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Self-made man

Kevin Krystofiak is on his way to Arizona this week, a living reminder that Tom Brady's football career was not built on touchdown records and undefeated seasons. Krystofiak was the starting quarterback of the freshman football team at Junipero Serra High in San Mateo, Calif., in 1991. The team went 0-8 that season, scoring two offensive touchdowns. "I was a really bad quarterback," Krystofiak said.

That does not say very much for Brady, who spent the year as Krystofiak's backup. At the end of the winless season, Krystofiak quit the team to concentrate on basketball. As a result, Brady became the starting quarterback for the junior varsity.

"To be honest, I think the coaches would have moved me to defensive back, anyway," Krystofiak said. "Tom always had a better arm than I did."

They both found success. Brady went to Michigan to play football; Krystofiak to the University of San Diego to surf. Now, Krystofiak is working at Prudential in San Francisco; Brady is playing in his fourth Super Bowl on Sunday.

"The thing about Tom," Krystofiak said, "is that he was never given anything."

When someone is as accomplished as Brady -- as rich and talented and handsome and universally respected -- it only makes sense that he got every break along the way. But Brady is actually distinguished by all the breaks that went against him, starting in '91, and how he responded to each one. The setbacks are what separate him.

As a sophomore, Brady started at quarterback for the JV, thriving in the team's wide-open offense. At the end of the season, though, Serra coach Tom MacKenzie told Brady he would have to work harder in the weight room to play in college.

Brady promptly went home and convinced his parents to find him a personal trainer, as well as an off-season quarterback coach. Relaying that anecdote years ago, MacKenzie said: "I don't think we ever had to tell him to work harder again."

In two seasons on the varsity, Brady's record was a modest 11-9. He signed with Michigan, for the chance to be a seventh-string quarterback. He was beaten out first by Scott Dreisbach, then by Brian Griese. Brady charged into the Michigan football office, looking for head coach Lloyd Carr, intent on transferring to Cal.

Instead, he did something that seemed even more extreme at the time. Just as Brady hired a personal trainer when he needed to bulk up in high school, he sought out a sports psychologist when he needed to mellow out in college. From the psychologist, he learned to worry less about the other quarterbacks on the roster and more about himself.

"That was the low point," said Scot Loeffler, who coached and played with Brady at Michigan, in an interview before the 2005 Super Bowl. "But those hard times paid off. From then on, he just decided that he was going to be our starting quarterback."

Brady's biographical history -- from Serra to Michigan to New England -- has been well chronicled over the years. And yet, it bears repeating right now, because Brady's roots are so much more revealing than the joy ride that his career has become.

As a junior at Michigan, Brady finally won the starting quarterback job. Carr told reporters before the season: "I'm excited about Brady. I think he is talented enough to be a NFL quarterback at some point." Still, Carr seemed more excited about Drew Henson.

Even though Brady played well as a junior, Carr made him share the position with Henson in his senior year. Brady played the first quarter, Henson the second, and then Carr decided who would start the third. Brady proved the rotation ridiculous. Shortly after the midpoint of the season, Carr decided that Brady should be taking all the snaps.

But the fact that Brady was not the full-time starter in his senior season, that he weighed only 190 pounds and that his delivery was a little bit unorthodox, scared some NFL scouts away. After the first night of 2000 NFL draft, when no team called Brady's name, he lay in bed and began to consider other professions for the first time.

New England picked him in the sixth round, 199th overall, behind quarterbacks such as Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn. Not long after the draft, Brady ran into Patriots' owner Robert Kraft for the first time. According to the book The Impossible Team, by Nick Cafardo, Brady extended his hand, introduced himself, and said in all seriousness: "Mr. Kraft, I'm the best decision your organization has ever made."

It was cocky, but it was true. Heading into his first training camp, Brady was listed as New England's fourth-string quarterback. By the end of his first season, he was not much better. When the Patriots needed a backup to Drew Bledsoe, they signed Damon Huard as a free agent from the Miami Dolphins, refusing to promote Brady.

Desperate to learn the offense and improve his delivery, Brady worked tirelessly with New England quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein. But in August '01, during training camp at Bryant College, Rehbein died of a heart attack. Because of the late date, head coach Bill Belichick had to take over Rehbein's duties. He had to work with Brady.

Apparently, Belichick was impressed. On the eve of the '01 season, he announced that Brady, not Huard, would back up Bledsoe. In the second game of the season, Bledsoe was injured, and Belichick announced that Brady would start against the Indianapolis Colts. At his weekly press conference, Belichick told reporters: "I don't think I'll be standing up here in 10 weeks talking about all the problems Tom Brady had."

The Patriots thumped the Colts, 44-13, but it was not all happily ever after. They lost the next week at Miami. Three weeks after that, Brady threw four interceptions in the fourth quarter of a loss to Denver. But just as Brady responded at Serra and at Michigan, he reset himself and won 11 of the next 12 games, including his first Super Bowl.

Since then, he has become a caricature of success, accompanied by actresses and supermodels, tailed by the paparazzi. It is hard to remember a time that Brady was not the face of football. But Brady remembers his lean years vividly. They drive him still.

Before his last Super Bowl, three years ago in Jacksonville, Brady was asked if he had any flaws, and his response was surprisingly candid. "There are plenty of things I'm deficient at," he said. "I've never been the fastest, never had the best arm, and never been very strong. I still question sometimes whether I'm really cut out for this. I think I am pretty insecure. I have some old scars that are very deep, and I don't forget them."

Brady keeps his past close by. In fact, Krystofiak and the rest of the high-school crew will be in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday for the Super Bowl. They are still coming to grips with the notion that their gangly friend is an international celebrity.

"He went from being a backup in high school to almost transferring in college to splitting time as a senior to being a sixth-round draft pick to going to the Super Bowl," Krystofiak said. "It's a fairy tale."

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