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Brady: Super in Big Games

The Best Ever?
By Jim Schultz
Special to

"Tom Brady doesn't talk about it a lot, but he wants to go down in history as the greatest quarterback ever. Better than Joe Montana, better than Johnny Unitas. And that doesn't fit the personna we have of this humble, or rather quiet, guy. His goal is to make everybody forget about any quarterback who existed before him," says Thomas George of the Denver Post on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Tom Brady thrives on coming from behind. And this attribute started long before he rallied the New England Patriots to two Super Bowl wins after they trailed in the fourth quarter.

As a young boy, he challenged bigger, faster kids in his neighborhood to race. If Brady lost, he would drop the gauntlet again until he eventually beat the other kid. The athletic prowess of his three older sisters Maureen, Julie and Nancy was constantly held up to him.

As a high school freshman in San Mateo, Calif., he wasn't even the starter on the junior varsity until the No. 1 quarterback was injured. When it was time to pick a college, he chose Michigan over California, where he likely would have played sooner. He redshirted as a freshman and spent the next season as third string before emerging as the starter. The Wolverines rallied to win Citrus and Orange Bowls under Brady.

And when he reached the pros as an unheralded sixth-round draft choice, he was No. 4 on the Patriots' depth chart. By the end of his second season, he was a Super Bowl winner. And three years later, he had two other rings, becoming the first quarterback to win three Super Bowls before his 28th birthday.

Brady was born on Aug. 3, 1977 in San Mateo. He became an avid 49ers fan soon after his parents, Gaylinn and Tom Sr., took their four-year-old son to the 1981 NFC championship game at Candlestick Park, in which Joe Montana, who would become his idol, threw the winning touchdown pass in the final minute.

It wasn't until the ninth grade that Brady played organized football. A standout by his junior year at Serra High School, he earned All-American prep recognition as a senior and was so exceptional as a catcher that the Montreal Expos drafted him in the 18th round in 1995.

But football had always been Brady's first love and he accepted a scholarship to Michigan. After his redshirt season, he played in just two games in 1996. An emergency appendectomy in October 1997 ended that season, when Brian Griese quarterbacked the Wolverines to a share of the national title with Nebraska.

In 1998, coach Lloyd Carr didn't officially name Brady his starter until the day of Michigan's opener as hotshot prospect Drew Henson stayed in the mix. After the Wolverines lost to Notre Dame and Syracuse, Brady guided the team to 10 wins in its last 11 games. He excelled in Michigan's only setback in that stretch, to arch-rival Ohio State, setting school records with 31 completions in 56 attempts for 375 yards.

Michigan capped the season with a come-from-behind, 45-31 victory over Arkansas in the Citrus Bowl. Brady, an Academic All-Big Ten choice, finished the season with 2,636 passing yards.

In 1999, Brady led Michigan to a 10-2 record, including a 35-34 overtime victory over Alabama in the Orange Bowl after the Wolverines trailed by two touchdowns in the third period. Brady went 35-of-46 for 369 yards and four touchdowns to give him 2,586 yards and 20 TD passes for the season.

He finished with 5,351 career passing yards and a .623 completion percentage, numbers he (and others) thought might make him about a fourth-round pick in the 2000 draft. Instead, he was not selected until two rounds later, the 199th player chosen.

Brady, who reported to the Patriots' camp behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop, spent 14 weeks on the inactive list. He made only one appearance as a rookie, completing one pass for six yards in a blowout loss to Detroit.

By September 2001, Brady had worked his way up to No. 2. Everyone expected Bledsoe to take virtually every snap, but fate intervened. A hard hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis in the second game sheared a blood vessel in Bledsoe's chest and sent him to the sidelines.

Enter Brady. Fourteen starts later, the Patriots were 11-5, reversing their 2000 record. He set an NFL standard for most pass attempts to start a career without throwing an interception with 162. New England was 3-4 after a loss to Griese and the Denver Broncos (Brady: four interceptions), but he seemed to learn from every mistake. Brady's .639 completion rate and 2,843 passing yards helped earn him a Pro Bowl berth, but he saved his best for the postseason.

In the Patriots' cold, windy and snowy first playoff game, a controversial ruling by referee Walt Coleman with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter changed an apparent Brady fumble to an incomplete pass. While the Raiders fumed, this allowed New England to retain possession. Brady moved them into position for Adam Vinatieri's game-tying, 42-yard field goal with 32 seconds left.

In overtime, Brady completed all eight of his passes as the Patriots won, 16-13, on Vinatieri's 23-yard field goal. Brady relished the brutal conditions, completing 32-of-52 passes for 312 yards.

The next week, in the AFC championship game, Brady sprained his ankle late in the first half and was replaced by Bledsoe, who led the Pats to a 24-17 upset of the Steelers. But for Super Bowl XXXVI, Brady was back at quarterback against the 14-point favored Rams.

His overall stats (16-of-27 for 145 yards and one TD) weren't impressive, but, as usual, he was extra sharp late. After St. Louis tied the game at 17-17 with 1:21 left, the Brady bunch took over at its own 17 with no timeouts remaining. Brady completed 5-of-8 passes two incompletions were clock-stopping spikes to march the Pats 53 yards and set up Vinatieri's game-winning 48-yard field as time expired. At 24, Brady became the youngest winning quarterback and the third youngest MVP in Super Bowl history.

The next season didn't prove quite as successful for the Patriots, who fell to 9-7 and didn't reach the playoffs. Brady, however, led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes and most of his numbers (373-of-601 for 3,764 yards) were better than those of 2001.

The 2003 season began with a 31-0 loss to the Bills and ended with a 31-0 whipping of Buffalo. Brady, who was intercepted four times in the opener, threw four TD passes in the rematch. After a loss to the Redskins in Game 4 left New England at 2-2, the Patriots didn't lose again that season, winning their final 15 games.

Brady completed 21 passes to 10 different receivers in a 17-14 divisional playoff win over Tennessee and 22 passes for 237 yards in a 24-14 AFC championship game win over Indianapolis. Neither game was a harbinger of Super Bowl XXXVIII.

On football's biggest stage, Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 32 passes in 48 attempts for 354 yards and three touchdowns in New England's 32-29 defeat of the Carolina Panthers. In just more than the final minute, he went 4-for-5 for 37 yards to set up another decisive Vinatieri field goal. Brady again won the MVP award.

In the press conference that followed, Brady referred to a conversation he had had with the long-time athletic trainer at Michigan, a man who had several championship rings. He told Brady his favorite ring was "the next one" and Brady said that's how he felt.

Brady underwent minor surgery to repair a sore right shoulder shortly after Super Bowl XXXVIII. The Patriots issued a statement that said in part, "The prognosis is good."

They could have been referring to more than his shoulder. Brady threw 28 touchdown passes and the Patriots went 14-2 in the 2004 regular season. In Super Bowl XXXIX, Brady completed 23-of-33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns to lead New England to a 24-21 victory over the Eagles. Brady joined Montana, Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman as the only quarterbacks to win at least three Super Bowls.

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