Not content standing pat, Brady wants repeat success

After basking in glow of Super Bowl victory, QB has new role in 2002

July 27, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SMITHFIELD, R.I. - Tom Brady didn't just embrace his newfound celebrity, he smothered it. He didn't just seize the moment, he seized the entire off-season.

Here and there, the New England Patriots' mercurial quarterback spent the past six months crossing the country on a whirlwind tour of goodwill and fun. The Most Valuable Player of the 36th Super Bowl found no shortage of invitations once he maneuvered the Patriots into field-goal range for a last-play victory over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in January.

There he was atop a convertible in a parade at Disney World. Not long after, he could be found in Gary, Ind., judging a beauty pageant. Or at the San Francisco Giants' spring training camp with Barry Bonds in Arizona.

Bare-chested, he made the cover of Sports Illustrated, was named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people, danced with pop diva Mariah Carey and turned up with a handful of teammates at Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion.

When he finally resurfaced as the unqualified, unquestioned leader of the Patriots yesterday at picturesque Bryant College - 173 days after that improbable Super Bowl victory - he didn't even look winded.

Asked about the funniest episode of his off-season, Brady didn't hesitate.

"Probably getting invited to proms," he said to great laughter.

Did he accept?

"I was too busy."

Wearing a windbreaker, backpack and black Giants baseball cap - stylishly backward, of course - Brady slipped comfortably into the role of unofficial spokesman for the defending champions.

Does he worry about everyone gunning for the Patriots this season?

"You know, we're kind of gunning for the rest of the league, too," he said. "As much as they want us, believe me, we want more of them.

"But it's fun being on top, and I'd much rather be here than where we were last year."

Last year at this time, Brady was a third-string quarterback laboring in Drew Bledsoe's tall shadow, a circumstance that changed forever when Bledsoe suffered a serious chest injury in Week 2.

Back then, to hear coach Bill Belichick tell the tale yesterday, the Patriots weren't sure the sixth-round draft pick of 2000 was even going to make the team.

"From a year ago, I think that expectations [for Brady] are dramatically different," Belichick said. "There was a point last year when we didn't even know for sure if he was going to be on the team and then he was the third quarterback and then he was the second and it went on from there."

Once Brady directed the Patriots to a nine-game, season-ending winning streak, there was no going back to Bledsoe, who was traded to the Buffalo Bills during the off-season.

Despite his hectic social schedule, Brady, 24, was able to pack on 5 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-4, now 225-pound frame and improve his arm strength. Last season, he completed 63.9 percent of his passes in the Patriots' short-passing offense.

This year, the Patriots want him to heave the ball downfield more often. Belichick said in the off-season he also wanted Brady to work on his throwing mechanics, understanding of the offense, play-action faking and ball-handling.

Brady had 12 fumbles last season.

The self-assured quarterback is eager to greet his new fate.

"In one sense, I approach it the same way, that I was trying to get better every day," he said. "I had to get a better feel for my teammates, and get a better feel for the guys I was throwing the ball to, and get a better feel of my role in the offense.

"And my role is definitely different this year. I've just got to grow into that role."

It doesn't help that Brady's mentor, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, is sidelined with complications from a gastric bypass procedure. Belichick said he expects Weis to return on a part-time basis next week.

"We're anxious to have him back," said Brady, who looked extremely sharp in yesterday's first official workout of training camp.

For all of his success last season - he made the Pro Bowl team and was the youngest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl - there are some reservations about Brady. CBS Sportsline.com named him the league's "most overrated player" in the off-season.

The Patriots appear to be in no rush to rework the final year of his three-year contract. Brady is due to receive $389,000 this season, and his agent has already entertained negotiations with the team about a market contract. The market would put Brady at about $5 million-to-$6 million a year with an $8 million signing bonus. That's the signing bonus the Patriots gave Bledsoe on his record contract.

But even if negotiations are stalled, Brady doesn't seem bothered. He simply brushed that bad news aside.

"It isn't even on my mind," he said. "There are too many other things going on to let something like that ... I've got a pretty good life. I've got a pretty good job and I love playing football.

"That's as good as it gets for me."

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