Seeing the Patriots' 2007 season through the eyes of Tom Brady Sr. is to get a slightly different perspective from the casual view.
From the record-setting performance of his son on the field, to the media firestorm created off of it, Brady Sr. rode the highs and lows and twists and turns like any father would, hoping for the best.
Naturally, if he could change one aspect of what unfolded, it would be the devastating result in Super Bowl XLII. His son's injured ankle was a big story leading up to kickoff, as Brady had gone through two weeks of treatment to prepare for action.
Did Brady Sr. feel the injury affected his son's performance?
"I think he was prepared to go out there and deal with whatever he had," he said. "I've heard some of the critics say he was wincing in the face of the rush, but I didn't see him backing down. I thought he played with a lot of courage in the Super Bowl."
Looking back over the entire season, the father was asked if he learned anything about his son.
"I've seen him now for seven years become so focused on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, the tunnel vision he takes to a season, so actually I didn't learn anything new," Brady Sr. said.
"It starts in July and he doesn't really come up for air until the end of the last game. It's something he's matured with and developed for as long as he's played. The first time I saw it was the 2001 season. I think he continues to focus the same every single year, so I didn't learn anything in that regard.
"What I did see this year is that things came a lot easier because he had such a wonderful array of talent on the team. It wasn't as if we needed to grind it out, like we were a year ago. It came easier and in bigger chunks, because of all the talent that had been assembled.
"So when I think about it, in a lot of ways I thought his performance last year was just as good as this year. He might have had more touchdowns this year, but last year he had to do more to lead the offense to victory without as much around him."
Playing with someone as gifted as receiver Randy Moss was one of the special parts of the season for Brady.
"He really did enjoy Randy a lot; they have a really good thing going," Brady Sr. said. "He thinks the world of Randy as an athlete and as a football player. Being able to develop a relationship with someone like that, in only a year, is special because it usually takes more time. Peyton Manning has been doing it with Marvin Harrison for years. Those kinds of relationships aren't to be taken lightly."
Brady Sr. did note one aspect of the season that he felt took a lot out of the players.
"I think it's incredibly difficult with the new flex schedule, and playing games at 4:30, or Sunday night, Monday night, that is really tough on these guys week after week after week," he said. "Going to Baltimore, playing late at night at that time of year, it's a much more difficult task than most people would think. It's one thing if you play in a dome 10-12 weeks a year.
"I thought the path they had to overcome, besides playing football teams who were bringing their A game every week, was a variable that no teams had to contend with ever before. When Indianapolis plays, they're indoors. We're playing in 14 degree windchill factor at night.
"Also, when Miami won their games, that strength of schedule was [51-86, .372] when they were perfect. This was a tough schedule and I think these guys played admirably, with all the elements they had to confront."
Another element that Brady Sr. watched his son confront was a media firestorm off the field.
It peaked the day after the AFC Championship game in January, when paparazzi staked out the apartment Brady was visiting in New York and filmed him walking into girlfriend Gisele Bundchen's place with a protective boot over his right foot. It was another reminder of how things have changed since his son entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft choice in 2000.
"As his father, it's not easy to see the confluence of events turning him into tabloid fodder, because that's not at all who he is," said Brady Sr. "He's not out there seeking thousands of endorsements. In reality, he is a very private person who values personal relationships."
Adjusting to that change in lifestyle has been a challenge for the family.
"There is no care for the individual - it's only for the byline and the pictures," said Brady Sr. "People better be well-grounded or it would drive them crazy.
"It's tough because from my standpoint, as he's transformed from an athletic [star] to more of a media hero, we don't relate to him that way. He's the exact same guy with his family as he was eight years ago, but it's the other people's perceptions of him that have changed."
One-man BC booster club
Mike Mayock, who analyzes draft prospects for the NFL Network, remains one of Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan's biggest boosters. Mayock believes Ryan is the top quarterback - perhaps even the top player - available in the draft.
"He has all the tangibles - arm strength, he's more athletic than people think, he can make every throw - the only negative is the number of interceptions he threw, and NFL teams are going to have to make a determination as to why," Mayock said.
"My conclusion is that his wide receivers at Boston College didn't always athletically match up against cornerbacks from good teams, like Virginia Tech and Clemson, and he ended up having to force balls, which contributed to the high interception numbers.
"What I feel separates the kid is intangibles, and I think teams are going to fall in love with him at the combine when they put him up on the board and he's talking football. They'll see his intelligence.
"He also has toughness and a great work ethic. To me, when you're talking about handing over $30 million-$35 million in guaranteed money to that 1-2-3 pick, that's the kind of kid I want, someone to whom the game of football is really important."
Mayock played at BC himself and was a roommate of Ryan's uncle. Mayock noted that he has watched Ryan play since high school, which led him to grade Ryan extremely tough.
Through that evaluation, Mayock came away with the conclusion that Ryan was the "clear-cut" top quarterback.
In Mayock's view, how does Ryan compare with last year's top pick, quarterback JaMarcus Russell?
"I took some heat about the comments I made about JaMarcus Russell last year, but I stand by them, as I felt he had the most exciting skill set out of any quarterback coming out of college football that I've seen in my life - he's a big kid with a big arm, with incredible touch and is accurate with the football," said Mayock. "But I also questioned how important the game of football is to him, which I think is an important question when you give someone $30 million guaranteed.
"I think with Matt Ryan, you have a skill set that is way above average but doesn't measure up to JaMarcus. No one does. But I think he completely overwhelms him off the field."
Jack-of-many-trades ready to tackle next challenge
Jack Mula has a unique perspective on the business of football, having been a longtime player agent before spending nine years in the Patriots' front office.
Mula is now plotting the next step of his career, having informed the Patriots last May that the 2007 season would be his last with the club.
Mula officially left the team earlier this year, but since he gave advance notice of his departure, the change hasn't been as abrupt as it could have been. It's little surprise that he already has multiple possibilities to consider, in football and elsewhere.
During the season, he was one of eight candidates under consideration to become president of the Packers, but he elected not to pursue the position. The Falcons also have reached out to him, and the new United Football League has offered him a president/general manager role with two clubs. Mula is also mulling opportunities at two Boston-based law firms.
Mula's official title with the Patriots was general counsel/player personnel, and team officials described him as "a major contributor to the most prosperous period in the organization's history."
Before joining the Patriots, Mula, who grew up in Waltham and still lives there, was a sports attorney and player agent, representing Doug Flutie, Fred Smerlas, and Raghib "Rocket" Ismail, among others.
Family considerations were a significant factor in Mula's decision to leave the Patriots.
They're not dangling Chad
Receiver Chad Johnson's comments earlier this month - he told the Globe that he hoped to be playing for the Patriots in 2008, and went on various radio shows at the Super Bowl saying similar things about other clubs - won't result in the Bengals trading him. Coach Marvin Lewis reiterated last week that a deal isn't under consideration. Money is a major factor in the team's thinking, as trading Johnson before June 1 would result in the Bengals taking an $8.03 million hit on the salary cap for a player no longer with them. In addition, the Bengals had reworked Johnson's contract in April 2006 - a maneuver that paid him $16 million over the last two seasons - so the club is not willing to take that financial hit.
The Chiefs are expected to release cornerback Ty Law instead of paying him a $6.5 million base salary in 2008, which would put Law back onto the free agent market. Law, 33, spent the last two seasons in Kansas City and did not miss a game, recording six interceptions over that span. Some observers felt the Chiefs' desire to play more man coverage was not the best fit for Law, although Law, who believes he has 2-3 solid seasons left in him, might contest that. The 2008 campaign will mark Law's 14th in the NFL, and considering that the Patriots could be looking for corners, his potential return to Foxborough would add a dash of spice to the offseason. Assuming Law is released, those close to him say he would be open to the possibility of a return - if the price is right.
Combing the combine
Count NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock among those overwhelmed at the growing interest in the NFL Combine, which begins Thursday in Indianapolis and continues through the middle of next week. Seemingly the entire NFL is present for the event, as draft prospects are put through a battery of drills and interviews. NFL Network starts its wall-to-wall coverage Thursday. "To be honest, I'm flabbergasted," Mayock said. "In traveling around, I'm surprised at how many guys want to talk to me about the combine, which is a phenomenon that is amazing to me. I think part of the intrigue is that it's been a secret for so long, and now people are getting a little bit of a peek inside. I think it underscores how the NFL has become the 1,000-pound gorilla."
The 2008 season will be quarterback Daunte Culpepper's 10th in the NFL, but as an unrestricted free agent, he's turning back the clock as if he's a newcomer. "I have taken the approach that being a free agent is like reentering the draft for the second time," Culpepper wrote in an e-mail. "I have worked extremely hard for the last two years to get back to 100 percent health, so I feel pretty optimistic. After my [knee] surgery, Dr. [James ] Andrews said that it would take two years to feel back to normal, so I am right on schedule." Considering that almost 60 quarterbacks started at least one game in 2007, Culpepper figures to draw interest after playing in seven games for the Raiders last season (six starts).
The most notable news expected to come out of the NFL Combine isn't about a prospect but instead will be a determination on where the Falcons, Raiders, and Chiefs draft. All three finished 4-12 and had the same strength of schedule, so a coin flip (or two) will determine which slots - 3, 4, or 5 - the teams will hold in the first round . . . Former Boston College quarterback Brian St. Pierre, coming off a season in which he was No. 3 on the depth chart for the Steelers, is an unrestricted free agent. "The way it was left is that Pittsburgh is interested in me coming back, but first I'm going to explore other possibilities that might have greater potential for advancement," relayed St. Pierre . . . The Texans pick 18th in the draft, and with starting cornerback Dunta Robinson recovering from ACL surgery that might keep him out until November, their top need is cornerback . . . Thursday marks the deadline by which teams can place the franchise tag on players . . . Believe It Or Not Dept.: Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen, who served a two-game suspension at the start of 2007 because of two DUIs, is opening a sports bar in Kansas City.
Did you know?
Patriots receiver Troy Brown will have a street named after him in Huntington, W.Va., where he starred at Marshall University. The city council voted last week to designate a section of 16th Street Road as Troy Brown Way.
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.