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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
JACKSONVILLE - The Shroud of Turin or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may qualify as legitimate mysteries. They are not bound by rational thought or human explanation.
When it comes to the uncanny success of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft pick who continues to surpass every professional challenge, there is no mystery at all.
For all the claims that he isn't the most talented quarterback in the NFL, Brady offers an unprecedented 8-0 run in the playoffs, two Super Bowl rings and two Super Bowl MVPs.
He could make it three in four seasons with a win over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX on Sunday.
In his fifth season, Brady, 27, is undeniable proof that NFL talent, like the pillars of Stonehenge, isn't bound by conventional standards.
"I don't think you get to the NFL without having some talent," former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman said. "But sometimes there's so much emphasis placed on the physical skills of a player that we kind of lose sight of what really allows that guy to be successful. ... I've always believed that it's the intangibles. Being a leader for his team. A guy the players respect. How does he handle adverse situations on the field? What kind of decisionmaking process does he have?
"To me, those are the things that determine what success a quarterback has much more than any of the physical skills that he has."
The 199th player taken in 2000, a young man not good enough to start on his 0-8 high school team as a freshman, a college player who couldn't beat out Brian Griese at Michigan, Brady is redefining what NFL personnel look for in a QB.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from California is proving talent at the game's most critical position is less about arm strength and foot speed and more about poise and preparation.
"It starts with poise," former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw said. "If a man doesn't have poise, he's got nothing. I don't care how big his arm is and how fast he can run. You have to be able to handle the situation. That's the top of the list."
In five NFL seasons, few have handled "the situation" any better than Brady. After replacing injured icon Drew Bledsoe early in the 2001 season, Brady has taken his team to three Super Bowls in four years.
Ask teammates why Brady has been so successful, and their resounding response is his calm approach to the game.
"The important thing for a quarterback is to be composed, because you're a reflection of the entire system," said Brady, who admits to getting angry sometimes in practice. "You're a reflection of the coaches, and if the players see you lose your poise and your composure the other guys are going to go, "God, something bad must be going on here.' I don't think you ever want to give that off to your guys."
Veteran receiver Troy Brown said Brady's best talent is his demeanor.
"Being able to win and stay cool under pressure," Brown said. "He doesn't really change a whole lot. He's been able to make big plays in key situations. When you can make those plays, people will talk about you. When you don't, they'll talk about you for the wrong reasons."
That unflappable personality makes Brady more deadly late in the season and less likely to make a mistake late in a game, an attribute the Eagles have keenly observed.
He is 18-2 as a starter in games decided by six points or fewer and has 16 winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime.
"He just knows how to win," Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "He's not going to have really huge numbers. He's not going to throw for that 400- or 500-yard game or whatever. But he is not going to make mistakes and not turn the ball over. Then, in the clutch, he's going to find the open receiver or avoid the sack and get the ball downfield and give them a chance to win the ball game."
But Brady's unshakeable countenance doesn't exist in a vacuum. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a man who wrote the book on how to store one's emotions, said it is Brady's day-to-day preparation that helps him stay settled. "His preparation week in and week out is exceptional," Belichick said. "He studies the game plan very hard. He studies his opponents very well and has a good command of not only what he's doing but what our offense is doing as a unit. ... Nobody works any harder or does any more to prepare for a game than Tom."
Like most quarterbacks, Brady puts in hours of film work and attempts to pit himself against virtually every formation his opponent might use.
"You need to be very, very prepared," he said. "Knowing exactly what we're doing, exactly what the adjustments are, the looks we might get from them. ... When you're confident going into the game, you are calm." Ultimately Brady's truest talent appears to be his most obvious - he wins games. In the NFL, Brady is 56-14 (including playoffs) and has seven overtime wins, the most in league history.
"The job of the quarterback, the way I define it, is to score points and win games," said Aikman, who won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the '90s. "However you go about doing that (is irrelevant). I used to say that (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones didn't pay me to go out there and throw for 5,000 yards. ... My job is for us to win, however we can do that."