From overlooked to overwhelming: Brady making non-believers pay

By Scott Fragale

With a helmet-sized chip firmly entrenched on his shoulder since he first arrived in New England back in 2000, Tom Brady has been proving naysayers wrong ever since.

After scouts and GMs questioned his arm strength and other physical intangibles in the days leading up to the 2000 NFL Draft, Brady slipped all the way to the 6th round before the Patriots selected him with the 199th overall pick. Passed over in favor of career backups Giovanni Carmazzi (65th overall), Tee Martin (163) and Spergon Wynn (183), Brady has since developed into one of the game’s elite quarterbacks both on the field and within collecting circles.

With the numerous snubs helping fuel his ascension to the top of the all-time best quarterbacks list, Brady will undoubtedly go down as one of, if not the, biggest steals in the history of the draft. And that fact didn’t go unnoticed by Brady himself.

“The one thing that continues to drive Brady is the fact he was a 6th-round pick, not a top-10 quarterback who had every opportunity to succeed,” said long-time Boston Globe columnist Jackie McMullen. “Rodney Harrison (Patriots veteran safety) once told me that whenever the Patriots start having a great deal of success, Brady would see him in the hallway at the stadium and remind him, ‘Sixth-round draft pick.’ That’s how so many of the key players on the team have kept their edge …”

First Impressions
“I started covering the team in 2002 and just for context, that was his third year in the league. He came in 2000 and then in 2001, he led them to the Super Bowl win over the Rams, which might have been the biggest upset in Super Bowl history,” Boston Globe Patriots beat writer Mike Reiss said. “In that game, I think the perception of him, and I think it was probably accurate to the reality, was that he was just not making mistakes, he was playing safe and maybe the defense maybe more than Brady himself, led them to that Super Bowl. So while he deserves and got some credit, I think the perception was more about the system and less about the quarterback at that time.”

The season that followed the team’s improbable Super Bowl victory over the heavily favored Rams, the Patriots failed to make the playoffs, but their postseason absence couldn’t be blamed on Brady’s performance.

“That year (2002), he had a great year statistically. They struggled running the ball and they threw a lot of passes and I remember thinking to myself, this guy is growing from being a ‘system quarterback’ to a legitimate quarterback who you can win with,” Reiss said. “I think the perception nationally was slow to get there, but I think we started to see that more in 2003 and 2004 when they went to those Super Bowls, I think he started to get more of the credit he deserved in that regard.”

Meteoric Rise
While Brady’s statistics were impressive during his first six seasons, his 2007 numbers are more similar to those put up in Madden football than those tallied in the professional game. In helping the Patriots race out to a perfect 9-0 mark, Brady threw thrown for 2,686 yards, 33 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Even more impressive was his 131.8 passer rating and his sizzling 73.2 completion percentage. With seven games still remaining, Brady is on pace to shatter Peyton Manning’s single-season touchdown record (49), as well as several other long-standing NFL marks.

Hobby Impact
Because he fell through the cracks on draft day, Brady only had a handful of rookie cards in 2000. After taking the reigns from injured drew Bledsoe on Sept. 23 the following year, Brady led the Patriots improbable run to the Super Bowl. As the Cinderella story unfolded, Brady became a hot commodity in the hobby and collectors began to step up and take notice.

“During his first Super Bowl run, his rookie cards went from the common rookie card bin to some of the most sought-after cards on the market,” Tuff Stuff football pricing analyst Bert Lehman said. “Two more Super Bowls wins continued to drive up his card values on the secondary market. With his postseason successes piling up and his individual success carving a path that will culminate in Canton, Brady collectibles hit the high end of the spectrum leading many experts to believe they had reached their full monetary potential.”

Collectors were quick to notice the marked improvement Brady made with a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal. Despite three Pro Bowl appearances and a pair of Super Bowl MVP awards already under his belt, it took the unbelievable start to the 2007 campaign for Brady to earn a spot among the hobby’s elite.

His 2000 SP Authentic rookie card was selling in the $400-$500 range a year ago, but has since spiked to $1,500 or more. Brady’s 2000 Playoff Contenders rookie is also a fan favorite, selling in the $1,250-$1,400 range, while his 2000 Bowman Chrome card can be had for a modest $100 after selling for a half that price in 2006.

Simply supply and demand is another factor in the increasing prices being paid for Brady memorabilia. Because he has only done a handful of public signings since being drafted and the fact that he doesn’t have an exclusive signing arrangement, authentic-signed memorabilia is at a premium. So while prices may seem astronomical to some in the hobby, collectors can expect more of the same and then some if Brady can finish the season anywhere close to the way he’s started it.

Essence of Evolution
Although getting acclimated to the subtle nuances of then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss’ intricate offensive system played a factor, the evolution of Brady’s development was more a product of his work ethic and maturation.

“I think he was always a hard-working guy because they were always impressed with his work habits coming into the league even as a sixth-round pick, the 199th player taken overall. So it wasn’t really about him coming in and working harder, it was more a matter of him building up a little strength,” Reiss said. “That was part of the reason he slipped in the draft because some of the scouts questioned if he could make all the throws that you need to be successful in the league. And then, just like anything else, it was confidence and experience. There’s nothing like that game experience.”

NFL insiders often cite Peyton Manning as being the consummate professional when it comes to his intense preparation, but Brady’s attention to detail has been, and remains, second to none.

“His work ethic set him apart from the time he arrived in Foxborough. His preparation is unparalleled, and it shows on the field,” McMullen said. “As he has grown into the position, Belichick has allowed him to audible more at the line of scrimmage because he’s so in tune with what his team is doing. Brady is so particular about how he wants things done, he once ran pass routes so his receivers could see exactly what he was looking for.”

With Brady having gained the necessary skills to succeed in the system, the next step was to upgrade the talent surrounding him. New England did that and then some during this past offseason. The team acquired mercurial superstar Randy Moss in a trade with Oakland that now appears to be one of the more lopsided transactions in league history, and then solidified it’s new-look receiving corp. with the additions of Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker.

“It’s definitely about the weapons because he’s the same guy, he just has better talent around him,” Reiss said. “Sure, there might be some things he’s doing better this year than he did last year, but I’d say it’s about 95 percent the talent around him versus him doing anything different.”

Moss is one of the first players to come to New England with a history of being unreceptive to embracing the team-first concept, but Brady’s lead-by-example approach quickly rubbed off on the enigmatic wideout and put those concerns to rest.

“One thing to know about the Patriots that I think makes them successful is that when their star quarterback is the team’s hardest worker, it sort of sets the tone for the rest of the team,” Reiss said. “I think the receivers have taken a cue from Brady. One example was last year when they traded for Doug Gabriel. He came in to fill some of the void left by the Deion Branch departure and I think Brady really liked Gabriel and thought he was a good person. And he never said this, but this was my perception, but I think he thought Gabriel could have worked a little harder and that was a disconnect there. I think this year the receivers have put in the work that Brady would expect and so that makes it a healthy and productive relationship.”

In addition to his football prowess, Brady has also displayed several off-field skills as well. Brady has hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2005, has appeared in numerous national commercial spots, not to mention enjoying quality time with actress Bridget Moynahan and more recently super model, Gisele Bundchen. For many, the on-field accomplishments coupled with the off-field successes would go straight to his head and possibly lead to a feeling of isolationism among his teammates. But somehow Brady has managed to stay as grounded as he was his first day in Foxboro.

“When he first became a celebrity, Brady refused to do interviews at the podium in a separate interview room,” McMullen said. “He was worried it would set him apart from his teammates and cause resentment. They finally explained to him that the huge crowds around his locker was a bigger issue. When the Patriots beat the Colts (in Week 8), Brady was seen butting helmets with all of his linemen. It’s very important to him that he remains ‘one the guys’ and by keeping that kind of relationship with his teammates, he has a voice in the locker room that’s both respected and revered.”

Guess that’s just another example of Brady being Brady, proving the doubters wrong yet again.

Scott Fragale is an associate editor of Tuff Stuff magazine and the editor of www.tuffstuff.com. You can reach him at scott.fragale@fwpubs.com.

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