Pretty ladies, some of them not even blood relatives, were
flitting around Tom Brady's victory party like butterflies on
the first day of spring, but the host wasn't falling for any of
them as the midnight hour approached. Instead, the New England
Patriots' charismatic quarterback was bonding with a dude
sporting hefty jewelry and a smile as big as the Lombardi
Trophy. There, in the middle of a crowded steak house, five
hours after the Patriots had finished off the Indianapolis
Colts in Sunday's AFC Championship Game to earn a second Super
Bowl trip in three seasons, Brady and teammate Willie McGinest
brought some California love to a snowy Boston night.
"Not bad for an old linebacker who was washed up a couple of
years ago," Brady said, raising his glass in a toast.
"Hey," McGinest replied, "not bad for a fourth-string quarterback
who can't throw deep."
Then they hugged, the all-American kid from the San Francisco
suburbs and the sturdy NFL veteran from the streets of Long
Beach, and reveled in the triumph of a team on a 14-game winning
streak, the second longest in NFL history within one season.
Tupac Shakur, a modern philosopher admired by both men, once
boasted that "California knows how to party." And after the
Patriots' 24-14 defusing of the heretofore explosive Colts in
front of 68,436 passionate fans at Gillette Stadium in
Foxborough, team leaders Brady and McGinest were in a golden
state of mind.
"I love this team," McGinest said, "and I know how good we are.
We don't care what kind of stats you have or what records you've
set in the postseason. What the Colts found out today is that we
bloody people's noses."
So much so that the Patriots will be favored by about a touchdown
when they face the surprising Carolina Panthers on Feb. 1 in
Super Bowl XXXVIII. And while Brady, 26, heads into that game
garnering comparisons with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana, the
Pats' defense will remain armed and dangerous. Just ask Indy
quarterback Peyton Manning, the league's co-MVP, who spent the
first two weekends of these playoffs merrily toying with
overmatched opponents. On Sunday the Patriots' Lycra-tight pass
coverage and vigorous pass rush often made Manning (23 of 47, 237
yards) resemble a marionette dancing to mariachi music. Thus a
Colts team that had not punted while rolling up 79 points in its
first two postseason games was bullied into committing five
turnovers, including four Manning interceptions.
Chief among the Peyton Punishers were All-Pro cornerback Ty Law
and strong safety Rodney Harrison. Law had three interceptions
and put forth one of the most dominating performances by a
defensive back in championship game history. Harrison forced a
fumble by Indy wideout Marvin Harrison (no relation) and with an
end-zone interception on the Colts' first drive allowed New
England to seize control less than 12 minutes into the game.
Arguably the league's most important off-season acquisition,
Harrison, a 10-year veteran, signed with the Patriots in March
after being released by the San Diego Chargers, whose
front-office employees will soon be receiving thank-you notes
from grateful Pats in Houston.
"When you watch the Colts' offense on film, they make it all look
so easy," Harrison said after the game. "But we were determined
not to let them come out and ram it down our throats, and that
meant we had to beat them up. When I saw our game plan, I knew it
was going to be a long day for Peyton."
As always, the blueprint conceived by New England coach Bill
Belichick and his brainy defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel,
contained more wrinkles than a Rolling Stones tour jet. Reasoning
that Manning does not throw nearly as well when he can't set his
feet and step into his throws, the Pats' twin wizards came up
with a 4-2-5 nickel alignment that would pressure Manning by
featuring backup defensive end Jarvis Green as a second tackle
alongside mammoth veteran Ted Washington. Green, a fourth-round
draft choice in 2002, had two sacks and 17 tackles during the
entire regular season, during which his twin brother, Jason, and
cousin Howard (both former LSU teammates) repeatedly chided him
about his lack of impact.
On Sunday the 6'3" 290-pounder became Jarvis Green the Sack
Machine, getting three of the four takedowns of Manning--the
first time in Manning's six-year career that any defender has
dumped him three times. It helped that the Colts' receivers were
getting press coverage like a Michael Jackson court date. "Peyton
was patting the ball and then holding it," Green said. "On film
you don't see him do that, but our secondary caused him to."
McGinest and fellow outside linebacker Mike Vrabel provided
additional resistance by peeling back into coverage.
The Patriots' defense played magnificently, with a big assist
from Belichick who, in the fourth season of his second head
coaching stint, has reached the top of his profession and keeps
getting better. When temperatures in Foxbrrrrrrrrrrough dropped
to 5° last Thursday, Belichick had his team practice outdoors,
correctly assuming that the expected warming by game time (it was
32° and snowing lightly at kickoff) would make the conditions
seem downright equatorial to his players.
With his no-frills demeanor and ever-present hooded sweatshirt,
Belichick exudes all the flair of a man who has ducked outside to
blow some leaves off his front lawn. He is not known for his
inspirational words, but on Saturday night at the Patriots' hotel
in Norwood the coach gave a stirring speech that several players
said was the best of his New England tenure.
Having heard about Colts tight end Marcus Pollard's proclamation
that if the Colts kept playing well, the league "might as well
just hand us the rings," Belichick disdainfully told his players,
"Nobody hands you a ring. I don't care how much money you have,
you can't f------ buy one. You have to play, and you have to earn
it." Then, pulling out his 2001 Super Bowl ring and raising it
high above his head, Belichick continued, "This has to be earned,
and there's only one way to do that. Either they kick your ass,
or you kick theirs."
If Belichick was unnaturally fiery, Brady was, as usual, utterly
calm. Like fellow Bay Area resident Montana, who welcomed the
quarterback to his Napa Valley house for several hours one
afternoon last July, Brady either avoids or conceals stress
His self-confidence, on the other hand, is readily apparent.
While watching the Colts race to a 38-31 victory over the Kansas
City Chiefs two Sundays ago, at his Quincy, Mass., town house,
Brady told his sister Julie, "We're going to kill these guys this
time. Trust me."
Brady is close to each of his three older sisters--Mo, who lives
in their hometown of San Mateo, Calif.; and Julie and Nancy, who
share a town house down the road from their brother's. Earlier
this month Nancy, a representative for a pharmaceutical company
who also works as her brother's personal assistant, called Tom at
the Patriots' facility and told him his home had been
burglarized. "The first thing he asked," Nancy recalled on Sunday
night, "was, 'Did they take my Super Bowl [MVP] trophy?'
Fortunately, the alarm went off, and the only thing missing was a
The MVP trophy remains on its perch in the quarterback's bedroom,
where it could be shown, should Brady so choose, to a trophy
babe. "Exactly," Nancy said, laughing. "I think that's pretty
much every guy's fantasy."
During the course of the party Belichick had phoned a reporter
who was sitting near Vrabel. The linebacker had seized the
cellphone, disguised his voice and asked, "Uh, Coach, why did you
line up Vrabel over the nose and then drop him back into
Cover-Two?" When Belichick started to give a straight answer,
Vrabel interjected, "F---, Bill, this is Vrabel!" and everyone
had a big laugh.
Later Brady tried to describe the source of his confidence. "Over
the course of the last 14 games, we developed something special,"
he said. "It's a mental toughness, a sense of complete
preparation, and we feel we can overcome any obstacle."
As the party wound down, two of Brady's favorite ladies got some
special attention. He took a seat next to his mother, Galynn,
squeezing her shoulders affectionately. Then he scooped up his
two-year-old niece, Maya (Mo's daughter), and gently whisked her
away from the crowd.
For this quarterback, life had never been more golden.
Michael Silver's Open Mike, every Thursday at si.com.
The tight pass coverage and vigorous pass rush made Manning
resemble a marionette dancing to mariachi
"Nobody hands you a [Super Bowl] ring," said Belichick. "I don't
care how much money you have, you can't buy one."