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Pats QB Tom Brady is personable, calls his parents daily - and he wins

By Bella English, Globe Staff, 12/22/2001
Everyone knows by now that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a good arm and cleft chin. But did you know that his favorite color is blue? (Like his eyes.)That he's left-handed but throws right-handed? (Swings a golf club from the right, a baseball bat from the left.)
That he loves the homemade ice cream at Franklin Flatbreads?
(But onion rings are his favorite food.) That he drives a Dodge Ram pickup? (An improvement over the Dodge Dart he bought off his sister when he turned 16.)

Also, that he talks nearly every day to his parents in California? (And to his three older sisters, who admit to spoiling him rotten.)

The Patriots' fans have spoiled him, too. Today, he's hotter than a ferry reservation to the Vineyard in August. But New England football - and fans - being as fickle as the weather here, his theme song should be ''Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?'' This afternoon he leads the Patriots against the Miami Dolphins in the biggest game of his career so far - if the Patriots win, they take control of their division.

His father, Thomas Edward Brady Sr., is not at all surprised at his son's success. ''In many respects, obviously, it's surreal. Twelve weeks ago, no one knew who he was. Now, all of a sudden, he's the feel-good story of the NFL.''

Yep, he's the flavor of the season, and it could well be described as an all-American vanilla. ''It sounds like an advertisement, but he's every father's dream,'' says Brady Sr., who describes his son as ''my best friend, apart from my wife.''

Brady himself says of his family: ''It's one of my favorite things to talk about.'' At 24, he is the youngest of four children of Galynn and Tom Sr. He grew up in San Mateo, Calif., a comfortable suburb south of San Francisco, where his father owns an employee benefits consulting company. For 12 years, he attended Catholic school and served as an altar boy. He played several sports, graduated with a 3.5 grade point average and was drafted out of high school - by the Montreal Expos baseball team. He decided to go to college instead and headed for the University of Michigan, where he graduated with a 3.3 in organizational studies.

''I was a huge baseball player when I was younger,'' he says during a recent interview in the Patriots' locker room. He's wearing sweats, a Pats tee, and a backwards baseball cap. (Off the premises, he prefers a scally cap.) ''After football, baseball was my next favorite sport.'' Actually, Brady was a relative latecomer to football; his parents wouldn't let him play in the Pop Warner league with his friends because they were afraid of injuring young bones that were still growing.

''Frankly, we didn't really subscribe to football at that age,'' says Brady Sr. So the boy played baseball, soccer, and basketball, following in the footsteps of his athletic sisters, who all played sports in high school and college. ''One year,'' says his father, ''we had 315 games between the four of them, and that didn't include practices.'' His mother, 57, is a jock, too: Her United States Tennis Association team was the runner-up last year in the national championship.

It wasn't until his freshman year at Junipero Serra High School that Brady picked up a football. He was the backup quarterback who didn't get on the field. (Sound familiar?) But when he was a sophomore, the kid who played in front of him quit, and Brady became the junior varsity starter, moving to varsity the next year. ''I spoke to his father at the end of his JV season and told him I thought Tom was definitely a major college prospect as far as his throwing arm went,'' says his high school coach, Tom MacKenzie.

Everyone thought Brady would go to Cal-Berkeley, which was recruiting him heavily. But when he came back from visiting Michigan, his mind was made up. ''It was a soul-searching time for us,'' says his father. ''It was very hard for us to let him go. He's extremely close to us and his sisters.''

Why did he do it, then? ''Michigan said, `We have six quarterbacks. You're going to have to compete.' And Tommy said, `I've got to compete with the best to be the best,''' says his dad.

Brady's parents have flown to every game this season; they'll be in the stands today. To this day, his mother cannot watch her son get sacked. During last week's game against the Buffalo Bills, when he was hit so hard his helmet flew off, his oldest sister, Maureen, left her spot in front of the TV in tears.

''It's not fun watching the games,'' says his father. ''It's exciting, but it's not fun.'' Last year, Brady's parents came to only a few games, since Brady was the third-string quarterback and left the bench only once.

But that was before star quarterback Drew Bledsoe got injured, before Brady stepped in, started winning games, and was named the new starter. Brady, a second-year player who was a sixth-round draft pick, will earn $289,000 in base salary this year - which is about what Bledsoe makes in a half.

Bledsoe and Brady share side-by-side lockers and are friends. Brady refers to Bledsoe as a mentor and has been seen hugging him on the sidelines after a good play. Bledsoe, healthy now but on the bench, has praised Brady's playing but has grown tired of all the questions about the awkward situation. ''Can we give it a rest?'' he asked a reporter recently.

Tom Brady Sr. doesn't shy away from the subject. ''Drew has been so good for New England for so long that what has occurred to Tommy this year is almost as if the good Lord said, `Tommy, we're going to bless you this year and give you the opportunity.' It was something so far out of anyone's consciousness until Drew got hurt. When he was hurt, Tommy was hurt for him. On the other hand, having the opportunity to play is what he has worked so darn many hours to do. It's the pain of the game.''

Desire to win

The young Brady has been in this fight before. At Michigan, he was the understudy quarterback behind Brian Griese, son of football legend Bob Griese. When Griese graduated, Brady got the starting spot, only to nearly lose it his senior year - when he was team captain - to a freshman. Head football coach Lloyd Carr remembers alternating the two players to see who would get the nod.

''Tom handled it with class. He'd always had the starting job, and he was in an extremely competitive battle, but in the end, he prevailed. He couldn't be dislodged.'' Carr says he isn't surprised at Brady's success this season. ''In my experience, he's one of the real special people, one of the great competitors. ... He's tough; he's smart; he has great desire and determination to improve; he has tremendous leadership skills.

''It's hard to believe,'' he continues, ''that a guy could be as well mannered and decent, and on that football field, he'll cut you up.'' Indeed, it is said that the laid-back Brady turns super-intense in a huddle, exhorting his teammates, in colorful language, to destroy the opponent.

''Without a doubt, he's a good leader,'' says Patriots wide receiver David Patten. ''He's always focused. He's always positive. He always has a smile on his face, even on the rough days.'' As for the Bledsoe-Brady face-off, he says: ''We all know Drew wants his job back, but it's Tom's now. They're both handling it well. They're always cracking jokes.''

Ian Gold, who played with Brady at Michigan and is now a linebacker for the Denver Broncos, says he, for one, is surprised at Brady's newfound success. ''I knew he'd be a successful quarterback, but as far as how soon, that's really surprising. That he'd be replacing Drew Bledsoe ... I wouldn't have taken that bet in a million years.''

Still, he's a Brady fan. ''He's not the greatest athlete in the world, but he uses his brain. He's got a great arm, but he's not the fastest guy. He'd take his big hits left and right. He'd get hammered, but he'd get up with so much intensity, you could just see the fire in his eyes. Guys like playing with him. I'd go to war with Tom any day.''

Yes, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Brady has taken plenty of hits. But ask him about his worst injury, and he'll mention the emergency appendectomy when he was a junior in college.

It's when he talks about his family that his face lights up. It's as if they are, indeed, the happily-ever-after Brady Bunch. ''I've got three older sisters,'' he says, ''and I get spoiled by all of them, and my parents.'' Maureen is 28, Julie 27, and Nancy 25. All live within 30 miles of their parents in California.

On July 1, Brady flew home to surprise his family. That night, Maureen delivered a baby girl, two weeks early. ''Maya's pictures are all over my house,'' says Brady, who lives in Franklin. ''That baby's lucky to come into our family, because there's a lot of love.

''I think I just always followed the example they set for me, to be respectful of everybody everyday, to always appreciate where you've been. My dad always says, `To whom much is given, much is expected.'''

He's having fun this year, but he's beginning to feel the press of being in the spotlight. ''I hardly have any free time,'' he says. ''I have a hard time saying no to people, and I have to learn how to do that more often.'' Remembering the adolescent thrill of getting Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana's autograph, he signs autograph after autograph. ''It's a lot different from last year.'' His grin accentuates the dimple in his square chin.

He complains about ''getting worn thin'' and ''being distracted'' by the new demands on his time. ''We have one day off a week. Well, really, quarterbacks have half a day off. I use it to pay bills, do the laundry, and clean the house.'' The former high school baseball catcher sometimes stops by local batting cages, loves to play golf, and hangs out at that jock watering hole, The Rack.

''I like to hang with those guys. We can all relate,'' he says. On a recent night, he chatted with Celtics star Antoine Walker. ''He always comes in with a buddy, and he's always wearing a baseball cap,'' said Heather Michalowski, the bar's spokeswoman. ''He brings in his own bottled water. He's very well mannered and polite.''

Though his picture recently popped up in a gossip column with a couple of women at The Rack, he has a girlfriend from Boston who recently moved to Los Angeles to take a job in public relations. Is it off or on? ''It isn't off,'' he says. ''But it hasn't been as on. Do we have to talk about this?''

No, but his big sister has something to add. ''I've always said that whatever girl gets him is going to be the luckiest one in the world,'' says Maureen. ''He's a good man. He loves kids. He loves his family. I guess growing up with three sisters he really knows how to treat women and he understands them. He's a little sweetheart. He's tough on the field, but off the field, with us girls, he's pretty sentimental.''

Tom Brady is winning now, but how does he handle losing? ''I don't lose very much. You don't play to lose,'' he says. It's not brag; it's fact. Those who know him say he's not arrogant but self-confident. ''He struggled with being patient with himself,'' says MacKenzie, his high school coach. ''He's a perfectionist.''

Says former teammate Gold: ''Most quarterbacks tend to get a big head. He never did. He stayed humble.''

Mark Farinella, who has covered the Patriots for the Attleboro Sun Chronicle for 25 years, finds his attitude refreshing. ''Tom Brady came in and right off the bat, he had that childlike enthusiasm. His attitude is, he's going to enjoy every minute of this. Most guys try to internalize it. Brady exudes it.''

This week, it was announced that Brady won the New England Patriots 12th Player Award, presented annually to the player who performs above fan expectations. It's determined by fan voting at Shaw's Supermarkets and online.

If the Patriots win today, it will indeed be a very Brady Christmas for him and his family. And if they lose, well, at least his family - if not the fans - will still adore him.

This story ran on page F1 of the Boston Globe on 12/22/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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