JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Tom Brady was holding the Vince Lombardi trophy moments after Super Bowl XXXIX when Fox analyst Terry Bradshaw — a four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback himself — quipped, "You know, it’s not that easy."
"Believe me," the Patriots quarterback said, "I do know that."
But it’s getting harder to believe.
The legend of Tom Brady is growing one Super Bowl win at a time. OK, so this time, Brady didn’t win the MVP after his team beat Philadelphia, 24-21. It was the first time he didn’t have to engineer a game-winning drive at the end of a game, and hey, wide receiver Deion Branch doesn’t win the award with his 11 catches unless Brady is throwing him the ball.
Besides, Brady is only 27 and in four seasons as a starter, he has led his team to three championships. He is a seemingly impossible 9-0 in the playoffs.
This title came during a week in which his grandmother died and his father needed to go to the hospital, and was there ever a doubt Brady would lead his team to a win?
"His greatest asset," said Fox analyst Troy Aikman during the game, "is his demeanor."
He completed 23-of-33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Of course, he didn’t throw an interception.
And of course, he downplayed his growing legacy afterward.
"It’s just too much to compare myself," Brady said. "I watched all these other (quarterbacks) play and saw how good they are and I don’t think I’m that good. I know I have things I want to get better at.
"I’ve done great things in four years and I am proud of being the quarterback on this team. I am proud to lead this team, proud to call plays in the huddle. But with guys like Dan Marino and Steve Young making the Hall of Fame . . . I still have a long way to go."
He isn’t the same quarterback that shocked the NFL by driving the Patriots to that upset win in the Super Bowl against the Rams four seasons ago. He’s not even the guy who won the shootout against the Panthers last year.
Maturity has changed him, both as a player and a person. He talked all week about the need to be prepared, and afterward said he was more prepared than ever before.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said that Brady wouldn’t stop bugging him all week, calling him at 10 p.m. this week, begging Weis to come to his room so the two could tweak the game plan.
"I haven’t had a day off in seven months," Brady said, "and it’s all for this."
New England’s offensive success seemed to take forever Sunday. The Patriots didn’t get a touchdown until just over a minute left in the first half. There was never a spectacular sequence of Brady that will be carved into an NFL Films package.
But with just five seasons in the NFL — the man sat as a rookie, and may have never played if Drew Bledsoe hadn’t suffered that horrible sternum injury early in the 2001 season — he probably has already fashioned a Hall of Fame resumé.
"With three Super Bowls, he has to be a lead pipe lock," ESPN analyst and former quarterback Ron Jaworski said. "He is the best big-game player I have ever seen."
No one can say for sure what makes him special. His physical gifts are limited; there was a reason he was a sixth-round draft pick. He’ll never travel in the statistical circles of a Peyton Manning or Daunte Culpepper.
But he doesn’t have to.
Brady is a winner. He won again Sunday night, and it would be foolish to believe he won’t be here again.
"He demands a lot of himself and from everyone else," Patriots tackle Matt Light said. "That defines a leader in my mind.
"Where that ranks him, I don’t know. I just know he’s an integral part of this team and I wouldn’t want it any other