Brady wasn’t always so picture perfect

The pictures remain the funniest part. Tom Brady is standing in the smallish white box at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in 2000 with his shirt off, like so many prospects before and since then.

The difference is he does not look like an athlete, at least not in the conventional sense. He looks pasty, for starters. And while Brady is not remotely overweight, it’s debatable based on the shot whether he ever had lifted a weight.

The video from the festivities is even better, reminiscent of Will Ferrell in "Old School" going streaking, only Brady might have been slower in his 5.2 40.

I like to believe these images exist to even things out, just a little. They are a reminder the guy sleeping with Gisele and finishing his $20 million mansion and playing in his fifth Super Bowl had what, at one time at least, had to be a soul-crushing day.

I had pitched the idea of Brady and his New England Patriots returning to Indy for a Super Bowl as a kind of treatise on proving others wrong. Yes, he had been back for games. This is the Super Bowl, though, and he returns to this place as one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. He and Pats coach Bill Belichick have built an empire. And this genius collaboration was made possible by that slow-running, geeky-looking Brady who showed up in Indy.

This is why every team passed on Brady repeatedly, why he fell to No. 199, why the Pats owner called him Kyle upon initially meeting him. Watching the NFL Films piece on why Brady was the biggest steal in draft history, I realized we know all of this except why.

What did they all miss? What they could not see.

It is not that sports is an inexact science. It is, and it isn’t. It is that the league too often measures the wrong things. They are looking for a time on a 40 when what they should be measuring how much time a guy spends watching film.

There is a talent exception to this theory.

A few athletes have so much talent they do not have to be insanely driven. All of the film and weights and work in the world could not help the few with not enough. The league is built on the middle, the talented and the less so, and what separates them is how much they want it.

It is very passé nowadays to talk about the role of desire in making great athletes. The measuring of them has become such a statistical melee that we forget the role work and dedication plays into this. One of my favorite stories is the one longtime Cowboys safety Darren Woodson tells about Michael Irvin and puke.

Now Woodson was a consummate pro, the kind of guy who was always diligent about film and weights. So one day we were talking and I asked him where he got this. Michael Irvin, he said. He proceeded to tell how the infinitely talented Irvin would go back out on the field after practice some days and ran until he puked.

"A metaphor?" I asked.

"No, he actually puked," Woodson explained.

When I see the best players in the game, guys like Brady, I find myself wondering what is their puking? What is the thing they do so obsessively and so diligently because they are afraid of losing their edge?

Listening to people over the years describe Brady, my guess with him is his version of puking is preparation. Even when he was dating a supermodel and had a pregnant actress ex in Hollywood, there was never really a doubt about where his focus was. The guy wants to win games and is willing to put in the time to do so.

Maybe, he was always going to be that way.

Maybe, Indy inspired it.

The common denominator between him and Peyton Manning is being somewhat single-minded. Manning did so even though he is crazy talented. Brady did something to prove he was.

The truth is what Brady did was just a little more impressive.

It is so easy for these lower-round guys to work their butts off and prove themselves and get the contract and then stop. That is enough. This was more than anybody expected for them and enough to sate them. I have seen it covering the Cowboys. Brady never let enough be enough, or too much be enough. He always showed back up ready to go get more.

I am sure Belichick is a big reason for this. He could motivate JaMarcus Russell, or at least shave 50 pounds off of him. So Brady, especially the Brady with the funny pictures from Indy, was perfect for him. He was talented and undervalued and thereby ended up in New England as a result, which was the best possible place for him.

On second thought, why don’t we despise him just a little?

He sleeps with Giselle, and the worst day of his life turned out to be really lucky because it landed him in New England, where a blend of his drive, a little luck and Belichick turned him into one of the best the game has ever seen.

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