Patriots preview: Tom Brady
The skinny kid from San Mateo, Calif., became the man in New England years ago.
Now look at him.
Tom Brady is 30 years old and a daddy.
Young Tom is all grown up.
"I still feel I'm 22," Brady smiled during one of his weekly preseason meetings with the press. "I don't know if that's good or bad."
If history is a barometer, that's good for the Patriots, and bad for their opponents.
At 24 years and 184 days old, Brady became the third-youngest player in NFL history to earn Super Bowl MVP honors when he directed the Patriots to their 20-17 victory over St. Louis in No. XXXVI, putting him in select company with Marcus Allen (23 years and 301 days at Super Bowl XVIII) of the then-Los Angeles Raiders and Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann (23 years and 316 days at Super Bowl X).
Three years later, Brady became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to three or more Super Bowl championships, putting him in elite company with Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco's Joe Montana (four each) and Dallas' Troy Aikman (three).
It's going on three years now since Brady guided the Patriots to their last Super Bowl title and in Randy Moss, Donté Stallworth and Wes Welker, the past offseason brought helping hands like he's never seen.
At 22 the second time around, has Brady's time arrived a second time?
"I'm always excited," Brady said, looking ahead to his eighth season in New England. "I'm always excited about our potential, but the potential and the reality (are) something that (are) very different.
"I've heard over the last six months the expectations for this team, that we can just go out there and throw the ball on whomever we want and run it and gain 450 yards a game. But it takes a lot," said Brady. "It takes a lot of guys coming together, finding a role and playing with toughness and effort.
"We haven't played any regular-season games to see where we're really at. The potential of the team, that's one thing, but going out there to see what we can accomplish starting Week One is what's most important."
Brady's accomplishments reach double figures - 10 pages in the Patriots' 2007 media guide. But he insists the final chapter is years away.
"Everybody always says, 'Don't you want to retire? You're going to get hurt,' " said Brady. "There's nothing more fun than this, so I'm going to play as long as I can. Until they take my locker down in there, I'm going to be coming in every day."
Which is precisely the way Brady's approached things since Day One in New England, April 16, 2000, when the Patriots made the quarterback with the rather modest past as a Michigan Wolverine the 199th overall pick in that year's NFL draft.
Safe to say, professional football in these parts has never been quite the same.
In retrospect, it could be argued that the Patriots were a minute away from going on to claim their fourth Super Bowl in six years last season, Joseph Addai's late-game touchdown in the AFC Championship game propelling the Indianapolis Colts on to their eventual win over the Chicago Bears on pro football's grand stage.
"You learn from situations like that (game)," said Brady. "I hope we all learned a very valuable lesson. At the same time, that's what happened in the past. You've got to learn from the mistakes, but you can't dwell on them. You have to use those as motivation."