Joining Boston royalty
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- He is unbeaten, untied, and unequivocally the king of the football world. Tom Brady may not have been voted the most valuable player of last night's Super Bowl, but he is the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (again), and when all the dynasty talk begins in earnest this morning, it starts with the former sixth-round draft choice from Michigan, who has earned his rightful place among Boston legends Bill Russell, Bobby Orr, Larry Bird, and Ted Williams.
Brady is the money man. He is 9-0 in postseason play. He has a winning smile, a winning arm, and he is a blossoming legend who has cornered the market on storybook endings. How long can this go on? As long as Brady stays healthy, happy, and hungry in a Patriots uniform.
"He's just amazing," said Charlie Weis, Brady's offensive coordinator and confidant, who will be moving on to Notre Dame later this week. "To [perform like he did], after all that's happened this week . . . his grandmother died, his father's at the hospital, and all he wants to do is win.
"It got to the point where he was a pain in the butt. He was calling me up at 10 o'clock and saying, `Can we tweak the game plan? Can we throw this out?' I told him, `Can you just shut up and let me get some sleep?' "
The Patriots are truly a team of champions, but make no mistake: Their remarkable success begins and ends with Brady.
Think about it. For all Bill Belichick's brilliant maneuvers, he was still a coach with a 5-11 record in 2000 and an 0-2 start in 2001 before he entrusted his football team to a young -- and unproven -- Brady. It has been a magical ride for the quarterback, the team, and the fans of New England. Little boys grow up wanting to wear No. 12 and date Bridget Moynihan. Little girls grow up wanting to be Bridget Moynihan so they can date Brady.
Sometimes, a handsome superstar with charisma (not to mention a new haircut), endorsements, and enough press clippings to wallpaper Gillette Stadium encounters jealousy or resentment. Not Brady. He's gone out of his way to be one of the guys, and it's appreciated. Nobody in the Patriots' locker room wants anybody else running the show.
"He's the best quarterback in the game of football," declared Larry Izzo.
The list of quarterbacks who have won three Super Bowls is very short. Joe Montana. Terry Bradshaw. Troy Aikman. Brady proved he belongs in that hallowed company on a night when he was not his best but, as always, just good enough.
Predictably, Brady wasn't biting on talk of a dynasty, or his Hall of Fame future.
"It's not so much about what we've accomplished in the grand scheme of things, or how it's looked at in terms of history," Brady said. "We're taking them one at a time. We know how hard it is."
Super Bowl XXXIX was a struggle both for Brady and his team in the first half. At times, Brady looked, uncharacteristically, as though he might be a little too pumped up.
"I've been around him so long," agreed running back Kevin Faulk. "You could see it in his face. I just told him, `Relax, man. Let it come to us.' "
The Philadelphia defense certainly had something to do with New England's troubles in the early going. It blitzed early and often, but Brady never got too flustered, although he did fumble the ball in the second quarter, a rarity for a team that had not committed a turnover in the postseason to that point.
New England left the field tied, 7-7, but it felt like good news. You knew the Patriots could play better. You knew the best was to still come from Brady.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm," Brady conceded. "We tried to run, and that didn't work. We made some passes, but they weren't for enough yards. But we were prepared for this game. We knew where we should be looking."
Like most elite players, preparation is a major part of what sets Brady apart. Earlier in the week, safety Rodney Harrison recounted a story of arriving at the practice facility at 6:30 in the morning for the team meetings and seeing Brady covered in sweat.
"He had just finished his workout," Harrison said. "While the rest of us were sleeping, he was working on his game."
It was Brady who marched the Patriots on a nine-play drive to open the third quarter that resulted in a 2-yard touchdown pass to -- who else? -- Mike Vrabel, and gave New England a 14-7 lead. It was Brady who guided his team on a nine-play drive in the third quarter that was culminated by a Corey Dillon 2-yard run.
When it was over, the numbers were vintage Brady: 23 of 33 for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Naturally, there were no interceptions.
Tom Brady is only 27 years old. He has a whole football life ahead of him, yet he's already compiled a career of excellence that most players would kill for.
Please don't ask him to put his career in historical perspective. That's our job, not his.
"I love leading this group," he said. "I love calling plays in the huddle. I love being a captain on this team. I see what Dan [Marino] and Steve [Young] have accomplished, and I watched them get into the Hall of Fame, and those guys are unbelievable, because they did it for so long.
"I'd love to play like those guys did. But there's a long way to go."
He has matured, both as a player and a person since that first Super Bowl victory in 2001, which seems like decades ago. Back then, the Patriots shocked the world. Now the only way they shock the world is if they lose.
Brady wouldn't know about that. He does not lose. Not in the big games. Not in the Super Bowl.
Maybe it won't last forever. Let him worry about that some other day.
"I'm not even thinking about next year," he said. "I'm just thinking about right now."
Right now, it can't get any better. Right now, the quarterback of the New England Patriots is king.
Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.