A new legend?

The Baltimore Sun

Unlike Joe DiMaggio, Tom Brady's legacy and his legend will never be enhanced by his inclusion in an Ernest Hemingway novel.

Hemingway - who used "The Great DiMaggio" as a symbol of courage, inspiration and resilience for his protagonist fisherman, Santiago, in his battle with a marlin in The Old Man and the Sea - has been dead for 46 years.

It's also unlikely, when Brady retires, that Paul Simon will write a song that uses Brady's quiet dignity to lament America's lost sense of innocence. "Where have you gone, Tommy Brady?" doesn't have quite the same gravitas as a lyric about how Joltin' Joe has left and gone away.

But if there is one athlete whom we might, in time, romanticize and lionize the way we did DiMaggio, it's Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who will attempt to win his fourth Super Bowl when his team plays the New York Giants tonight in Glendale, Ariz.

The parallels are far from perfect. Plenty has changed in the past 50-plus years, especially the way we view athletes and cover them through the media. Brady, to be more precise, is something of a hybrid of DiMaggio and Joe Namath, the former New York Jets quarterback who epitomized Madison Avenue cool during his career.

But you won't see Brady donning a knee-length fur coat, or see him in pantyhose, two of Namath's more memorable outfits. And there's no chance he'll guarantee victory the way Namath once did, even though the Patriots are heavy favorites, while the Jets were major underdogs.

Instead, what Brady represents today is what DiMaggio did to men in the 1950s and what Namath did to men in the '60s. He's the epitome of American maleness. He is, as Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy once wrote, JFK in cleats. The Camelot Quarterback. Even those who hate him can't help but respect him.

It's understandable if you dislike Brady; the Patriots, considered scrappy underdogs when their dynasty began, now embrace their role as the NFL's Evil Empire. And his messy break-up with actress Bridget Moynahan, who found out after the pair split that she was pregnant, didn't endear him to a number of women - especially when he immediately started seeing Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

On the other hand, those flaws have managed to only enhance Brady's legend. His name, especially for those of a certain age and certain maturity level, evokes something approaching reverence.

He's the best player on the best team of this era, and he plays a game we follow with religious devotion, one that long ago replaced baseball as our national pastime.

He's graceful under pressure, possessing almost an innate ability to seize the moment whenever necessary, and judging on victories alone, it's not much of a stretch to call him the greatest quarterback who has ever buckled a chin strap.

He's handsome as a model, and a dater of starlets. He appears in ads, though not with the annoying frequency of his closest rival, Peyton Manning, and he has an outward confidence that, for the most part, never rises to the level of arrogance.

In short, he has become an American icon.

"He looks cool, and he looks famous, but, more than anything else, he looks perfect," cultural essayist Chuck Klosterman wrote on ESPN.com this week, describing a photo of Brady holding hands with his girlfriend. "He looks like a perfect human living a perfect life, effortlessly incarnating the relentless perfectitude of the football team he has led to precipice of a perfect season."

Brady doesn't have DiMaggio's fierce regard for personal privacy, even though friends say he is a private person. It's easy to imagine, too, how differently the Yankee Clipper's nine-month marriage to actress Marilyn Monroe would be viewed today, in an era where celebrities are covered with more scrutiny - and often, more resources - than we cover wars. (How would Perez Hilton or US Weekly characterize DiMaggio's decree that fresh roses be placed on Monroe's grave twice a week until forever? Romantic? Or pathetic?)

But each time Brady is photographed by a horde of paparazzi as he strolls through Manhattan's West Village, always dressed impeccably, usually with Bundchen on his arm; each time he shows up for a post-game news conference looking distinguished in a perfectly tailored suit; each time he gives sly and brief answers to questions; it's hard not to see the echoes of DiMaggio in the way he carries himself.

In DiMaggio's time, fans expressed their reverence and adoration for his greatness by listening to his games on the radio and reading box scores during his 56-game hitting streak. At most, they would read a lengthy profile about him in Esquire written by Gay Talese long after DiMaggio had retired.

Today, we can open the paper (or log onto the Internet) and read that The Globe has interviewed the man who cuts Brady's hair, and asked him about the trim he'll give the quarterback before tonight's game. We can see pictures of Brady necking with Gisele in Paris. We can tune into The Today Show on NBC and listen with amusement as a talking head poses an unusual, but pertinent, question; one that Internet blogs have been asking for months: Is it OK for a guy to have a "man crush" on Tom Brady?

Pause, for a moment, and ask yourself whether your grandfather would ever admit to having a "man crush" on Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams.

For immigrants, especially Italians, DiMaggio once represented the belief that hard work and quiet perseverance could carry a man to greatness. Even if a man came from the humble beginnings - DiMaggio was the son of a San Francisco fisherman - he too could own a large piece of the American dream.

In a way, Brady also represents some of those same lessons of resilience and perseverance. In college, at Michigan, his own coach never fully believed in his abilities, rotating him with another quarterback, Drew Henson, who never caught on in the NFL.

Drafted in the sixth round, behind quarterbacks such as Gino Carmazzi, Brady became living proof that fame and greatness were not predetermined. If you could win games and work relentlessly at your craft, then you too might be able to date a supermodel.

Maybe no one would go so far as to write a song about you, but one day you could log onto the Internet and see your personal life splashed across glossy photos, and you could shrug your shoulders and laugh.

You could buckle up your chin strap, jog onto the field and throw perfect spirals in front of millions.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com

SUPER BOWL New York Giants vs. New England Patriots, tonight, 6:17 p.m., chs. 45, 5, radio 1090 AM Line: Patriots by 12

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