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Monday, February 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Les Carpenter / Times staff columnist
HOUSTON He loves it late, when the clock runs down and the night is thick with desperation. Last night Tom Brady stepped in the final Patriots huddle, looked around and smiled.
"Here we go," he said.
So cool, that's what they love. He doesn't shake, he doesn't fret. The Super Bowl was on the line last night, twice in three minutes and you wouldn't know it by watching New England's quarterback.
"He thrives on those moments," tackle Tom Ashworth said after the confetti had fallen on yet another Patriots world championship. "He's got so much confidence. I think we pick up on that."
All you hear about these New England teams is defense. On a franchise that's not supposed to have any stars, any personality, anything resembling glamour, it only has the league's best quarterback. Anybody who thinks the Patriots would have hoisted two Super Bowl trophies in three years without Tom Brady is insane.
The thing is, he knew last night was coming. He could feel it for days as he walked through the practices, sat for dinners and faced the cameras. He knew the clock would wind down and he would be standing there on the Super Bowl field with all the world watching and have to stare down another huddle and lead his team to victory.
He said this to people. He told them he was going to have to take the Patriots to the championship again the way he did that night in New Orleans when the St. Louis Rams never seemed to know what hit them. The thought never bothered him. He took it almost as his fate.
"I don't know what can faze the guy," his backup quarterback Damon Huard said. "Nothing ever does."
The Patriots like to practice their two-minute offense, letting the autumn days run dark. They like the pace of the fury, the anticipation that fills the afternoons. They also adore watching Brady, the way he seems to always find exactly the right player at precisely the right time. It's an art, they've decided. They've stopped trying to figure out how he does it.
Then last night, on the verge of sealing victory, he failed them. He stood in the shadow of the goal line and threw a pass that was meant to land in the hands of tight end Christian Fauria for the touchdown that would put the Panthers away. Instead Carolina cornerback Reggie Howard leaped in front of the throw, pulled it down and so many Patriots hearts dropped.
But on the Patriots' sideline, Brady didn't move.
Huard looked at his friend, searching for a crack. Nothing.
"You have to have a short memory," Huard said. So few of them really do.
The first drive came with 6:53 left on laser-like passes, darting from the scrum to receivers like Troy Brown and David Givens. Suddenly just 3:40 was left and he somehow found Givens on the right sideline. Seconds later, he fooled everyone with a shot to Mike Vrabel, a linebacker suddenly on offense and the celebration was rolling again.
"Be ready, you're going to have to go back and do it again," Huard said to him on the sideline. Brady said nothing and yet the look he gave Huard in return said he knew this was true.
The final drive began with 1:08 left and when Adam Vinatieri's 41-yard game-winning field goal floated through the uprights, everybody had to know how good Tom Brady really is.
All week long the talk around here was about John Elway and the Hall of Fame. And then Dan Marino and Joe Montana came to town and everybody flocked to them, lamenting about where the great Super Bowl quarterbacks had gone.
Last night there was another one. In the Super Bowl that was supposed to be about everybody but the quarterbacks, the next Marino and Montana appeared. The pressure grew, Reliant Stadium was so loud the players couldn't even hear each other anymore. Then Tom Brady stole another Super Bowl. He has won two Super Bowl MVPs. What more does he have to do?
"There's no question he's in that group," Huard said. "We won 15 games in a row. He's our star."
We are seeing something big now. When will we come to recognize it?
All this time we've been searching for the next Montana or Marino or Elway and he's been here all along.
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