AS OVER ONE BILLION EXPECTED VIEWERS await the coin toss, inside sources with the New England Patriots reported today that reigning league MVP quarterback Tom Brady will not play in the Super Bowl on Sunday, but his girlfriend, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, will start in his place.
With the decision being announced on the eve of one the most anticipated Super Bowl games ever, as the New England Patriots seek to defeat the New York Giants and become the best team in the history of the National Football League with a record of 19-0, the sports world is abuzz.
This revelation has clarified to many National Football League observers and analysts the mystifying events occurring since the NFC championship game: why Brady was wearing a protective boot on his foot although no one saw him get injured; why he missed important practice sessions leading up to what may be the most consequential game in American football history, and why he was spending so much of this crucial preparation time off the field with Bündchen.
The decision, said a source within the Patriot's organization who asked to remain anonymous, was rooted in New England coach Bill Belichick's desire to prove that the Patriots' unprecedented success was due to his coaching rather than Brady's play. Like National Basketball Association head coach Phil Jackson, who led the Chicago Bulls to six championships with Michael Jordan, but could not get any credit until he won one with the Los Angeles Lakers without Jordan, Belichick has been living in Brady's shadow.
With this move, Belichick hopes to remove the constant tagline to every recital of his successes; "Yeah, but with Brady at QB, who couldn't?" With Bündchen at quarterback, Belichick hopes to show who could.
Ron Jaworski, former American football quarterback and current NFL analyst for the all-sports ESPN cable television network, explained why Belichick could not do like Jackson, simply go to another team, say the Miami Dolphins, and win there to prove "it was him" not Brady.
"It's as simple as a play action where you fake a fade pattern before coming back to catch a curl when the coverage is lined up in a two-deep. Belichick is persona non grata with every team in the NFL since the 'Spygate' scandal earlier this season in which a New England assistant coach was caught illegally filming the defensive signals of the New York Jets during a game. He has to do it with the Patriots."
The decision to switch quarterbacks also explains the excessive time that Brady has been spending with Bündchen: "team player" Brady was coaching her in a quick course on the Patriot playbook, say analysts.
Only after the announcement did observers realized that they had never actually seen backup quarterback Matt Cassel during the practices they were briefly allowed to attend. All they saw was someone wearing jersey number 16 – and a visored helmet.
Initially some football analysts, while not doubting his ego, had questioned Belichick's sanity in shifting to the untested Bündchen. "No dadgum way that anyone, even Billy Belichick, would risk this game on such a gamble," said football analyst John Madden. "I don’t know if even (Randy) Moss can catch a limp-wristed throw from a girl," he added.
But others say that they can see the logic. "No one who has ever seen the Brazilian Women's World Cup soccer team would ever question the athletic ability of Brazilian babes," said USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan.
"And how can anyone say Belichick wouldn't do something that crazy, when, with clearly the best team in football, he was stealing signals in broad daylight?" added Brennan. "Audacity is Hoody’s middle name."
"Further," said Brennan, "if you think that pretty boy Brady got protection from the Patriots' o-line, wait until you see what they give to Gisele. The Giants d-line will be lucky to ever see her, much less touch her.
"Don't think it's coincidence that Gisele sounds like gazelle. Being chased by boys is something she is very used to. Wait until you see her run a QB option. Mike Vick chased by a pack of pit bulls couldn't run that fast," said Brennan.
Salary cap issues have been raised in regard to the signing of Bündchen, but pay is likely not to be an issue. Patriots' owner Robert Kraft has been notably willing to "pay what it takes to win," and Bündchen doesn't really need the money, since, according to Forbes, she is currently the sixteenth richest woman in the entertainment world.
Gary D. Gaddy once dated the future home-coming queen while a deep reserve on the JV football team at George Wasington High School in Danville, Virginia.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday January 31, 2008.
Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy