Pats' Brady thrown into spotlight

Super Bowl MVP to be forever changed despite tender age

`Like a kite in the wind'

Stopping Rams, Pats reinforce Ravens' `defense rules' credo

Pro Football

February 05, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Tom Brady experienced a rite of passage Sunday night. He was transformed from sixth-round draft pick to Super Bowl MVP, from playoff curiosity to playoff poster boy.

Life for New England's second-year quarterback will never be the same. That much is certain in the wake of the Patriots' pulsating 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

After meeting with the media bright and early yesterday morning, he was off to Disney World, one of the many perks for his coronation as MVP of the Super Bowl. Beyond that, Brady, 24, could look forward to endorsement deals, photo shoots and instant fame.

Is he ready for it?

"I'm working on it," he said, drawing laughter from the media throng. "It's new to me. I'm like a kite in the wind, just kind of going with the flow.

"It's hard to turn a lot of people down. It's been a lot of fun."

It was also a lot of work, starting in the off-season after his rookie year, when he was the fourth quarterback on the roster. Patriots coach Bill Belichick marvels at Brady's ascension, which essentially started with the Week 2 chest injury to Drew Bledsoe.

"I'm not sure I've seen any player improve as much as Tom has," Belichick said. "His improvement has been so dramatic in the last year, and it's mainly a credit to his hard work. ... It's so gratifying to use Tom as an example for other younger players."

It was a mystical journey for Brady and the Patriots, but their success had the tug of familiarity. For the second straight year, the Super Bowl was won on the defensive side of the ball.

For the third straight year, the Super Bowl champion had virtually come from nowhere to supremacy. None of the last three winners - the Patriots, Ravens or Rams - had a winning record in the season preceding their championship. Two of those teams - the Patriots and Rams - went from last place to first place in a year.

Then there's this: Before Brady and Trent Dilfer a year ago, the previous eight Super Bowls were won by five quarterbacks who are Hall of Fame-bound. Dallas' Troy Aikman won three of those Super Bowls, Denver's John Elway won two, and Green Bay's Brett Favre, San Francisco's Steve Young and the Rams' Warner each won one.

Belichick says he believes the time-honored adage that offense wins games and defense wins championships.

"I've always believed that and I think our players believe that in these big games ... you have to limit the other team to a fairly low number of points to have a chance to win. And particularly with our team; I don't think we're going to win a lot of games 45-42," he said.

The fact teams no longer need marquee quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl puts a twist on the accepted way to build a franchise. Brady, who could become a great quarterback, beat Warner, after all. Defense is definitely back in vogue.

"It certainly gives you pause," Ravens coach Brian Billick said from Baltimore. "Clearly, most people would've said we were probably the aberration. I still think you need to have a certain level of offensive presence.

"Now with it happening back-to-back, there will be some interesting discussions around organizations about `How do we spend our money?' and what it takes to win championships. It's less philosophy than it is how to spend our money."

Belichick stocked the Patriots' roster with second-tier free agents who could not command top dollar in the market. He got big returns from players like wide receiver David Patten, fullback Marc Edwards, defensive end Anthony Pleasant, linebackers Roman Phifer and Mike Vrabel and center Mike Compton.

Belichick got more from less with those signings.

"A couple of players we signed this year, in particular guys like Mike Vrabel, Marc Edwards - players like that that for whatever reason, things didn't work out the way they hoped at other organizations," Belichick said. "But the role we saw for them was maybe more significant than the one they'd had previously. And the opportunity for guys to achieve things in another system is a key point."

The Patriots likely will be the last worst-to-first story for a while. They were 5-11 a year ago, but turned that around to 11-5 with a fifth-place schedule in 2001. Next season, the league realigns into eight divisions. A balanced schedule should produce fewer out-of-the-blue turnarounds.

Like Baltimore a year ago, when the Ravens won their final 11 games, the Patriots finished with a rush, winning their last nine. Nevertheless, they were 14-point underdogs against the Rams.

"There's not a guy in that locker room who would have thought we couldn't win that game," said Brady, who became the second youngest player to win a Super Bowl MVP award behind Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann (Super Bowl X). "We had beaten Pittsburgh on the road, Oakland at home. That's the stuff that really builds confidence.

"When people say you can't do this, that makes for a pretty dangerous team from the Patriots' standpoint. The heat was on the Rams to put on a great show."

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