, with a pair of championship rings, he's halfway to the total earned by his boyhood idol, Joe Montana.

But Brady understands how quickly it can unravel. The quarterback with the second-best winning percentage is Kurt Warner, who is 0-8 as a starter since his last victory: the NFC championship game in 2001. Warner, the former St. Louis quarterback twice selected MVP of the league, is trying to revive his career as a New York Giant.

"I think you really realize how quickly things change," said Brady, 27.

"Not using Kurt as an example, but if I don't keep my preparation up, if I don't keep in shape, and I don't keep disciplined in terms of learning the offense and understanding what we're trying to do, then it can go the other way."

At the moment, Brady's immediate goal is simple: keeping his parking space. The team's top workout warriors in each position group are given prime parking spots at the stadium. Brady has kept his since his first season when he was backing up Drew Bledsoe. Unusually thin as a rookie out of Michigan, Brady has put on about five pounds a year and now is listed at 6 feet 4, 225 pounds, as solid as the Montreal Expos probably envisioned him becoming when they selected him as a catcher in the 18th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball draft.

Before visiting the White House with teammates this off-season, Brady got up at 5 a.m. to lift weights, even though players were credited with a free workout day for making the trip. He's determined not to jostle his schedule, no matter what the occasion.

"There really are no shortcuts for me," Brady said. "That was a Monday morning, and our schedule is to lift Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and I'd rather get up and lift than not lift. It's worth it for me to stay as strong and as big as I can stay."

More than ever this season, he will have the authority to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. He won't be directing traffic the way Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning does -- sometimes checking in and out of three different plays before getting the snap -- but he is free to make a change he thinks will work better. Brady said he has so much respect for the play-calling ability of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis that he can't imagine changing plays more than two or three times a game. Regardless, he feels comfortable doing it.

And his teammates are perfectly comfortable too. After all, Brady has completed a franchise-best 61.9% of passes in his career. He set a Super Bowl record in February with 32 completions in the Patriots' 32-29 victory over Carolina.

"Talk about calm under pressure," tight end Christian Fauria said. "That was another level. I had never been to the Super Bowl, and he was just completely under control. He was just ice."

Fauria, in his third season playing with Brady, said the quarterback has a natural charisma that draws people to him.

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