Tom Brady: Fanatical Preparation


By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY
FOXBOROUGH, Mass.Tom Brady was not given one snap at quarterback on a winless freshman team at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif.
He was seventh on the depth chart when he enrolled at Michigan and struggled so mightily for playing time that he hired a sports psychologist to help him cope with frustration and anxiety. He heard 198 other names called before the New England Patriots took a flier on him in the sixth round of the 2000 draft.
"Throughout my football career," Brady says, "it always has been looking up at other people."
Not anymore.
After an improbable climb, he is without equal among current NFL quarterbacks when it comes to winning championships, having surpassed boyhood idol Joe Montana by becoming the first to win three Super Bowl rings before his 28th birthday.
"There is no quarterback I would rather have," Patriots coach Bill Belichick says simply.
How can it be that the two-time Super Bowl MVP reigns supreme after being for so long a passer no one particularly wanted?
If there could be a glimpse into Brady's soul, it would almost surely reveal a raging fire, fueled by all of those coaches and all of those teams that did not think he was quick enough or strong enough or good enough. He will never forget the rejection he channeled so forcefully.
"I would say every day he feels that pain," says his sister, Nancy. "I think that people will never know how much being considered a backup by some of the people that he respected the most actually hurt him."
Says his father, Tom Brady Sr.: "His competitive nature kicks in every time somebody says he can't do something, and as a result he works harder. He's the guy who trains every single day."
Unwavering dedication
For Brady, 29, it was the only way to crack the lineup and complete an against-all-odds rise to stardom. He would go to the gym three times a day at Junipero Serra, playing basketball early in the morning for conditioning and sweating through speed drills at noon before lifting weights at night.
To this day, he leads by example. He remains the player to beat when it comes to winning the coveted parking spot given to the most devoted member of the Patriots' offseason program.
"If I'm not up at 6 a.m. or I'm not trying to win the parking spot here," Brady says, "then someone else is going to win it and I'm going to have to drive in every day and see their name up on the wall rather than mine.
"And if another team wins the Super Bowl, it's going to be painful to watch those guys celebrate. I'm not going to be happy for them."
Brady's greatest strength is his ability to all but will his team to victory:
•When New England was tied 17-17 with the heavily favored St. Louis Rams with 1:21 left in Super Bowl XXXVI to close the 2001 season, he hit five of eight passes for 53 yards in a final drive that led to a 20-17 triumph and his first MVP award.
•When the Patriots were tied 29-29 with the Carolina Panthers with 1:08 remaining in Super Bowl XXXVIII, he converted four of five throws for 47 yards to position Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal as part of a dazzling 32-for-48, 354-yard, three-touchdown MVP performance.
•With a 58-20 record and .744 winning percentage entering this season, he joined Roger Staubach (85-29, .746, from 1969-79) and Montana (117-47, .713, from 1979-94) as the only passers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to win at more than a 70% clip.
Brady has performed his late-game magic so often — he led the Patriots to victory on 21 occasions when they faced a fourth-quarter deficit or were tied through 2005 — that it is virtually expected. "If we have the ball in our hands," veteran offensive tackle Matt Light says, "we always feel we have a chance to win."
A matter of execution
A critical juncture in Brady's life came when he was a sophomore at Michigan. He was concerned about his seeming lack of opportunity and was considering transferring. He met with coach Lloyd Carr to discuss whether he had a future with the Wolverines. "I want to compete," Brady remembers telling him.
Carr responded: "Go out there and do everything you can to control what you can control and quit worrying about how many reps you get or the other quarterbacks, the skills they have and you don't. Worry about things that you do well."
Brady uses his intelligence and work ethic to master each week's game plan. His knowledge of defenses allows him to almost immediately recognize whatever look is presented and quickly make whatever adjustments are necessary.
He is fanatical about preparation, so much so that then-offensive coordinator Charlie Weis jokingly complained about the quarterback's late-night calls to his hotel room in the days leading to New England's 24-21 decision against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
"I don't want any unknowns. I don't want any guesswork. When I go out onto the field, I want to know exactly what we're going to do versus every defense we could face," he says. "And when I feel like I'm prepared like that in my mind, I feel like it's just execution from there, and if I can go out and execute and that's the stuff I work on, then we're going to do exactly what we set out to do."
There are never loose ends.
"I don't take the field if I'm not prepared," he says. "It's as simple as that."
He can be equally demanding of teammates. His father recalls a regular-season game several years ago that the Patriots won handily, yet his son was fuming afterward. He had suffered an interception because the receiver ran the wrong route. That receiver did not have another ball come his way the rest of the season, according to Brady Sr.
Brady's glittering 10-1 postseason record stems largely from his ability to limit turnovers when the stakes are highest. He has been picked off only five times in 11 postseason appearances, an interception percentage of 1.36 that is the best in playoff history.
As much as he has accomplished, Brady wants more. He is not content with either his lofty position in the game or his number of championships he has won.
"I think he just wants to be the best," his sister says. "If that means 10 more Super Bowls or 15 more Super Bowls, I think he wants to go down as one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game."
As painful as the journey has been for Brady, as much as each snub gnawed at him, he would not change a thing:
"At the end of the day, you can hold that Super Bowl trophy up and you know you've done everything the right way and you've paid the price. When the situation came up and the pressure was at the highest, you performed your best."