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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

He's a cut above

Brady is at the top of his game - in all facets

FOXBOROUGH -- He is Ozzie Nelson living in an age of Ozzy Osbourne. He was delivered from central casting to be the perfect leader of the perfect team. With the perfect teeth. And the perfect hair.

About the hair . . . Tom Brady says he's cutting it before the Super Bowl.

"Yeah, it's coming down," said the megastar quarterback of the Patriots. "It's getting out of control."

The hair, like Brady's legend, has grown in recent weeks. But the QB said it's not going to become Damonesque. Sometime between now and Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla., Brady will audible at the line and call for the old scissors play.

Brady was 14 of 21 for 207 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Toying with Pittsburgh's vaunted secondary in subzero (minus-1 windchill) temperatures, Brady elevated his playoff record to a perfect 8-0. A day later, word leaked that he'd been suffering a 103-degree temperature Saturday night and had an IV plugged into his left arm to keep himself hydrated.

As ever, Brady downplayed the medical crisis when he was asked about it for the first time yesterday. Looking rather sickly with a towel wrapped around his neck, he said, "There were a lot of guys who were sick and a lot of guys aren't feeling good and a lot of guys were probably having a tougher time than I was. Guys have been doing that all year. There were a bunch of guys that didn't feel well. I was one of many and probably I felt best out of the group."

When another reporter followed up, asking, "How bad was it?," Brady answered, "I never talk about injuries. I never talk about any of that. It's over with and we're moving on. There's guys in that locker room that play with broken bones and messed up backs and necks. I didn't deal with any of that."

Commenting on his own maladies makes him uncomfortable.

"I think it takes away from what everyone else does and what everyone else plays with," he said. "Everyone else plays with great toughness and never complains. Like a little flu bug is a big deal or something. I think it takes away from what those guys do. Those guys certainly shouldn't have anything taken away from what they do every week."

This is one of the reasons the Patriots win. Certainly there is talent and versatility on the roster. The coach may, in fact, be a legitimate genius. And Bob Kraft has become a model for ownership. But the Patriots also win because of their share-the-glory attitude, which starts at the top. It's easy to keep the locker room harmony when your most celebrated player goes out of his way to credit everybody else.

Try to imagine this in the self-important, self-centered world of baseball. When Nomar and Pedro were injured, they immersed themselves in the magnitude of their misery and made sure everyone knew how much they hurt and how hard they were trying to return. Curt Schilling, who played through pain and delivered like no baseball player in the history of our town, elaborated on his struggle with a heartfelt postgame dissertation that elevated a playoff game to a veritable Fenway Fatima.

Brady knows better. He's a football player. He's a quarterback. He gets all the glory, but he needs the protection of all the players around him. Ask him about his pain and he just says that everybody hurts, and moves on to the next question.

It was clear yesterday that the quarterback and his teammates were in Belichick bunker mode. It was the first day the players were made available to the media since Pittsburgh and none of them wanted to say much of anything about anything. Bill Belichick doesn't want to give the Philadelphia Eagles any Vanderjagt-like, bulletin-board material, and hubris is the deadliest of sins when you play for the champion Patriots. When the word "dynasty" was used in a question posed to Brady, he smiled and said, "Coach doesn't want us to get into this a lot."

Brady was pounded with the old questions about growing up a Joe Montana (and Steve Young) fan when his parents had season tickets at Candlestick Park. He talked about pretending he was Cool Joe when he was a kid, tossing footballs in his driveway. He said he remains flattered and fascinated that he is compared with his childhood idols, adding, "I don't think I'm on that level."

But he knows there are kids out there who plan to be the next Tom Brady.

"It's really neat, and that is the reality," he said. "Troy Brown told me his little kid says I'm his favorite player. When you hear stuff like that from your own teammates, you get the biggest kick out of it. It's really neat. It's like on Halloween when a little kid comes up to my door with a No. 12 jersey on. I was like, `Oh, man!' I've come such a long way."

Really neat. Who talks like that anymore? Beaver Cleaver and Lawrence Welk are off the air. Brady obviously believes it's hip to be square.

Once again, we must thank Mr. and Mrs. Brady for the job they did with their only son (Brady has three sisters). The Patriot quarterback is many things to many people. He is skilled, clutch, tough, competitive, handsome, affable, polite, and he probably flosses before bed. But what strikes this veteran observer most is that Brady must have great parents. It's rare that we encounter a superstar athlete who is liked by his teammates and consistently gives perfect answers to all questions.

Let's go back to last Sunday night. After the slaughter of the Steelers, when Brady was told that the victory elevated his playoff record to 8-0, he reminded the questioner, "There's a lot of guys in that room that are 8-0."

Neat. Really neat.

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

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