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Associated Press
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady still feels he has something to prove after being a sixth-round draft pick in 2000.

Showdown for it all

Patriots QB Brady has fire to improve

– At last the kid has squirmed his way to the front of the scrum, here on Media Day at Super Bowl XLVI. And now Tom Brady – Tom Terrific, Tom the Conqueror, Tom Your-Table-Is-Waiting-In-Canton – locks eyes with him, and there is only the New England Patriots quarterback and the kid, right here in the middle of this immense clot of media folk.

“Why aren’t you in school?” Brady asks softly. “It’s Tuesday.”

The kid explains he’s here with his teacher, actually. And so Brady smiles and answers his question, seriously and in detail, and it’s a sweet moment, really, the kind of moment that makes thinking Tom Brady really is the Casper Milquetoast of quarterbacks, Goody Two Shoes grafted onto Joe Willie White Shoes Namath.

And then the guy shows up with the photo.

It’s of Brady in his Goldilocks days, and the guy’s pointing that out to him, yammering away. And suddenly, for one hard-edged second or so, you see the real Tom Brady.

You see the sixth-round draft pick who’s spent 12 years gnawing on that slight the way a dog gnaws a bone. You see the guy who bulled into the end zone against Denver and then emphatically slammed the football into the turf, wordless testimony that he was sick and tired of all the talk about Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow that week. You see the guy who absolutely hated the way he played in the AFC championship game against Baltimore, even though the Patriots won.

The snarl behind the smile. That’s what you see.

“It was just long hair, for God’s sake,” Brady says. “You gotta do something with your hair.”

And you think: This is a man not to be trifled with.

‘It is not like he is God’

Jason Pierre-Paul should have known better. But the Giants defensive lineman is only 23 and it’s Super Bowl week, and sooner or later, during Super Bowl week, you’re going to say something you shouldn’t. And so there he was, dissing Brady.

“Anybody can be rattled,” he said. “Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but at the end of the day he is just a quarterback. It is not like he is God.”

And there went yet another shovel of coal, stoking the fires of resentment and defiance that burn white-hot beneath Brady’s placid exterior.

The man has three Super Bowl rings and could have a record-tying fourth by the end of today, and his 16-5 postseason record is the best in NFL history. And still he seethes. Still he sees this ghost-army of doubters out there, thinking he is Just A Quarterback.

“I don’t think it’s just that 2000 NFL draft,” Brady said last week, suggesting again that, even 12 years along, being Sixth-Round Tom still motivates him.

“What you’re always trying to do as an athlete is prove it to yourself. … You try to go out there and be confident in yourself so you can inspire confidence in others.”

And that entails being the hard case, the obsessed case, sometimes.

Brady’s the guy who looks young players in the eye and says, “How can you expect me to be confident in you when you’re not confident in yourself?” He’s the guy who, even in victory, obsesses over the two picks he threw against the Ravens in the AFC title game (“If there’s one thing that correlates to winning games, it’s turnovers”). He’s the guy who, on occasion, yells at his offensive linemen when they don’t perform to code.

“If he yells, that means something bad went wrong with one of us,” guard Logan Mankins says. “We understand why he’s yelling. Everyone is out there competing. You want the guy next to you doing his job.”

No problem if it’s Brady, whose engine is never not revved.

“He is one of our hardest workers,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick says.

“I meet with Tom at the beginning of the week, and he always has seen all of the film, as much or more than I have going back to previous games.”

Says wide receiver Wes Welker: “He is very hard on himself and he continues to be. That is why he is so great. Just watching him in person, the way he works, what he does out there, it’s pretty incredible.”

‘Every loss hurts’

The night the Patriots lost to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII, Tom Brady slept for about an hour, tormented by what should have been.

He’d already won three Super Bowls. But the one he lost was all that mattered.

“Every loss hurts,” he said this week. “They all suck. This game is about competition. You have to compete every single day because if you don’t, you’re not going to be around very long.”

Well, Sixth-Round Tom’s been around 12 years now. He’s in the top four in career postseason passing yards, touchdowns and completions. And this season, he threw for 5,235 yards, the second-most in NFL history.

Behind, um, Drew Brees, whose record 5,471 this season put Sixth-Round Tom in eclipse again.

More fuel for the fire.