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The Ultimate Teammate
CHARLES P. PIERCE
December 12, 2005
The Super Bowl rings are nice, but his greatest achievement grows out of a generosity of spirit that makes him a leader in the toughest times
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December 12, 2005

The Ultimate Teammate

The Super Bowl rings are nice, but his greatest achievement grows out of a generosity of spirit that makes him a leader in the toughest times

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He will be as generous with his fame as he can be, as generous as he is with the ball on Sunday. He won't take every nickel he's due. He'll make sure wide receiver Deion Branch gets some face time on 60 Minutes. He will put the grunts in his commercials. He will make Russ Hochstein a star. For their part, his teammates will protect him from his own ego, and from those forces outside himself that presume to fashion who he is to their own purposes. "I'm not a Boy Scout," he says. "I'm still maturing, and I make plenty of mistakes. Too many times, people paint a picture of me as a guy who always has a big smile on his face, and who's happy-go-lucky and never has a bad day, and that's not me. I'm [like] every other guy."

His teammates will help keep him humble, and will help keep the rest of the world honest. This ability to engage others in a common enterprise is what makes political consultants look at Tom Brady and feel a warm glow deep in their godless souls.

Paradoxically, the Patriots have come to depend on Brady more this season than ever before. The defense is far weaker than it was a year ago, particularly in the secondary. And the offense has been hit with a staggering number of injuries. Since a win over Oakland in the opener, New England has lost for substantial periods of time two of its top three running backs, two of its top three wide receivers and its starting tight end. In addition, four of the five metaphors up front have been lost, including Koppen, whose season ended when he separated his shoulder against Miami on Nov. 13.

As a result, with both his running game and his line decimated, Brady is putting up historic passing numbers. As of the first week in December, he has 264 completions for 3,301 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's having the kind of season that Peyton Manning used to have with the Colts, the kind of season that was never enough to get Indianapolis to the Super Bowl, the kind of season that was never enough to beat Tom Brady.

And when he has a bad day, as he did on Nov. 27, when his four interceptions contributed mightily to an ugly loss at Kansas City, there is not much to the New England Patriots at all.

"Oh, man," Brady sighed the next day. "That was a killer. We didn't play the way we're capable of playing. It's not fun when you throw four picks. It's like getting kicked in the stomach, and it doesn't go away for three days. Losing a game like that, you're heartbroken, tearing up on the plane ride back. You let yourself down. You let your teammates down. You let a whole lot of people down. It's not something you get over easily."

He is having an MVP season, but his team is struggling. You get the feeling that he likely doesn't have his own vote.

MIKE RILEY knew, but nobody ever listened. There he was, USC's offensive coordinator, dragging himself north from Los Angeles to San Mateo to watch a skinny kid who could throw the deep out with guts and precision and who seemed to think one step ahead of everyone else on the field. Riley couldn't get anyone to listen. USC coach John Robinson had two quarterbacks and didn't need another one. The kid went east to Ann Arbor to play for Michigan.

Five years later, in the spring of 2000, Riley's coaching the San Diego Chargers and he tries to get general manager Bobby Beathard interested in the same player, who led Michigan back from 14 points down twice to beat Alabama 35-34 in the Orange Bowl. Beathard was no more interested than Robinson had been.

A year after that, Riley stands on the San Diego sideline and watches Brady, in his second start as a professional, bring New England back from 10 points behind with less than eight minutes to go and beat the Chargers in overtime, sending the San Diego season into a spiral and sending New England on to its improbable Super Bowl win over the St. Louis Rams. Mike Riley, Cassandra with a whistle, caught up with Brady at midfield.

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