Snowmageddon 2015 will melt into history in a week or so. Deflategate unfortunately, will take a bit longer. So let’s turn our attention to Super Bowl XLIX, or Super Bowl 49 for those of you who slept through Roman Numerals in elementary school.
Specifically, let’s turn our attention to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady because a long time will pass before we see another like him.
Think about it. Brady, 37, will start his sixth Super Bowl on Sunday. Sixth! Most NFL players retire without having played in one Super Bowl. The great Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers started four. Ditto for Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Each won his four starts though, while Brady is 3-2.
Starting six Super Bowls at quarterback is a record-breaking achievement, but what impresses me more are Brady’s durability and consistency. He has toiled in the game’s most visible position for 15 years, and except for a season-ending injury to his left knee in the 2008 opener, he has stayed healthy. He replaced Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season after Bledsoe suffered a life-threatening chest injury on a hit by Mo Lewis of the Jets, and then started the next 110 regular-season games. He has started every regular-season game, 96 in all, since returning for the 2009 season. Throw in his 28 playoff starts, and Tom Brady has started 234 games for the Patriots.
His accomplishments in those games place him among the elite quarterbacks in league history. He stands fifth in career touchdown passes, passing yards and quarterback rating. He has a .773 winning percentage, the best in the last 50 years. He threw 358 passes without an interception. He has completed 63.5 percent of his passes and at least 60 percent every season after his rookie campaign, when he completed one of his three passes for six yards.
That, football friends, is consistency and a tribute to Brady’s understanding of himself and of what he can and cannot do. He does not have the strongest arm or the quickest feet in the game, but he possesses a laser focus on what it takes to win. The Patriots have not had a losing season with Brady in the lineup. They have won 12 division championships. When he has receivers who can catch and run, he can put up huge numbers. He threw for 4,806 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2007 with Randy Moss running routes. In 2011 he passed for 5,235 yards. Even in 2013, when injuries decimated the Pats roster, he led them to the AFC championship game.
Brady in the postseason is just as impressive. He holds nine NFL playoff records: 28 starts and 20 victories by a quarterback; nine conference championship appearances and six victories by a quarterback; 646 completions, 7,017 yards and 49 touchdown passes; 1,277 yards passing in the Super Bowl; 16 consecutive completions in Super Bowl XLVI.
Ironically, and appropriately, Brady cares more about winning that he does about statistics. He cares more about his teammates than about himself. He tries to deflect media attention to the rest of the team.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Brady’s success is that nobody had any reason to expect it. He was a two-year starter in high school in San Mateo, Calif., and a two-year starter at Michigan, where he backed up Brian Griese during the Wolverines’ undefeated national championship season in 1997. He won in high school and college but received only honorable mention in the 1999 All-Big Ten voting by the conference coaches. Drew Brees of Purdue was first team and Antwan Randle El of Indiana second team. In the 2000 NFL Draft, 198 players were selected before the Patriots took Brady in the sixth round.
With Bledsoe established as the New England starter, Brady spent most of his rookie season on the inactive list. His stall in the dressing room was next to Bledsoe’s, and when the media cornered Bledsoe, they ignored Brady. He made his NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000, against the Lions and completed his first pass, a six-yarder to Rod Rutledge.
All that changed in the second game of the 2001 season. Bledsoe went down on the sideline hit by Lewis, Brady went in, and the rest is history. Bill Belichick tweaked his offensive schemes to capitalize on Brady’s short-passing prowess, and the Patriots went all the way to the Super Bowl.
Two decisions from that season still stand out. Bledsoe recovered from his injury and was cleared to play toward the end of the regular season, but Belichick stayed with the kid with the hot hand. And when the Patriots got the ball with 1:30 and no timeouts left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams with the score 17-17, the TV analyst John Madden opined that Brady should run out the clock and take the game into overtime. Instead, Brady drove the Patriots down the field, and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal as time expired.
That was in 2002. Thirteen years and four Super Bowls later, Brady is still throwing those quick slants and outs and driving his team down the field in the fourth quarter. He will do it again Sunday if necessary, and the Patriots will hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the first time since 2004. Prediction: Patriots, 34-31.