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Brady humble as legacy conversation swirls around him

INDIANAPOLIS -- On a few random occasions this week, as the intensity of the Super Bowl media crush swarmed around her younger brother during his preparations for the biggest game in American sports, Nancy Brady's cell phone lit up with texts.

They were never long. Nothing that really even solicited a response.

Instead, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady just wanted his family to know how much they meant to him; how fortunate he felt to have them in Indianapolis supporting him.

"I think that's just part of him recognizing how special this moment is," said Nancy, who arrived Thursday for her family's fifth Super Bowl in 10 years. "The more success he's had, the more humbled he has been by it."

As easy as Brady often has made it look during his first decade as a starter, his familiarity with the challenge he faces instead has provided a deep and sophisticated perspective for the magnitude of his task. It is time for the rest of us to join him, to also recognize with a developed sense of appreciation what we are witnessing in Brady.

On the eve of this latest opportunity, we're reaching a point when the products of his efforts -- three Super Bowl rings, two Super Bowl MVPs and a number of distinguished NFL records -- can contribute to a much deeper realization of the legacy he has built.

Is Brady the best quarterback in the history of this league? A win against the Giants could go a long way in making that case. But it would be oversimplifying the conversation to suggest the outcome of Super Bowl XLVI will provide some easy answer to that question. Instead, just as Brady himself seems sincerely aware of how special it is to arrive at these moments, it's how he seizes opportunities that cements his place on a short and distinguished list of the game's greatest quarterbacks.

This is currently still just a conversation, one that includes names like Joe Montana, Otto Graham, Johnny Unitas, John Elway, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. And yes, absolutely, it includes Tom Brady. Maybe it will always remain a conversation, too. Maybe we'll never have perfect clarity on this topic.

But days like today -- these rare chances on the game's greatest stage -- can often mean so much to the legacy of the great ones. When you think about Montana, it isn't only his four Super Bowls that help make his case. It's how he seized each.

It's the way Montana marched his team 92 yards in the final three minutes of Super Bowl XXIII. It's the way he completed 75.9 percent of his passes and threw five touchdowns in Super Bowl XXIV.

Now, it's Brady's chance to have a similar impact. I, for one, believe he's prepared to do it. I believe Brady is about to put together a performance that will create greater conviction about where he belongs in that aforementioned list. And now is the perfect time in his career.

Without question, particularly when you hear it from those closest to him, Brady remains as dedicated to the game of football as he has ever been.

"You might think you know how hard Tom works at this game, but it's probably still not close," Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker said. "He pours so much into it. He puts so much energy into his preparations that you know, without a doubt, he'll be ready for the moment."

I doubt his work ethic will ever deteriorate. At 34, Brady could perhaps still have plenty more opportunities to add to his legacy, to unequivocally vault his name to the top of the list of the game's greatest names. But if Peyton Manning's current health uncertainties can teach us anything this week, it is that nobody can say with clarity when the last opportunity has arrived.

"You don't know if this is your last time taking the field," Brady said. "It's a very physical sport, and there have been a lot of players who have gone out there one day, and the next day they don't have a chance to play again."

Despite continued superb play, it also has been four years since Brady's last chance at a Super Bowl ring -- and it was an opportunity squandered, in part, by a miraculous catch by Giants wide receiver David Tyree in the game's final moments. You don't think that resonates with Brady? You don't think he has a better grasp of how important it is to embrace these moments as a result of a 17-14 loss in Super Bowl XLII that was decided in the game's final quarter?

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Brady's legacy already is solidified in many ways. He's a future Hall of Fame quarterback. He's a former Sportsman of the Year. A former Comeback Player of the Year. A two-time NFL MVP. A two-time Super Bowl MVP. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection. The record holder for most touchdowns in a regular season.

That's a résumé that will resonate in sports history forever. But we aren't talking about history yet. We are talking about the moment -- one that is currently upon us and has the potential to vault Brady into a place where few have ever been.

When Brady sent those text messages to his sister this week, it might have seemed like nothing more than a brother, a son, a husband and a father making sure his family knows they are appreciated.

But it also revealed a man realizing the magnitude of this special moment. And now, on Super Bowl Sunday, it is his opportunity to seize it.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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