- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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BOSTON -- Charity events like the one Tom Brady took part in Monday are usually well choreographed and go something like this: The celebrity enters through a back door, surprising the kids. Cameras are lined up to capture the staged moment, which involves a sponsor. Within the hour, it's usually over.
This one was no different, although Brady, as he often does, pulled it off with a genuineness that makes you ask, "Is this guy for real?"
Watching Brady in this environment (even with the corporate twist), it's hard not to appreciate his polish and come to the conclusion that however long he continues in his role as franchise quarterback of the New England Patriots, the time should be appreciated because he's about as unique as they come. While the end doesn't figure to be coming any time soon, the 32-year-old Brady did remind reporters Monday that he's "one of the oldest guys on the team now."
This is always a bit tricky. Because we seldom really know the athletes who perform on sports' biggest stages, it's dangerous to definitively judge what they are truly like outside of the few hours we see them perform.
But simply seeing Brady's interaction with the 20 children at the Tobin Community Center on Monday, like when he put his hand on the head of one youngster while talking with him, he seems as sincere as it gets. He arrived to present a $30,000 check to the Boston Centers for Youth and Families from sponsor Smartwater, huddled with the kids to explain why he was there, promoted the product, then played touch football for a while and celebrated with his new teammates as if he were on the field on a Sunday afternoon.
In some ways, it brought Brady back to his youth, when he met Bay Area professional athletes he admired, Will Clark of the San Francisco Giants and Dwight Clark of the San Francisco 49ers.
"I still remember that today. I still remember the feeling I had," Brady said. "It's someone they see on the television and in the newspaper and their friends talk about. Hopefully they realize at some point that they can have that in whatever they choose to do in their life. They can aspire to whatever goals they set for themselves."
Brady, as is the norm, drew a large crowd of media members and covered a gamut of topics in the 10 minutes devoted to a massive group interview.
Most notably, he revealed that he won't need any surgery, saying, "It's nice to be in an offseason where I really feel like I can get started right away." He let his competitive side show when asked his thoughts on Super Bowl XLIV between the Colts and Saints. Since the Patriots aren't playing, he asked whether it is possible that both teams could lose.
He also reflected on the first 10 years of his NFL career relative to a disappointing 2009 season in which he admitted his own performance left room for significant improvement.
"I've had it great over the course of [my] career -- four Super Bowls, five AFC Championship [Games]. You never want to rationalize a season, but in reality we didn't deserve it. We didn't earn it," he said.
"The teams that are in it, they earned it. When I watched [Sunday], you can see why. They play well, they're tough, they're physical, they're smart, they're disciplined. I hope all the players on our team looked at that and said, 'OK, well, this is where we have to measure ourselves by and how are we going to get to that level?'"
Brady also touched on his contract situation, as he enters the final year of his deal for the first time in his Patriots career. He is scheduled to earn $3.5 million in 2010, which is significantly less than market value for a player of his caliber.
"I think we're way overpaid as it is; all of us," he said, before adding, "That's not really a concern. I don't sit here saying, 'What about me, what about me?' I'm under contract, and I'm going to go out there and play and play my butt off."
Brady's comments might make union leaders cringe, as he is now the Patriots' assistant player representative, adding star power as the players negotiate with owners during a crucial time in the NFL's history of labor relations.
But this is part of what makes Brady unique. He somehow finds a way to walk in both worlds and always seems to say the right thing.
In one sentence, he can connect with the common fan who works hard just to pay for season tickets, realizing that anything he says contract-wise won't reflect well on him. In another, behind the scenes, he can lend his support to union president DeMaurice Smith in what figures to be a bloodbath of a negotiation.
With skills like that, perhaps we'll see him in Washington, D.C., someday in the world of politics.
Of course, that would be a long way from where Brady found himself Monday, in a modest Boston gymnasium, firing the football around with 20 kids.
He seemed like he was in his element. Then again, he always does.
The Patriots' Tom Brady seems at ease no matter the setting.