Posted: Monday December 5, 2005 1:41PM; Updated: Monday December 5, 2005 4:10PM
Before Tom Brady was an NFL star, he learned some hard lessons growing up as a kid brother to three accomplished sisters.
Peter Read Miller/SI
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By Michael Silver
There is a story that is often recalled when Tom Brady's family gets together. It involves his three older sisters, all of whom were thriving in various athletic endeavors while their kid brother was still in preschool.
In 1991, Maureen Brady was a star senior pitcher at Hillsdale High in San Mateo, Calif., while sisters Julie, a junior shortstop, and Nancy, a freshman catcher, were standout teammates. Shortly before a pivotal game against rival Aragon, recalls their mother, Galynn, "The local newspaper came out with this front-page story about the girls and how they all got along so well; the headline was 'The Brady Bunch For Real.' The game came down to this pivotal moment with two outs, runners on base and a full count, and when Nancy called the pitch Mo shook her off. Nancy didn't like being shaken off, and Mo didn't like the pitch that Nancy called the second time, so it went on and on."
Suspecting that Maureen wanted to throw her favorite pitch, a curveball, Nancy proceeded to call everything, but her increasingly peeved sister rejected each signal. Finally, Nancy extended a different sort of hand signal -- a middle-fingered salute to Mo, who scowled and unleashed a curve for an inning-ending strikeout as the crowd gasped. "As they walked to the dugout the girls were still jawing at each other," Galynn says. "I turned to my husband and said, I guess that's the Brady Bunch -- for real."
The reality of growing up Brady was that competitive fire raged like JFK's eternal flame. It's easy to picture the future superstar as an awkward adolescent, struggling to command attention at his own dinner table -- "Ooo, you hit a homer, Tommy? Just one?" -- while his popular, prolific sisters (Mo, a future All-America pitcher at Fresno State; Julie, a soccer player at St. Mary's; and Nancy, a short-term member of the Cal softball team) discussed penalty kicks and proms.
"He was very clearly the low man on the totem pole, " says Kevin Brady, a close friend of Tom's since childhood. (The two are not related.) "Whereas Tom didn't really fill out until college, all of those [Brady] girls were very pretty and were great athletes. I think there was a self-consciousness, a feeling that, 'If I'm going to get my name in the paper like them, I have to step it up.' "
As Brady grappled with the crush of stardom that arrived with his first Super Bowl MVP performance in February 2002, he relied on his sisters and parents for advice, perspective and protection. Nancy and Julie both moved to the Boston area -- Julie recently moved back to California -- and have been known to mix it up verbally with unfriendly fans while attending Patriots road games.
Nancy, who once was Tom's personal assistant before they mutually agreed to find someone else to fill the role, told her brother before Sunday's 16-3 victory over the New York Jets at snowy Gillette Stadium, "I'll be there in full pads, so just look up [to the family's luxury suite] if you need me."
Whether genetic or environmental, or a combination of both, the family's ultra-competitive streak has already been passed on to the next generation. Last Saturday, Maureen took her four-year-old daughter, Maya, and some friends to a bowling alley in San Mateo. Says Tom Sr., "It was one of those alleys with rubber rails on the gutters, and she rolled an 84. As she was leaving, she turned to her mom and said, 'I kicked everybody's butt.'"