As Warner once did, Brady bristles at the notion that his ascent was a fluke. But while both rose to the top overnight, Brady faces different challenges in his quest to stay there. Whereas Warner, a husband and a father of four, has resolutely distilled his off-field interests to faith and family, Brady has no such constraints. If he continues his rise on the field, Brady will have a chance to become the 21st century's answer to Joe Namath.
He's already a sensation in New England, where, says Patriots special teams ace Larry Izzo, "the guy is like Elvis" (Presley, not Grbac). "Tommy is America's sweetheart right now," says Julie Brady, 27, the second oldest of his three sisters. Tom, the baby of the family, is the beneficiary of staunch parental support (from Tom and Galynn) and years of training in the ways of women. Says Julie, "He didn't get much time in the bathroom, he learned to deal with our PMS, and my sister Nancy would grill the girls who called him."
The fact that Brady happens to be a 6'4", 220-pound, handsome, blue-eyed, self-assured bachelor does nothing to squelch his game. Says Cleveland Browns tight end Aaron Shea, Brady's close friend and former University of Michigan teammate, "He's always done well with girls, but now it's reaching the next level."
"I rode with him during the Super Bowl victory parade," says Izzo, "and with all the women lifting their shirts, it was like we were back on Bourbon Street. Girls were throwing pieces of paper with their phone numbers. The guy has all the ammunition to be a Don Juan. Every mother and father in New England want their daughter to be dating Tom Brady." (Well, maybe not every father. "My daughter, Amanda, who's 17, has a thing for him," says Patriots coach Bill Belichick, sounding slightly less than thrilled.)
It gets more ridiculous. Several New England players say their significant others get moist-eyed over the young passer. "My wife thinks Brady is the best," says running back Antowain Smith. "He's got her wrapped around his finger." Says Smith's wife, Kreseda, "It's true; I get excited every time I see him. He has such a great disposition, and you just want to walk up and pinch his cheeks." And the dimpled chin? "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" Kreseda exclaims.
Brady hears it all and laughs—then rolls his eyes. "I'm no Don Juan," he says. "That would never be me. All of this attention is flattering, but that's not what gives me peace of mind. What truly makes me happy is hanging with my parents, my family and my friends. I was the same guy six months ago, and I'm still trying to be the same person that got me to this point. The whole bachelor issue can be distracting."
For now, the issues he's most concerned with involve locker room politics. The Patriots succeeded last season because they were the consummate team, and Brady understands that the more attention he gets, the greater the threat to that dynamic. Belichick has addressed the issue with Brady on several occasions, beginning with a talk in the coach's hotel room a few hours after the Super Bowl. Says Brady, "You never want to lose the respect of the guys you play with, because that's everything."
With that in mind, Brady has turned down numerous opportunities from companies seeking his endorsement and also passed when San Mateo civic leaders suggested staging a Tom Brady Day in his honor. Not that he has been above reproach: Teammates still wince at the mention of the canary-yellow Jeep Wrangler that Brady drove during training camp last summer as part of an arrangement with a dealership. As a reward for being one of the most ardent participants in the team's off-season workout program, Brady received a prime parking space in front of the players' dorm, meaning that, in Izzo's words, "every day you'd walk in and see his little chick car. The rookies made fun of it in skits, and some guys accused him of getting it on purpose so that everyone would know when he was at the facility working out."
In truth, Brady was there all the time. "There isn't anyone on our team who works harder than Tom, in the weight room, on the field or in the classroom," Belichick says. Brady has been a stickler for preparation since his days at Jun�pero Serra High in San Mateo, a trait he sometimes takes to extremes. After winning the starting job heading into his junior year at Michigan, Brady looked at the schedule and realized that his first start would be at Notre Dame Stadium. He had never seen the famed structure, so a month before the season started, while driving back to Ann Arbor at the end of a weekend trip to Chicago, he stopped in South Bend and did some firsthand research. Ignoring several NO TRESPASSING signs, he entered an open stadium gate and spent about an hour walking around before realizing he'd been locked in. "It was getting dark, and I was starting to freak out," he recalls. "There was a 15-foot drop if you climbed over the wall, so finally I broke into a maintenance closet, found an extension ladder, threw the thing over the fence and climbed down."
His stay at Michigan taught him an essential lesson. While being beaten out by Scott Driesbach and Brian Griese during his first two years, Brady says he "turned into a whiner. Nothing was my fault, and finally I told Coach [Lloyd] Carr that I wanted to transfer to Cal. He said, 'Just put everything else out of your mind and worry about making yourself better.' He was right." Brady won the starting job as a junior, but as a senior he split time with prized recruit Drew Henson. That platoon, as well as Brady's 190-pound build and awkward throwing mechanics, made him such a questionable prospect that he slipped to the sixth round of the 2000 draft. "I was heartbroken," says Brady, who had expected to be taken by early in the fourth round. "I said, 'Sixth round? Are you kidding me?' " He has never lacked for confidence. "He believes he can do anything," says Damon Huard, the Pats' third-string quarterback. "In the huddle that faith he has in himself rubs off on everybody."