Commentary

Brady ends all doubts -- he's ready to play

Tom Brady and the Patriots arrived in Arizona on Sunday night and quickly eliminated any discussion on whether he's too injured to play in the Super Bowl, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Originally Published: January 27, 2008
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Outside of the infamous Bruno Magli boots that became such a significant component of the O.J. Simpson trial, the fashionable, brown wing-tip lace-ups that New England quarterback Tom Brady wore to his Sunday night Super Bowl XLII news conference may have ranked as the most photographed shoes in recent history.

Of course, it wasn't Brady's choice of footwear, but rather the mildly sprained ankle encased in the right shoe that earned the object of intense scrutiny.

Brady strode into the interview room -- minus any discernable limp, it should be emphasized -- and camera men quickly directed their focus away from the dimple in his chin and down to his feet.

Not surprisingly, Brady, nattily attired in a blue, pinstripe suit, answered all the doubters by immediately announcing that he will play in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Giants.

"It's feeling good. I'll be ready to go," said Brady, who then acknowledged that the ankle injury did keep him off the field last week when the Patriots began installing their game plan with three practice sessions.

With those eight words, crisis averted. Bootgate has been given, well, the boot. The odds-makers in Vegas need not fret about reducing the spread. Ankle fetishists worldwide can find some other celebrity's talus bone to study.

Now the paparazzi that stalked Brady last week, camping outside the Manhattan home of his girlfriend, model Gisele Bundchen, can return to more serious pursuits. You know, stuff like Britney's emotional state, Paris' star-crossed love life, or whether the other NFL quarterback who has become tabloid fodder, Tony Romo of Dallas, is still dating blonde hotty Jessica Simpson.

Let's be honest: Did anybody really believe Brady wasn't going to start against the Giants?

The guy has started in 126 consecutive games, counting postseason contests, and he isn't about to miss a game of such historic significance, one he "hopes is a memorable fourth time" in the league championship game.

The only misstep Brady made Sunday was in offering up more detail than preferred by typically cryptic Pats coach Bill Belichick, who will not address Brady's status until Wednesday when NFL rules compel the teams to issue injury reports.

In the 2001 AFC Championship Game, Brady badly sprained his left ankle against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the man he'd replaced in the lineup, Drew Bledsoe, was forced to finish that contest. That year, there was no "open week" between the conference championship game and Super Bowl XXXVI. With less time to heal, Brady's health was a legitimate concern for much of the week.

How did he respond that time? Well, the ankle held up well and, in his first of three Super Bowl victories, so did Brady. He led his team downfield in the final minutes, getting the Patriots into range for Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal to upset the heavily favored St. Louis Rams.

In one of the more serious moments Sunday night, Belichick was asked about Brady's off-field celebrity, and how it affects his approach to football and his overall performance.

"However he manages his life, I'd say he does a really good job of it," Belichick responded.

The five other New England players who appeared at the week's initial media session overwhelmingly agreed. And center Dan Koppen, after taking a few tongue-in-cheek jabs at the quarterback and all the public attention that he has received, spoke at length about Brady's role as a team leader and "the consummate" team player.

"I think, as linemen, we have a little more leeway in giving him crap about all the [tabloid] stuff," Koppen said. "But we all know what he means to us."

It is expected that Brady will participate fully in practice on Wednesday, when the Pats get back onto the field, and that he will have no problem assimilating the game plan.

Brady did do some light jogging, and simulated dropbacks, and participated in some throwing on the sideline last week. How much?

"Well, enough to realize I'll be ready to play on Sunday," he said.

Enough, likely, to render the whole Bootgate story to little more than a footnote by the end of Super Bowl XLII.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.