Posted: Monday December 5, 2005 8:56AM; Updated: Monday December 5, 2005 9:35AM
Tom Brady is the first NFL player to earn SI's Sportsman award since Joe Montana in '90.
SI's Sportsman of the Year Winners
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Athletes Who Care
Cal Ripken Jr.
U.S. Women's Soccer
Boston Red Sox
By Peter King
I'm convinced the biggest hindrance to football players getting named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year is the timing of their season. SI annually announces its Sportsman in early December, a month before the NFL playoffs even start. By the time the Super Bowl is played, the next Sportsman is 10 months away. A great player in football is really up against it.
But SI has done the right thing this year in selecting Tom Brady. Here's why:
1. The guy is really good. He's 9-0 in playoff games and has quarterbacked three Super Bowl winners in the past four years, including New England's 24-21 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last February in Jacksonville. He and Joe Montana were both 27 after their fifth NFL season. Montana had two Super Bowl wins by then. Brady has three. Brady won 48 games in his first five years. Montana won 28. Brady out-touchdowned Montana in their first five seasons, 97-78. And now, with the Patriots cut to shreds by injury and Brady playing without his starting running back, tight end, left tackle, center, right tackle and offensive coordinator/security blanket Charlie Weis, the quarterback has gone from being his subjugate-the-ego self to a dominant thrower. His 3,301 passing yards lead the NFL.
2. The guy is really a team player. See those VISA ads, with his offensive linemen? Remember the SIRIUS radio ads last year, with his three receivers? Guess what he's doing right there? Spreading the wealth. He could appear in ads by himself. For all I know, he probably does. But his biggest national spot in 2004 enriched his wideouts. His biggest national spot in 2005 enriched his O-line. If you think that plays well in the locker room, you're right.
Moreover, after last season, his contract was way below the new ones signed by Peyton Manning ($14.2 million a year average) and Michael Vick ($13 million), and he and the Patriots set about negotiating a new one. I talked to him in February, and I'm sure his agents must have wanted to drive off a cliff when I quoted him as saying he didn't need to be the highest-paid guy as long as the Patriots would take the money he wasn't demanding and use it to make sure the team stayed competitive. "Is it going to make me feel any better to make an extra million, which after taxes is about $500,000?" he said. "That million might be more important to the team.'' Has a player of this generation ever said anything like that? Instead of being the ultimate pig at the contractual trough in the offseason, which he could have been, he signed a six-year, $60 million contract.
3. The guy really plays with fire. It looks a little nutty to be angry after all the great things he's experienced. But this season, in a particularly frustrating moment during a 19-point loss to Indianapolis, Brady fired a water bottle to the ground and screamed that he wasn't going to accept losing. "He's the ultimate franchise quarterback,'' former Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf told me. "He does everything right.'' This is a season the Patriots should have taken a step back, with the five offensive starters missing, the defense on its fifth starting strong safety, and captain Tedy Bruschi out for the first six games. But Brady's teammates know there will be hell to pay if they even think about packing it in and looking toward 2006.
Brady is supposed to have enough by now. He's supposed to be satisfied with having won three Super Bowls by age 27 and having proved that everyone was wrong for drafting him all the way back in the sixth round of 2000, behind even Spergon Wynn. But he's far from satisfied.
Don't be surprised if he wins more Sportsman awards and more Super Bowls in the years to come.