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Even haters should respect Brady
Tom Brady’s life is better than yours and mine.
He’s more famous.
He has more money.
He’s better at his job — quarterbacking the New England Patriots — than we are at ours.
He usually beats your favorite team.
He’s better looking, too, with a smile that can cause admirers to swoon. Plus, he has a more attractive significant other — unless you are married to a supermodel like Gisele Bundchen.
This combination makes it easy for non-Patriots fans to loathe Brady. Everything is so damn perfect.
He is the embodiment of New England’s 12-year NFL dynasty. When the Patriots run up the score on the opposition, they do so with Brady unmercifully staying on the field until late in the fourth quarter.
As if getting crushed wasn’t bad enough.
That’s another reason why his failings are more universally celebrated than other players who sometimes fall short. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman became a cult hero when taunting Brady after an October win, then tweeting a photo of the confrontation that included the now-famous caption, “U Mad Bro?”
The Baltimore Ravens and their following will be distraught if Brady wins Sunday in a second straight AFC Championship game matchup. There will be further envy across the board should Brady capture a fourth Super Bowl ring.
Such bitterness comes with the territory. But there’s one emotion that Brady lovers and haters should share toward him: Respect.
He’s earned it.
Don’t be fooled by his offseason modeling that is approaching Zoolander-like absurdity (the photo of a sneering Brady wearing a suit and dog collar for something called VMAN Magazine was particularly ridiculous). Behind those blue eyes is someone who remains every bit as blue-collar as when he entered the NFL.
Brady still hasn’t forgotten the indignity of being the sixth quarterback chosen in the 2000 draft class after sliding into the sixth round. Brady’s passion for the game remains first and foremost in his professional life.
“I really love playing football,” Brady said Wednesday when I asked him about the subject during a Patriots news conference. “A lot of my time and energy is spent focused on trying to help this team win and trying to be a good teammate and leader. I take those things very seriously.
“I try not to buy into what people say or think. I just live my life and certainly enjoy being the quarterback for this team. There’s nothing more fun than running out onto the field in front of 70,000 people cheering for us. That’s what it will be this weekend.”
Brady’s perspective on not letting his football get affected by the trappings of celebrity and keeping his own ego in check was shaped by Patriots players who came before him. Brady cited three now-retired veterans – Tedy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy and Willie McGinnest – as helping him learn the “Patriot Way” of “doing your job so that everyone around you can do their job.” At 35 years old, Brady now provides the same advice for New England’s younger players who are in danger of going astray from the program.
More than anything, Brady leads by example. Veteran wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was unaware of just how strong Brady’s work ethic was until joining the Patriots in the offseason.
“We like to think that the best players are the hardest workers,” Lloyd said. “Tom proved that when I got here.”
Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said he remains awed by Brady’s approach.
“You get a chance to see him on the field and (not) behind closed doors,” said Wilfork, who joined the Patriots in 2004. “What he is doing in the film room, how he is taking the younger guys or a group of guys from offense and seeing if they want to do things a certain way, or working on footwork …
“Sometimes I look at him in practice and I say, ‘Man, you have been doing this for so long and you are still worried about your footwork?’ But it is just little things. He is always going that extra mile to make sure he is in the best shape and putting his teammates in the best situation that can give us a chance to win.”
New England’s 41-28 victory over Houston last Sunday helped Brady set the all-time record for career playoff wins by a starting quarterback with 17. His overall winning percentage of .777 (136-39) is the best of any passer in the Super Bowl era. Brady’s individual statistics are just as impressive.
Brady, though, wasn’t the best quarterback on the field during his past two Super Bowl appearances. Eli Manning was. The same applies for last season’s AFC title game against Baltimore when Brady was outplayed by Joe Flacco.
Brady was battling injuries during those games but never let on with how badly he was hurt. Nor did he ever use that as an excuse.
Those kinds of missed opportunities are personally devastating, which explains why Brady doesn’t take winning for granted. Another example came last Sunday when he was screaming at teammates on the sideline to not let up even when the Patriots had opened a 25-point lead on the Texans with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
Such urgency is understandable. After he won three Super Bowls by the age of 27, the expectation was for Brady to set the bar on championships to unreachable heights.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Following a loss to the Manning-led New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots went four seasons before playing for another Lombardi Trophy. Brady also experienced what life would be like without football in 2008 when he missed almost the entire season with a knee injury.
He was miserable.
That was Brady’s first personal taste of knowing that his NFL days won’t last forever. He knows the end of his career now is far closer than the start.
For those sick of Brady being Brady, that day can’t come soon enough.