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Champing at bit

Brady knows that titles not won by reputation

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / September 12, 2011

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One by one, veterans from other teams arrived in Foxborough this preseason saying they wanted to play for a team with a winning reputation.

Yet reputation alone doesn’t produce results. Every team begins with Super Bowl aspirations, and tonight Tom Brady and the Patriots begin their championship quest in Miami.

Brady, entering his 12th season, knows nothing is guaranteed and that the road to the Super Bowl is never an easy one.

Fluke plays can cost a team a victory. Injuries can end a season or even a career. Brady, 34, has said he wants to play until he is 40.

“Look, it’s hard to win games,’’ said Brady, who has led New England to four Super Bowls, including three wins. “You can’t come here and think, ‘Oh just because now I’m on this team we’re going to [win]. Boy, it’s going to be easy.’ Everyone starts at the same point every year. We’ve added new guys and other teams have added new guys.

“We have new coaches and some other teams have new coaches. You win games and you put yourself in a good position. That’s what we’re trying to do out here; we’re trying to win these games. The game that we have coming up [tonight] against a division opponent, there’s nothing more that you could ask for to start the year. We’re all excited. We’re excited to be out there playing in a big game after a long layoff, and we’ll see where we measure up.’’

Brady, running back Kevin Faulk, who is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, and left tackle Matt Light are the only players still with the Patriots who were part of the 2001 Super Bowl team. There are five players left from the team’s Super Bowl titles in 2003 and 2004 and nine players who were part of the 2007 team that reached Super Bowl XLII but lost to the Giants.

The Patriots have a number of veterans looking for their first championship and they come with the hope that it can happen this season.

For any player who tastes success early on, trying to find it again later can feel like running on a hamster wheel, said former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon, now a CBS analyst.

Gannon was a rookie with the Vikings in 1987 when the team reached the NFC Championship game. It took years before Gannon reached Super Bowl XXXVII with the Raiders in the 2002 season.

“When you’ve had a lot of success, you get older and mature, you realize that early success doesn’t guarantee future results,’’ Gannon said. “The other thing you realize is each year is a different football team. Change is constant in this business, and while you may know what it takes to get there, the guy next to you might not understand.’’

Steve Tasker was a receiver and special teamer for Bills teams that reached four consecutive Super Bowls (1991-94). The stretch of berths was before the impact of free agency, Tasker said, as 22 players carried over year after year with those teams.

Tasker, also a CBS analyst, said veterans are attracted to New England because of its winning ways.

“Winning will never extend the ability, but it can extend the desire,’’ Tasker said. “Losing can accelerate the disgust and the lack of desire.’’

The sense of urgency to win just once more increases for every player as they begin to evaluate life outside of football, Gannon said.

“In the beginning, you’re the young guy and you look around the huddle and you see these grown men with facial hair and beards and wedding bands and kids and all of the sudden, you’re that guy,’’ he said. “You start thinking about your career and your health and the commitment it takes to get physically ready for a season to start.’’

That assessment is what further backs up the challenge of any NFL season, Brady said.

In 2008, Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener. For the first time in his career he had to sit out and it helped him appreciate the achievements of previous seasons even more.

“You realize how tough it is to win games over the years, and I think that when you’re out there as a veteran player and you provide the leadership for the team because you’ve been experienced - I’ve been experienced in this program,’’ Brady said. “We’re hoping to go out there every year and put together a winning season and it’s frustrating when we don’t do that. Every time you take the field it could be your last time, so you’ve got to put everything you can each week into the games. This week, who knows if it’s your last week? You really don’t. I think that maybe that perspective has helped me a little bit as well.’’

Deion Branch was around for the Super Bowl championships in the 2003 and 2004 seasons and agreed that while winning may have looked easy, the challenge is finding a way to keep winning.

“It never felt easy,’’ Branch said. “It’s always a challenge that presents itself each and every day and each and every game. That’s what makes a professional want to play this game. The ones that succeed and stay around the longest are the ones who are up for it.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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