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Super Bowl is about performance, not pedigree

Note: The following story can be found in the Super Bowl XLIII official game program.

Following the 2004 NFL Draft, New York's tabloids feasted.

The New York Giants received a bolt of their own from the San Diego Chargers, acquiring quarterback Eli Manning in return for fourth overall pick Philip Rivers, a third-round pick, and New York's first- and fifth-round selections in the 2005 draft.

Four seasons later, the Giants won Super Bowl XLII and Manning was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

After that same draft, Pittsburgh's papers practically panted.

With Eli Manning off to New York and Philip Rivers headed to San Diego, the Steelers -- the same franchise that once chose Texas Tech nose tackle Gabriel Rivera in the first round, six spots before the Dolphins picked Pittsburgh quarterback Dan Marino -- pounced on QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Two seasons later, Roethlisberger helped the Steelers capture Super Bowl XL.

And back in 1998, when the Colts held the No. 1 overall choice and faced the most significant decision in franchise history, the team's brain trust ignored the opinion of NFL experts who were split on how the pick should be used.

The Colts decided whom to pick No. 1 after asking the two players how each would celebrate if he were the selection. Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf said he would get together with his friends for a boys-gone-wild weekend in Las Vegas; Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning said he would ask for the Colts playbook so he could jump into all the work ahead of him. They took Manning.

Nine seasons later, the Colts won Super Bowl XLI and Manning was the game's MVP.

Each of those top picks produced enormous headlines. Each produced even more big plays. Ultimately, each produced a Super Bowl title.

Yet as spot on as those picks were -- and who could argue with any of them? -- a single sixth-round pick, Michigan quarterback Tom Brady, has helped the New England Patriots win as many Super Bowls as those three trumpeted first-round picks combined.

And thus, the eternal truth that links draft day with Super Sunday is this: The Super Bowl refuses to discriminate.

It does not care one bit about what round a player was drafted. The Super Bowl is just as willing to shower confetti, glory and a new Cadillac on a less heralded player as it is a more celebrated one.

Over time, 15 Super Bowl MVPs were not first-round picks, the most famous of those being third-rounder Joe Montana, who won three such awards while quarterbacking the 49ers, and Brady, a two-time recipient who came within moments of adding a third honor last February.

Four Super Bowl MVPs -- eighth-round pick Richard Dent, 10th-round selection Roger Staubach, 12th-round choice Larry Brown and 17th-rounder Bart Starr -- were taken in rounds that the NFL abolished long ago. And one Super Bowl MVP, Arizona's Kurt Warner, was completely ignored on draft day.

"The reality is you don't have to be the No. 1 pick to make it big anymore," says Warner, who threw for a record 414 yards in the Rams' Super Bowl XXXIV triumph over Tennessee and who has spent the past four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

"So many guys come onto the scene who aren't supposed to be there. You pull for one, and then you see there's another, and another, and another, and you start to say, 'Who cares where a player was drafted? He can play football and he can play at this level.'

"As the number of stories rises -- and there are more and more stories like this out there -- it inspires other guys," Warner said. "And the idea that you have to be drafted high to be an impact player gets thrown out the window."

At this point, all windows should be left wide open.

On Super Sunday, any player -- no matter what round he was drafted, or even if he wasn't drafted at all -- can put in a waiver claim for hype, headlines and history.

If supermodel Giselle Bundchen is a poster girl for women's glamour, then Brady is the poster boy for buried treasure. How New England unearthed him provides insight into the building of a dynasty.

Back in 2000, when Bill Belichick took over as Patriots head coach and Scott Pioli as New England's assistant director of player personnel, they began masterminding how to retool and rebuild their roster.

Of all the positions they felt they needed to address -- and there were plenty for a team with a win total that had slipped three consecutive years -- quarterback was not one. New England already had former No. 1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe, backup John Friesz and the promising Michael Bishop.

With holes everywhere but behind center, New England used its top pick in that year's draft (a second-round selection) on offensive tackle Adrian Klemm. The team's third-round pick was spent on running back J.R. Redmond, offensive tackle Greg Randall was taken in the fourth round and in the fifth round the Patriots went with tight end Dave Stachelski and defensive end Jeff Marriott. Their first sixth-round pick? That was used on cornerback Antwan Harris.

By this point, the debate in New England's draft room was well underway. In the weeks and months leading up to the draft, quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein had invested a massive amount of time in scouting late-round prospects. The one that stood out was Michigan's Brady.

New England toyed with taking him with one of its picks in the fifth round, but decided its needs at other positions still were too great. When the team's turn came around again in the sixth round -- and Brady was still on the board -- the Patriots were baffled.

"We were asking, 'What's wrong with this guy?'" recalls Pioli, who was recently named general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs.

At the time, many around the league thought Brady lacked great arm strength and that his athletic abilities were subpar. Those same people wondered why he could not consistently keep a starting job, even if he was battling fellow pro prospect Drew Henson. But Belichick, Pioli, Rehbein and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis kept coming back to Brady's record as a starter.

At Michigan, against top-flight competition, Brady went 20-5. He led the Wolverines to an overtime win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl, when he threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. In the end, those credentials and Rehbein's recommendations were enough for the Patriots to use a compensatory pick -- the 199th selection of the 2000 draft -- on Brady.

People have since contended the Patriots didn't even know what they had -- that they got lucky. Maybe. But there is a plausible theory to debunk the skeptics. During the 2000 season, while some teams carried as few as two quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters, the Patriots were the only team in the league to keep four, even with the holes they had.

When the season ended, despite needing and wanting to sign players off other teams' practice squads, the Patriots remained the only team with four QBs. Brady had demonstrated enough for New England to realize that, no matter the circumstances, it could not afford to lose him.

New England couldn't definitively say it knew it had something good. But it did sense something. And that something turned out to be something great.

  -- former 
 Patriots executive Scott Pioli, on drafting two-time 
 Super Bowl MVP 
 Tom Brady in the sixth round 

"We were fortunate to draft someone like Tom," Pioli says. "But he made himself a great football player."

Simultaneously, he made the Patriots a great team.

Go down the list of Super Bowl MVPs, and study why -- or how -- it was that certain players pulled a slip and slide in the NFL Draft. Prior to Brady, the most cited example was 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, a third-round pick in 1979, who supposedly lacked the necessary arm strength. But there are many others:

» Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin, a third-rounder in 1973, played against lackluster competition at East Texas State.

» Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, a third-round selection in 1998, was considered too small and too slow.

» Buccaneers safety Dexter Jackson, a fourth-round choice in 1999, got overlooked in the sea of stars at Florida State.

» Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien, taken in the sixth round in 1986, was deemed not athletic enough.

» Broncos running back Terrell Davis, a sixth-rounder in 1995, suffered too many injuries in college.

» Dolphins safety Jake Scott, a seventh-round pick in 1970, confounded scouts the way he later did teammates when he disappeared (quietly retreating to Hawaii) following his football career.

» Bears defensive end Richard Dent, an eighth-round choice in the famed class of 1983, struggled to play run defense.

» Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, who dropped to the 10th round in 1964, needed to fulfill military service in the Navy before he could join the NFL.

» Cowboys cornerback Larry Brown, a 12th-round pick in 1991, was lacking the physical skills and coverage ability to be drafted any higher.

» Packers quarterback Bart Starr, a 17th-round choice in 1956, possessed a weak arm that was hardly ever on display at run-crazy Alabama.

» Kurt Warner, an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa, rarely threw a spiral during his first camp with the Packers in 1994.

Different players dropped for different reasons. How they did, in retrospect, is nearly inexplicable.

"Hey, you can only have so many first-round picks," said Davis, drafted by the Broncos with the 196th overall choice, 14 spots after the team used its first sixth-round selection on Iowa guard Fritz Fequiere. "There are only 32 players drafted in that round. There are plenty of opportunities later."

They are the great wonders of the football world. Fans, reporters, broadcasters, players, coaches, scouts, executives, owners -- everyone wonders how a gifted talent could be overlooked at the game's highest level. No single accurate answer exists. But theories do.

Maybe the most logical is that scouting simply is unpredictable ... and always will be.

Sometimes the best Pop Warner or Little League players fail to continue starring at the high school level. Sometimes the most sought-after college recruits never make it at Division I. And the NFL certainly has seen its share of busts (see: Leaf, Ryan).

The process also works in reverse. Players who never developed in Pop Warner or Little League finally do in high school. Several afterthought recruits turn out to be the best collegians. And, on occasion, ordinary college players mature in the pros.

Just watch the video of Brady running the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. He looks like a cross between a nerd and a waterboy.

"It's difficult," Pioli said. "That's why sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong. And when you're right, you can't act like you've figured it out because there are just as many mistakes."

Occasionally, stars emerge the moment they start believing. Former Broncos running back Terrell Davis recalls that, after Denver drafted him, he only wanted to report to the team's first minicamp to size himself up against the rest of the competition and the great NFL players he watched on television.

Yet when he arrived in Denver and saw the veterans and dozens of fellow hopefuls, Davis realized the other running backs weren't any bigger than him. They weren't any faster. They couldn't block or catch or run better. Plus, he had an advantage the other players didn't: He was a sixth-round pick. He used it as a motivator.

"Once I got drafted in the sixth round -- just like I'm sure was the case with Tom Brady and Mark Rypien -- you have a huge chip on your shoulder," says Davis, who ran for 157 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXII win over Green Bay. "You were passed up by everybody. People think because you got drafted in the sixth round that you have sixth-round talent.

"That [angered] me. If you looked at my college [scouting] grades prior to my senior year at Georgia, I had high grades. But nobody looks at that. They look at where you were drafted and think, 'Sixth-round talent.'

"But I wanted to answer, 'No! Stop! Understand why I got drafted in the sixth round. Understand my story.'"

Davis' story, like others, had layers. For starters, he was a California transplant trying to make his way in a Southern environment. The atmosphere was different, and so were his friends and the brand of football that Georgia played. Throughout his senior season, Davis battled a nagging hamstring injury. If all that wasn't enough, he believed his head coach, Ray Goff, sold him short to NFL scouts.

This was Davis' story. Every player has one. And every one affects that player's draft stock.

Just like baseball players swing and miss, so do NFL scouts. It happens. It's part of the job. In fact, in that 2000 draft when the Patriots selected Brady, it's worth noting that none of the six players the team picked in front of him (nor any of the three it chose after him) remains in the league. How about the year after the Colts took Peyton Manning No. 1? The Cleveland Browns used that same spot to select Tim Couch.

There's a behind-the-scenes saying that if an NFL talent evaluator can bat .300 -- hitting on three of every 10 players he drafts -- he would build a Hall of Fame resume. And while .300 doesn't clinch Cooperstown in baseball, it can clinch Canton in football. And the way to Canton, as anyone there knows, is through the mid- to late-rounds of the NFL Draft.

It is where sleepers give hope to dreamers. And those dreamers can sometimes end up as Super Bowl MVPs.

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