Older, wiser Brady appreciates opportunity

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks strategy with head Patriots quarterback Tom Brady talks strategy with head coach Bill Belichick during the second half of the AFC divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos. (Jan. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

INDIANAPOLIS

Lost in all the talk this week about a certain Super Bowl played four years ago Friday is a more round-numbered anniversary:

It was 10 years ago Friday that the Patriots shocked the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" in the Superdome to secure the first championship of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady dynasty. Ten years!

It hardly seemed possible early Thursday in the course of a 45-minute chat between a still-youthful-looking Brady and die-hard reporters who stayed to the end of his final interview session.

But Brady certainly sensed the passage of time. He is 34 now, a husband and father with more perspective than he had during that tense, post-9/11 Super Bowl week in New Orleans.

Brady said he is more appreciative of the experience now, more tolerant of media obligations and other distractions.

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"Honestly, the way this game is, this could be your last game playing, you never, ever know,'' he said. "So I have much more patience for all of this and I enjoy it. It's pretty awesome.''

Left unsaid in all the wistfulness was a harsh fact of football life. Seven years since the Patriots last won it all, the clock inexorably is ticking on the Brady/Belichick experience, and there is no telling if they will pass this way again.

It is true that Brady and Belichick already have fashioned the Hall of Fame-caliber legacies the Giants' Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin still are inching toward. But it also is true that the Boston Bs remain stuck one rung shy of the very top of the historical charts.

Belichick's three rings as a coach trail the Steelers' Chuck Noll by one. Brady's three as a quarterback trail the Steelers' Terry Bradshaw and Brady's childhood quarterbacking hero, Joe Montana, by one.

Brady said he is not motivated by his place in football history, even though he did add, "To think that I would ever be mentioned in the same sentence as some of the great players of all time is very flattering and humbling.''

He does admit to a sense of motivation borne of the long wait between titles. Shocking but true: Since the Patriots' last Super Bowl victory, the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins have won championships.

"Thanks for reminding me,'' Brady said earlier in the week.

All of which brings us back, naturally, to Super Bowl XLII. If not for a late touchdown drive led by Manning four years ago, Belichick and his quarterback already would be widely hailed as the best ever in their jobs.

(Tangential point: Belichick and Brady were asked if the Spygate scandal of 2007 tainted their titles. Said Brady: "Does that mean we don't have to hear any more about that if we win? OK, let's win the game.'')

Instead, they got four years older waiting for another shot -- one that will arrive Sunday.

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Brady acknowledged that the loss to the Giants is something every remaining member of the 2007 Patriots thinks about, but he consistently has refused to admit "revenge'' is the point.

That point is to win and to enjoy the opportunity -- one rarer than he once understood. "Early in my career, we were [regularly] here,'' he said. "In a way, you're kind of like, yeah, we've been through this, the season ends the first week of February.''

Not always, as it turns out. Said Brady: "I think you become very appreciative.''

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