FOXBOROUGH - Tom Brady wasn't born when Jets quarterback Joe Namath uttered the only sports guarantee that ever mattered.
"I've seen the pictures," Brady said with a smile while standing in front of his locker yesterday. "Wasn't he laying on a lawn chair? He's got the Larry Bird shorts on. That was something. Now, everybody makes guarantees. It's just the thing to do."
Namath, of course, guaranteed his New York Jets would win the Super Bowl in 1969. Everybody laughed. A few days later, the Jets rocked the sports world with a 16-7 upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. The legend was born, the NFL-AFL merger was set in motion, and today the sports guarantee just won't go away.
Mark Messier. Rasheed Wallace. Joey Porter. All "guarantee" guys. Freddie Mitchell sort of guaranteed victory before the Eagles faced the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla. I think I heard one of the kids from Brighton guaranteeing victory before the Division 4 Super Bowl against West Bridgewater at Stonehill College last Saturday. And I'm pretty sure Jack E. Robinson guaranteed victory when he ran for the US Senate against Ted Kennedy in 2000.
This week, a 24-year-old defensive back named Anthony Smith joined the guarantee conga line when he talked about his Pittsburgh Steelers' chances against the unbeaten Patriots Sunday at Gillette. The kid hedged in many directions, indicating his team could win if it played a perfect game, but the part of his quote that sticks is, "We're going to win. Yeah, I guarantee a win on Sunday."
Smith's mouth put the Patriots back on the national map yesterday. Not that a 12-0 team needs artificial hype, but there seems to be some circus around Bill Belichick's team every few days. We've had Spygate, running up the score, backpedaling Don Shula, and the Ravens' conspiracy theory. With the Jets coming to town next week, we'll be wondering if the Patriots can hang a Wilt Chamberlain 100 points on Eric Mangini (heard that one on the radio).
Now we have the guarantee that made us pose the dreaded "bulletin board" question yesterday. Everyone except video assistant Matt Estrella was asked if Smith's promise would provide extra incentive. They all said that motivation comes from within. Peripheral noise not needed.
"The game is won and lost between the lines, not in the media," said Rodney Harrison. "We've been in this situation before where guys are talking. It doesn't matter what you say, it's what you do. You have to go out there and prepare and work hard during the week. You have to make plays on Sunday and that's how you try to assure yourself to get a victory. It's not about talking in the media or anything like that."
It was the mantra. Every player said just about the same thing. Jabar Gaffney acknowledged Smith's words would be bulletin-board fodder, but it was pretty clear the Patriots had talked behind closed doors and agreed to present a unified response.
They were happy to remind us that it would never happen in the Patriots' locker room. No 24-year-old is going to say anything hot about the opposition.
"It just wouldn't happen in this locker room," said 18-year veteran Junior Seau. "It just won't happen. We won't allow it. We don't talk during the week."
Master motivator Belichick no doubt was delighted to have Smith's statement. Here's how he framed it:
"I would think every one of our players would expect to win the game on Sunday . . . I can't imagine playing another NFL team that didn't feel the same way . . . I'm sure they're confident that they can come in here and win. I think if I was in Pittsburgh, I'd feel the same way."
True. He just wouldn't feel the need to tell anyone. And he wouldn't allow any of his players to say anything that could be taken as disrespectful to the upcoming opponent.
"Coach always says we do our talking on Sundays," said Brady. "I'm glad they feel that way. I hope they feel that way . . . I don't know if we've ever come out and predicted victory or anything, and we've won a lot of games. Whether you predict it or not, he's got to show up on Sunday and try to guard us, play his role, do his job, and we're going to try to make it hard for him."
If the Steelers win, Anthony Smith goes down as the boldest young gun since Namath (Joe Willie's prediction, by the way, was not uttered at poolside in those cool shorts. He said it at a Miami Herald dinner one day later). If the Steelers lose, the Patriots go to 13-0 and nobody remembers the name of the safety who guaranteed victory.
Just some guy named Smith.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.