"He has a knack for getting on guys in a way that they don't take personally," Belichick says. "It's hard to sum up his natural leadership, but he's got it. It's like pornography—even if you can't define it, you know it when you see it."
When Bledsoe, who had been the starter since he was taken with the first pick in the 1993 draft, went down with a sheared blood vessel in his chest during the second game last season, several players say they assumed the Patriots, who were 0-2 and coming off a 5-11 season, could forget about 2001. Brady changed all that. "I'm a big fan of Drew's, but it was obvious the team needed something different, and Tom brought that youthful energy," New England safety Lawyer Milloy says. "What we have in him is a personable quarterback. Guys on the team don't feel he's untouchable."
Brady concedes that his friendship with Bledsoe grew awkward once Bledsoe was cleared to play in November. Now Bledsoe is the subject of trade rumors and is expected to be moved before the April 20-21 draft. Meanwhile, the Pats plan to initiate discussions on a contract extension for Brady, who has one more year left on his rookie deal (at a bargain salary of $387,000) and is eligible to become a restricted free agent after next season.
Those close to Brady insist the money won't go to his head, nor will the fame. "For one thing, if it ever was perceived that it had, his sisters would knock the crap out of him," says his dad.
Yet there's no doubt that the younger Brady will change, if only in response to his environment. When every trip to the post office, dry cleaner or grocery store becomes, in his words, a " Sharpie party," his ability to concentrate on his job is diminished. It's a delicate issue, because Brady understands the fans' perspective. He still recoils at the memory of having his autograph request ignored by Chili Davis, then a Giants outfielder, during a spring training visit when he was eight. "I remember thinking that if I ever got famous, I'd never be like that," Brady says. "But now that I'm in that position, I can sort of understand how something like that could happen. I'm very aware that how I behave can make someone's day or crush him, and I don't want people to look at me and think I've changed."
On a recent golf outing in Livermore, about 40 miles east of San Mateo, with his father and Pat Kratus, a former teammate at Michigan, Brady was smiling broadly as he contemplated his newfound fame. It's not that bad, of course, and he knows it. As the trio traded barbs—"Sorry, Tommy, but there's no replay official to bail you out on that stroke"—the dude who makes women's hearts flutter and fans' pulses race suddenly flashed his game face.
"Look, I'm a football player," he said, "and when I think back to the Miss USA pageant and all the other cool stuff I've done these last few weeks, the most fun I've had by far was winning the Super Bowl. There are so many distractions that can make you lose sight of what's important. Well, screw that. I know how I got here, and I'm going to devote myself to helping my team win it all again."