The Cover Boy Is Well Covered
Tuesday, January 29, 2008; Page E01
PHOENIX, Jan. 28 -- At some point, and it's not clear exactly when, Tom Brady went from being merely a football celebrity to being a celebrity. Maybe it was because of the three Super Bowl titles. Maybe it was the cover boy good looks. Maybe it was the penchant for dating actresses/supermodels. But however and whenever it happened, it has become clear during the buildup to this Super Bowl that the quarterback of the New England Patriots has jumped from being merely sports page fodder to being something much more, a genuine paparazzi target.
Brady's bad ankle was chronicled every bit as breathlessly last week on the entertainment television shows and celebrity-tracking Web sites -- usually dominated by Britney, Lindsay and Brangelina -- as it was on "SportsCenter." It created a major stir when he was photographed outside the Manhattan apartment of girlfriend Gisele Bundchen with a protective boot over his right foot, not to mention flowers in hand. That was counteracted when photos surfaced of Brady out on the town with Bundchen that night minus the boot.
Brady was able to hide from public view for a few days late last week after the Patriots reconvened in Foxborough, Mass., and he was back under the protection of Coach Bill Belichick's media-restricting policies. But when the team arrived in the Phoenix area Sunday evening for Super Bowl week, Brady was at a podium speaking in front of a packed news conference. Still, it was a far more controlled setting than he'd encountered in New York, making him one of the few players in NFL history to come to a Super Bowl to escape a media circus.
"It was an interesting week," Brady said in front of reporters Sunday night. "I am much lighter on my toes than I thought. I was glad to be back in Boston when I got back there. . . . I have my offensive line around to protect me now this week. Don't any of you be chasing me around. I won't be nearly as nice as I was last week."
At past Super Bowls, Brady has spoken of the good and bad sides of fame, telling stories about fans following him to his home and leaving things outside his door. But now the sheer volume of media is greater, and the attention that he receives has increased exponentially. Brady doesn't court it the way that the NFL's other leading quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning, does by being a TV pitchman for virtually every product known to man. But the attention finds Brady anyway.
"I was just trying to get into the house as fast as I could, so I was just trying to hobble along," he said. "You're right: It kind of caught me off guard. I think that's just part of the world we are living in these days. Those places I used to go for refuge aren't necessarily the places you go any more. I guess it is a good problem to have because we are winning football games. I think if we were 0-16, no one would [care]."
Going on the road to see a high-profile girlfriend didn't work out so well for another NFL quarterback and tabloid target this postseason. The Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo was heavily criticized and ridiculed when his team lost an NFC semifinal to the New York Giants on the heels of Romo's Mexican vacation with Jessica Simpson during the Cowboys' playoff bye weekend. The difference is that Brady has three Super Bowl wins and is going for a fourth against the Giants on Sunday; Romo has none. Brady's work ethic and dedication have been regarded as above reproach, and he remains highly respected and well liked within his own locker room.
"I think he got a lot of publicity last week for not what he wants to get publicity for," Patriots center Dan Koppen said. "I think he'll be okay. Tom's recognizable and what he does is watched. We don't pay attention to it. If you guys want to report on it, then go ahead. Tom's a good guy who handles himself accordingly. I'm just thankful that he's on our team."
Brady's teammates even seem amused by the attention he receives. Defensive end Richard Seymour joked last week that what struck him about the New York photos of Brady was the flowers, not the protective boot.
Said veteran tailback Kevin Faulk: "It's just the way that you have to go about your life and not even worry about that. You can't control that. The only thing you can control is what you're doing."
Belichick said that whatever Brady does to manage his life, it's working. "I've loved every minute and every opportunity I've had to coach Tom since his rookie year," Belichick said.
The only question that seemed to annoy Brady on Sunday night was one about Bundchen and whether she'd be here this week, which he dismissed tersely. He described himself as a person who has come to guard his privacy more and more.
"I don't leave much," Brady said. "I think I stay in my house more than ever. I rarely leave the house. . . . I used to travel [overseas] to go out, but that seems to be more of a problem now."
Whenever the subject of fame and its travails comes up, Brady usually is quick to point out that he's not complaining. It is undeniable, after all, that life is good when you're Tom Brady, standing on the verge of a fourth Super Bowl win and an unbeaten season and all that goes with it.
"I think you prioritize things in your life, and you do things that are most important and what you think help you become the most fulfilled person," he said. "I think I love my job, and there is nothing I would rather do than play quarterback for the New England Patriots. When you win football games, with that comes attention and I think over the years it has really been a progression.
"You find ways to deal with your life and manage it when you leave the stadium. I think sometimes that is challenging for all of us athletes when you leave places where you feel very protected to go out and still find ways to manage your life and live your life and enjoy it. I certainly do that. Like I said, I think none of that gets in the way of, I think, what is the most important thing and that is me playing football, because at the end of the day I think that is what is extremely important in my life."