Brady pro­vokes rage, earns grudg­ing re­spect

Nancy Ar­mour: It’s nat­u­ral for fans out­side New Eng­land to hate him

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Nancy Ar­mour Colum­nist

AT­LANTA – Hat­ing Tom Brady is easy.

The de­flated foot­balls. The smug smile. The good looks. The su­per­model wife. The yucky diet. The age­less­ness.

And, of course, the rings. So, so, so many rings.

For ev­ery­one but Pa­tri­ots fans, this is a week to al­ter­nate be­tween white­hot rage and grudg­ing re­spect. But mostly rage. While most other 41-yearolds have re­signed them­selves to the Rice Krispies-es­que sym­phonies that em­anate from their bod­ies, Brady has dragged a team that was lim­ited through­out the reg­u­lar sea­son to yet an­other Su­per Bowl. New Eng­land’s third in a row and fourth in five years,

for those who’ve been trapped un­der a rock with­out in­ter­net for the last 10 days.

While fans in Pitts­burgh and Kansas City and Bal­ti­more lament an­other year with­out a Su­per Bowl ti­tle, the folks in New Eng­land have al­ready started men­tally mak­ing space for yet an­other Lom­bardi Tro­phy, thanks to ol’ Tom Ter­rific.

Yet if you spend any amount of time around Brady this week, it’s hard to main­tain the hate. Brady has played the game, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, long enough to know the drill of in­ter­views and me­dia ses­sions. He has per­fected the art of say­ing much while giv­ing away lit­tle.

But there are enough glimpses here and there to re­veal the per­son be­neath the robo QB, some­one who is not only re­lat­able but ac­tu­ally lik­able.

This is one of the most fa­mous and suc­cess­ful ath­letes in the world, yet he bragged Tues­day about his niece com­mit­ting to UCLA and name-checked his older sis­ter’s soft­ball coach at Fresno State. When some­one gave him pho­tos from a trip to Asia two sum­mers ago, Brady flipped through them with a grin on his face, rem­i­nisc­ing about the in­cred­i­ble time he and his older son had.

And when some­one asked about the roots of his famed com­pet­i­tive­ness, Brady’s an­swer gave per­haps the best win­dow into what drives him to keep play­ing when there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing left to prove.

“Some peo­ple are born with great height. Some peo­ple are born with great size, great speed. Some peo­ple are born with other things I would say are more in­tan­gi­ble,” he said. “I think com­pet­i­tive­ness and the abil­ity to com­pete has been a great at­tribute for me. It started when I was young. And it was re­ally a part of my whole fam­ily. Ev­ery­one was the same way.

“I think I was al­ways en­cour­aged to do that,” Brady con­tin­ued. “My par­ents never said, ‘Look, we should re­ally think about what you want to do, your goals.’ My par­ents al­ways just en­cour­aged it. ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s try to go to these camps with these other kids that are re­ally tal­ented.’ That was just a great thing my par­ents were able to in­still in me. You shoot for the stars. You try to do the best you can do.

“I just grew up that way, and I still feel that way now,” he added. “Peo­ple think, ‘You’re 41, what are you do­ing?’ I’m shoot­ing for the stars. I’m do­ing some­thing I love to do.”

Sports al­le­giances are in­her­ently tribal, and it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble not to loathe those ath­letes and coaches who aren’t part of your team. Or re­sent those whose suc­cess out­shines ev­ery­one else’s. Brady and the Pa­tri­ots cer­tainly qual­ify, and they haven’t ex­actly gone out of their way to change the neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of them. It was just a few days ago, in fact, that Brady was ril­ing up some 30,000 Pa­tri­ots fans by say­ing no one ex­pected them to be there and that they had de­fied all the odds. Re­ally?

But Brady gave a bit of in­sight into that part of his mind-set, too. He might get the ac­co­lades and at­ten­tion, but he is well aware it is a team game. Part of his job is to set the tone, know­ing that the rest of the team will fol­low.

This was not a sea­son with­out chal­lenges; Rob Gronkowski was lim­ited for much of the year, and Ju­lian Edel­man missed the first four games. But if Brady had ac­knowl­edged those con­cerns or shown any sign of doubt, the Pa­tri­ots might as well have packed it in.

In­stead, he styled them as un­der­dogs. Rather than be dragged down by their own lim­i­ta­tions, Brady fired up the Pa­tri­ots to prove the haters wrong. Look where they ended up.

“I think I’ve found a bal­ance be­tween when I’m com­pet­ing and when I’m not,” Brady said. “It’s not like that 24-7, ev­ery sin­gle day. I pick my mo­ments.”

That’s what so of­ten gets lost with Brady. It’s very easy to hate him.

But he makes it hard not to ad­mire and ap­pre­ci­ate him, as well.

BRETT DAVIS/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Quar­ter­back Tom Brady has won five Su­per Bowls with the Pa­tri­ots.

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