FOXBOROUGH - From the day Tom Brady stepped in for the injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Patriots fans have watched his progression from sixth-round draft choice to perhaps one of the greatest players of all time.
Last week, television viewers of the Patriots' 31-28 victory over the Eagles gained a new perspective.
They didn't just see Brady author another stirring effort. They heard it.
NBC's telecast included clear audio of Brady at the line of scrimmage, authoritatively barking out various instructions to his teammates.
"White 20!" "96 is the mike!" "White 18!" "57 is the will!" "Set!"
It was up-close-and-personal television, giving the viewer an on-field pass to feel the command with which Brady runs the team's offense. As cameras locked in on his eyes - which seemingly scrutinized every movement of the defense - they showed how Brady processes information and then communicates it to teammates.
On a second-quarter play, for example, Brady looked across the field at 11 Eagles defenders and - based on the way they were lined up - detected a weakness he felt could be exploited.
"Hey Jab!" he yelled out with urgency to his left, in the direction of receiver Jabar Gaffney. "Omaha! Go!"
And with that, the ball was snapped and Brady fired a lightning-quick pass to Gaffney that went for a 7-yard gain.
Later in the quarter, he called out receiver Wes Welker's first name before delivering a 6-yard pass in his direction. Brady also could be heard yelling names like "Linda!" and "Rita!" - and words such as "Alert!" - in his deep-pitched voice.
If NBC's job was to bring the viewer onto the field while also showcasing the poise and confidence with which Brady operates, the broadcast delivered.
On the flip side, in a hypercompetitive league in which teams regularly search for any type of competitive advantage - large or small - one can assume the Patriots weren't particularly thrilled. Brady respectfully declined comment when asked if he was bothered that his audio cues, which are mainly used to help the linemen in front of him know which players to block, were so clearly heard.
Last year in Miami, Dolphins players acknowledged they studied similar audio of Brady at the line, which they felt helped contribute to a 21-0 victory.
NFL rules allow networks to have parabolic microphones on the sidelines to pick up field sounds. Fred Gaudelli, lead producer of NBC's "Sunday Night Football" broadcast, working alongside with director Drew Esocoff, said the network used four such microphones, two on each sideline. The microphones can be used from the 35-yard line to the goal line.
In addition, the umpire - who stands in the middle of the defense before the snap while looking at the line of scrimmage - is allowed to have a microphone on his cap. That microphone is shut off at the snap of the ball by a league representative on the sideline.
According to league spokesman Greg Aiello, the usage of the sideline microphones and referee's microphone "has been standard procedure for many years" and "there was nothing different last Sunday night."
Gaudelli explained there are other factors that contributed to Brady's voice coming through so clearly, such as the expertise of the crew's lead audio mixer.
"The only other person we've gotten that kind of sound with on a regular basis is Peyton Manning when he's home, because obviously the crowd doesn't cheer when he's on the field," Gaudelli said. "The correlation with Tom and Peyton is that for the first half of the game, [Tom] was running the no-huddle offense and had a lot more to say and had to communicate very loudly. Also, when the ground is hard, the sound bounces better, and when it's cold conditions, that normally produces better sound.
"And at the risk of alienating Patriots fans, they are not the loudest fans in the league. It was a confluence of perfect conditions."
Gaudelli also hypothesized that umpire Carl Madsen, who had the microphone on his cap, unknowingly contributed to the crisp sound by keeping his head still.
Gaudelli said he received questions after the game, asking where NBC had microphones and if the crew did anything differently. He indicated there was nothing different, although he knew from the volume of calls that the broadcast - which did not have the same crisp audio of Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley - had achieved its goal.
"It allowed us to really capture it, really show people a lot of what a quarterback has to do," he said.
At the same time, Gaudelli doesn't believe any of the Patriots' trade secrets were sacrificed. Yet if the Patriots' silence on the issue is any indication, it might be difficult to convince some members of the organization of that, especially given that the team seems to be operating under a larger microscope than others because of its success and the NFL's punishment from earlier this season for illegal videotaping procedures.
"We're trying to be the Patriots of television, trying to put out the best possible product and doing everything within the legal limits of what the NFL allows us to do," Gaudelli said. "We're trying to be the best at what we do. I don't see how they can have a complaint."
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org