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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Hit is part of the game

TOM BRADY He's only human TOM BRADY He's only human

Tom Brady takes a hit.

Big news in Boston, in Hollywood, across Football America, and on the glossy, quick-read pages of US and People.

For a while now, we have wondered whether he'd be the one who never took a hit. Impossibly handsome, humble, and clutch, Brady seemed to have been delivered from Central Casting. Great teeth. Chin dimple. Loving parents who remain supportive without bragging. Three sisters. Three Super Bowl championships. Two Super Bowl MVPs. The coveted parking spot closest to the stadium for the guy who works the hardest in practice. An invite to the State of the Union address. An audience with the Pope. Hosting "Saturday Night Live." Posing for GQ and modeling watches we can't afford. A best-selling biography.

Brady was going to be the Boston superstar athlete who'd get in and out of town without being touched by scandal or controversy. No police blotters. No mosh pit dives. No rollovers on 95 North on the way home from the Foxy Lady. No diva demonstrations. No steroids. No suspensions. No palimony suits. No taking money under the table while at Michigan. No losing his captaincy. No jealous rips from anonymous teammates. No kids left crying after being denied an autograph. No parking tickets. No disgruntled waiters with 5 percent tips.

Now he has taken a hit -- something far more bone-rattling than any blind-side tackle delivered by Dwight Freeney or Shawne Merriman. Our Tom was on the front page of both Boston newspapers yesterday. Four weeks and a day after his quest for a fourth Super Bowl crashed in the Hoosier State, Brady was a newsmaker for another reason.

The Globe went with, "Tom Brady's former girlfriend pregnant -- actress identifies Patriots QB as father." The ever-understated Herald screamed, "Quarterback sneak? Bridget's pregnant, and Tom's pals say he'll do the right thing (he just won't marry her!)"

There goes the future senatorial run against Curt Schilling. It might take him out of a few "Got Milk" ads, and the Pope will want him to go to confession next time he's in the Vatican. The red states and traditionalists certainly will disapprove.

But this is not the scandal it would have been 50 years ago. Brady's life is not over. He's not going to be Springsteen's character from "The River," who got "a union card and a wedding coat," after getting Mary pregnant. There's no indication that he's going to drag Bridget Moynahan onto the set of the Montel Williams show to submit to a DNA test.

A child born out of wedlock is no longer received with humiliation and shame. If you gathered present and former professional athletes who have fathered children with women they didn't marry, you could fill a fair-sized college gymnasium. And this Brady-Moynahan baby could be better-looking than Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt.

What this does remind us is that Brady -- like all of us -- is human.

I am curious as to how this news will be received by nonfootball fans who have been bombarded with the life and times of Tom Brady since he burst upon the scene with stardust sprinkled on his shoulder pads during the 2001 season.

Patriots season ticket-holders aren't likely to change their opinion of Brady. It's hard to imagine any of the game-day sausage-and-beer crowd getting down on Brady over this. But what about conservatives, church people, soccer moms, teachers, and coaches who instructed kids to be like Tom? How many of you are old-fashioned or religious enough to let this change your mind on the merits of the local wonderboy?

And what does it do to Brady? Pro athletes forfeit a measure of their privacy when they use their name to sell goods and promote causes. Brady's fame puts him in the fast-lane world with actresses (like Moynahan) and supermodels (like new squeeze Gisele Bundchen). A lot of men get their girlfriends or ex-girlfriends pregnant, but few of them see the details on the nightly news or the front page. It has to be embarrassing and violating. But it's a part of the deal in a celebrity culture that simultaneously rewards and punishes the rich and famous.

Tom Brady didn't break the law. He didn't disgrace his team on the football field. He wasn't even rude to anybody. He just got to be very famous in a time nothing is private anymore.

A football field is 100 yards by 53 1/3 yards. When you are dropping back to pass and the blitzing linebacker is in your face mask, you can throw the ball out of bounds and start over.

Off the playing field, in 2007, nothing is out of bounds.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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