Brady, steering Pats toward perfection, is AP male athlete of year

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady arrives at Gillette Stadium
before the sun comes up.

As always, there is work to be done, and no time to waste.

Yes, he is the superstar quarterback with the golden arm and the
sharp football mind. Yes, he is in position to break Peyton Manning's single season record of 49 touchdown passes. And yes, he
is the main reason the New England Patriots are challenging the
1972 Miami Dolphins' status as the only team to go undefeated for
an entire Super Bowl season.

This, however, is what teammates see and respect:

"When you see him here at 6:15 in the morning, lifting weights,
watching film and working out, I think that's not a sign of a guy
that's getting a big head," safety Rodney Harrison said.

And that is why Brady was both flattered at being selected The
Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, and determined to spread
the honor around.

"I play in a team sport," Brady said. "Everybody I play with
is responsible for what each of us accomplishes as individuals and
for what we all accomplish as a team."

Brady received 51 votes from members of The AP, 18 more than
runner-up Roger Federer, who won his fifth straight Wimbledon and
fourth straight U.S. Open tennis tournament in 2007. They were
followed by Tiger Woods, Manning, Barry Bonds and Josh Beckett.

Lorena Ochoa, who won eight tournaments including the Women's
British Open and became the first LPGA Tour player to win $4
million in a season, was the runaway choice as top female athlete
for the second consecutive year.

Brady, who grew up in the San Francisco area, is the first
football player to win the award since quarterback Joe Montana of
the 49ers in 1989 and 1990.

"You look at Joe Montana, who was one of my role models growing
up, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods," Brady said. "They're all great
role models for children and adults with how they handle themselves
every time they step out in public. It's flattering to be mentioned
in their company."

Armstrong won the award four consecutive years before Woods
broke that streak last year, winning it for the fourth time.

Brady's handsome visage with the dimpled chin has graced glossy
magazines. His private life has been fodder for tabloids.

During summer training camp, he found himself preparing for two
roles: football player and father.

On Aug. 22, his ex-girlfriend, actress Bridget Moynahan, gave
birth to their son. By that time, Brady was dating former
Victoria's Secret model Gisele Bundchen.

In the locker room two days before the birth, Brady discussed
how he avoided the distractions of impending parenthood.

"I'd hate to come in here and have my mind on 100 different
things when that's not going to help this team at all," he said.
"And then when I leave here I deal with that and my team takes ...
a step backward."

The year started poorly: a 38-34 loss to Indianapolis in the AFC
championship game in which the Patriots blew a 21-3 lead. It was
sealed when Marlin Jackson intercepted Brady's pass with 16 seconds

When he left the locker room, Brady got a kiss from his mom and
a hug from his dad. Then they walked down the hallway, a somber
stroll in a season that ended too soon.

"It was over, that was my only thought," Brady said after the

He and the Patriots haven't lost since then.

Brady has had plenty of help: a line with three Pro Bowl
players, new receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker and an improving
running game.

Still, the offense revolves around him.

"There's nobody I'd rather have," coach Bill Belichick said.
"He's done a great job for us, this year and in previous years."

Brady wasn't drafted until the sixth round in 2000, a snub that
has driven him. He took over from injured Drew Bledsoe as the
starter in the third game of 2001 and won the first of his two
Super Bowl MVP awards that season.

New York Jets coach Eric Mangini was an assistant coach for the
Patriots in Brady's first six seasons.

"Tom was impressive from the day he got in the building,"
Mangini said a few days before losing to the Patriots 20-10 on Dec.
16. "As he's gotten more successful and more and more accolades,
he hasn't changed his work ethic, his intensity, his

This season Brady's Patriots have posted mind-boggling numbers.

In the seventh game, he threw a franchise record six TD passes
and had a perfect passer rating. The Patriots won their first eight
games by at least 17 points each. By that time, just halfway
through the season, he had thrown 30 touchdowns and only two

In three of the next six games, he showed he hadn't lost his
knack for pulling out narrow victories by coming from behind in the
fourth quarter.

So, what is it that sets Brady apart from other quarterbacks?

"Poise, patience," Moss said, "and going out there determined
to kill you at any given time. They can give you a fourth-and-24,
and Tom's still ready to kill you."

The pretty-boy looks hide a fierce competitiveness. After
throwing for the first touchdown in a 34-13 win Dec. 9, he
confronted Pittsburgh cornerback Anthony Smith, who guaranteed a
Steelers win, and started jawing.

"I don't care to repeat it, especially if my mother reads it,"
Brady said. "She wouldn't be very happy with what I said."

If you're an opponent, you don't want him mad at you. If you're
a teammate, you couldn't have a better one.

"He is a legitimate superstar in every sense of the word and
yet you talk to people within that locker room and they love the
guy," said television commentator and Hall of Fame quarterback
Troy Aikman. "They love playing for him, they think the world of
him, he takes care of those guys, the organization likes him."

Why not?

Brady does a better job deflecting praise than opponents do
deflecting his passes.

"The great thing about playing quarterback here is that you've
just got to do your job. You don't have to worry about a whole lot
of other things, because you have great confidence that all the
other guys are going to do what they're asked to do," he said.
"I've just got to drop back and try to throw it to the guys in

Right now Brady is doing that as well as anyone ever has.