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ON FOOTBALL

Were these Davey's 15 minutes of fame?

FOXBOROUGH -- Rohan Davey understands the position he's in. He's every vice president there ever was. He's a heartbeat away from being the leader of a team that frankly has no interest in seeing him perform those duties.

He's one-third of the Tennessee Three standing behind Elvis humming when nobody is listening. He's not Gladys Knight. He's one of the Pips.

No, it is not easy being Rohan Davey, who every day must prepare as if he's significant while knowing he won't be unless disaster strikes or the 49ers come to town. Of all the difficulties of a man in his position, the hardest thing about it is that to play backup quarterback you have to never play, and not playing is not the aim of sports. Certainly it's not the aim of a quarterback, whose position is built around a man's ability to lead.

To best understand the difficulty of this, imagine being Leonard Bernstein without a baton. Are you still the leader of the orchestra then?

"It's very tough," Tom Brady said of being a backup quarterback. "A lot of times, I think, it's harder preparing for [being] the second quarterback than it is the first. And you're expected to go in there and play as well.

"When you're not in, it's hard to pay attention like you would be if you're in there. You can sort of pay attention, but unless you're in there evaluating the play calls, there's a lot of game management type stuff that comes into it. Ultimately, it's hard to simulate the game action and simulate being out there under fire. You can try as hard as you can, but it's not the same."

That is why the 15 minutes Davey played at the tail end of the Patriots' ho-hum 21-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers yesterday at Razor Blade Field was important to him, if not to anyone else. It was important because he got to lead. He got to make decisions. He got to get the feel back of running a team, something he next would be asked to do in a game so big there are no more if you lose.

That happened to another backup quarterback in New England Jan. 27, 2002. The Patriots and Brady were sailing along just fine when his ankle was twisted and blew up like a helium balloon. Off the bench came Drew Bledsoe to throw the only touchdown pass in that AFC Championship Game. He wasn't Brady that day, but he was efficient enough and bold enough to lead his team to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers before taking a seat again.

Bledsoe is gone now and so that job has become Davey's, but he never has had the years of starting experience that Bledsoe brought to that odd job. That is one more reason Davey's role is harder to navigate as the playoffs begin than 50 miles of detour.

Yet yesterday, after playing well enough, although far from spectacularly, in the final quarter against the 49ers, Davey could stand by his locker and concede that it's not the easiest thing in the world to sit for 16 weeks and then go in and act like a quarterback. He said this without complaining or even hinting that it's tougher than you might think. In fact, he said the opposite.

"Today might have been difficult if I'd gone in with expectations I was going in in the second quarter or for the second half," Davey said. "Since I didn't, there was no disappointment [about not getting in until the fourth quarter]. When I was in college, I'd fantasize about coming in a game and playing. Now it's a routine to prepare and if you play, you play. If you don't, you don't."

Davey first learned how to handle such a situation at Louisiana State, where he started only his senior season and that year became the first quarterback in the school's history to throw for more than 3,000 yards. The year before, however, he showed incredible leadership skills when he was voted one of the team's captains even though he was not its starting QB.

That is not how he would have liked things to go, but as things turned out, he learned from it. He was, unbeknownst to him, preparing for his present profession.

"When I first came back this summer [after an MVP season in NFL Europe, where he led the Berlin Thunder to the World Bowl title], it was difficult because I was used to being in control of the team, but I adapted back to it quickly," Davey said, chuckling at the thought of anything else being a possibility. "It's hard to stay on top of things, but that's your job. It's what you have to do. It was tougher in college because when I got there I was 17, 18. Not too mature."

Davey has been maturing behind Brady for three years now, slowly moving up the football food chain the same way Brady did before he burst onto the scene four years ago. No one knows what would happen if Davey finds himself in a similar situation, but he knows what would be expected.

What would be expected is that he come in and act like he'd been there for years. Act like the president. Sing like Gladys. Lead like Bernstein. Play like Brady, which wouldn't be easy.

"Rohan hasn't had any meaningful snaps this year and finally he got in today where it was meaningful and he made some nice plays out there," Brady said of his understudy. "It's hard. You really get better by playing. The film work is important. It's very important to prepare yourself so you can go out there and be confident in knowing what you have to do, confident that you know what the defense is going to do so you can anticipate and play with confidence when you're on the field. But the easiest way to do that is by playing.

"The other way you try to do it is you try to practice it and then you try to watch it on tape. So nothing is as valuable as playing. For a guy who hasn't played much, he hasn't played much this year, he did a nice job out there today. He almost threw a touchdown pass at the end."

For once he did more than almost play, too. Davey got some real minutes in a real game. Fifteen minutes in a meaningless game perhaps, but minutes that were meaningful to him for a lot of reasons. Not the least of them was the knowledge that if there are any more minutes this season, they will be meanginful, indeed, because they will be playoff minutes.

Vice presidents and backup singers dream of such opportunities. Broadway understudies pray for the night the stage lights come up on them. Frankly, Davey would love that opportunity, too, and so he will prepare for it the best he can. He will watch film, run the scout team, take the reps he gets, and then do what you do if you're a young man in his position. He'll wait, wanting a chance but hoping it doesn't come because if it does, it will mean something bad has happened to his teammate.

"It's a ticklish thing," Davey said. "It's not like the other positions where they rotate you in some. You sit until something [bad] happens [to the starter]. That's the nature of this position, especially when you have a guy who's a great quarterback who won two Super Bowls. When you haven't been playing, whatever little opportunity you have to show you've been preparing is an exciting time."

Yesterday, Rohan Davey had 15 minutes of excitement. If he gets any more than that this season, though, it won't be exciting for Bill Belichick or Charlie Weis. It will be terrifying. Terrifying until one of the Pips gets his chance to sing and shows he can carry a tune, or a team, too.

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