The Laughing Wuarterback is the title of a novel that never quite made it to print but was passed around sportswriting circles a number of years ago. It was a confounding manuscript, off-center and funny, but also horrifying in its cynicism. The NFL QB in question hoarded his talent, had no respect for the game or his team; all he wanted was money, and it ended badly for him, his teammates and the league. Greed destroyed all. A very contrary story line came from SI senior writer Peter King back in February, who told of Tom Brady and his contract negotiations right after he had led the Patriots to their third Super Bowl victory in four seasons (and was the MVP in two of them). Brady could have asked for the sky, but did not. As he later told King, he didn't need to be the highest-paid guy in the league; he believed it was more important that the Patriots use the money he wasn't taking to keep the team in contention for a championship. Brady signed a six-year, $60 million contract--substantially below the seven-year, $98 million contract of Peyton Manning (tops in the NFL). King, who has been covering pro football for 16 years, had never heard anything like it. He says, "If you think that plays well in the locker room, you're right." And that's a large part of why Tom Brady is SI's 2005 Sportsman of the Year. He is a great football player (his 3,301 passing yards lead the NFL), but he is also a classic team player, which is what makes him an extraordinary leader, and a winner.
As SI's brilliant editor Andre Laguerre wrote of Stan Musial, the Sportsman in 1957, "The victory may have been his, but it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather it is for the quality of his effort and the manner of his striving." The same goes for Tom Brady.
He was surprised when told he was to receive this year's award. NFL players are seldom named; the last was Joe Montana in 1990. The timing of the selection--nearly 10 months after the Super Bowl and barely two thirds of the way through the next NFL season--was the only thing that made Brady a tough choice. But this is still the year he won his third Super Bowl, and even now, despite losing five starters on offense and playing with a taped-together defense, the Patriots have won seven of their first 12, and Brady has rallied them four times in the fourth quarter. Their bid to win a third straight Super Bowl this season may seem like a long shot, but it is still alive, and that's only because Tom Brady is leading them with both his arm and his heart.
? For more on SI's 2005 Sportsman, go to SI.com/Sportsman.