Brady's journey to the top began a long time ago

Quarterback Tom Brady was already on the road to perfection long before the Patriots embarked on their path.

Brady grew up in San Mateo, Calif., with a front-row seat for the greatness to which he aspired.

Brady was a 4 1/2 year-old boy barely old enough to grip a football as he sat in the stands at Candlestick Park and watched Joe Montana loft the pass that became "The catch" and launched Montana's legend -- as well as the San Francisco 49ers dynasty.

Brady watched Montana, cheered Montana, and emulated Montana through his formative years. Brady had his mentor, his model.

Only Brady was an exception, even back then. He didn't want to be like Montana. He wanted to be better.

Brady's desire was so strong, it even spanned across the decades of the sport. Not only did Brady want to be better than Montana, but he wanted to be better than Johnny Unitas, John Elway, Dan Marino, better than any quarterback. End of discussion. End of debate.

Brady privately shared his desire with those he trusted most. They would listen to his dreams, then see his actions. Brady would be lifting weights at the Patriots training complex before the sun would rise. He would be refining his already superior throws after practice had ended. Everybody saw how easy Brady made the game look. Few saw the work it took.

When Brady perfected the "fake Statue-of-Liberty" in this year's divisional playoffs that, to date, might just be the signature play of his career, some praised his showmanship. But to pull off the play, Brady had to sell it. To sell it, he had to practice it. Nobody saw the practice that went into the play. Everybody saw the results, a replay that will stand in time, not unlike the single-season records Brady set this season.

Everyone knows Brady has the individual stats. But the stat that matters most with quarterbacks is the final score. Brady is 100-26 in the regular season, and 14-2 in the postseason. The only quarterback with at least 10 starts and a better postseason winning percentage is Bart Starr, who compiled a 9-1 record in the playoffs.

Now, entering Super Bowl XLII -- Jersey Boys versus History Boys -- Brady is one win shy of his fourth Super Bowl victory in seven seasons. Terry Bradshaw and Montana each won four over their entire careers. Starr won two to go along with three NFL championships. But Brady is 30, in the prime of his career, teamed with the best coach in the game, and some of the best personnel.

More Brady championships might ensue. More Brady work certainly will. And when the chatter about the greatest quarterbacks in the game kicks off, it should start with this: When the clock is running, the crowd screaming, the pressure mounting, the heart racing, there's no other quarterback better than Brady.

Nor will there be anytime soon.

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