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New England Patriots quarterback has family ties to central Minnesota

BROWERVILLE -- You know who Tom Brady is, don't you? He's the guy who shared time at quarterback with Drew Henson at the University of Michigan, even though Henson couldn't carry Brady's uniform. Still unsure who Brady is? He's the player who was picked in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, the seventh quarterback taken, behind such household names as Marcus Bulger and Giovanni Carmazzi. Still doesn't ring a bell? Brady is the guy who replaced $103 million quarterback Drew Bledsoe as the New England Patriots starter, making their relationship a bit uneasy. Sunday, Brady will quarterback the Patriots as they play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC championship, one victory away from a trip to "The Big Easy" and the Super Bowl. Brady's the guy who, throughout his entire football career, has been doubted, ignored and overlooked. There are a few people who never doubted Brady. That would be his grandfather, Gordon Johnson of Clarissa, and Brady's cousin, Paul Johnson of Browerville. Galynn Johnson, Gordon's daughter and Tom's mother, was born and raised in Browerville. She went on to work for Northwest Airlines and met Tom Brady Sr. They married and moved to San Mateo, Calif., had Tom Jr., and the rest is history. As a kid, Brady spent some time during the summer in Minnesota with Gordon and the rest of the family. One thing that stuck out about Brady was what he was always doing. "Whether it was a football or baseball, Tom was always throwing a ball around," Paul said. "He was a determined kid," Gordon said. "Whatever he did, he wanted to do it right. He was just one of those guys that wouldn't give up." Gordon, who last talked to Brady at Christmas, feels nothing but pride when he watches his grandson. And why not? Brady is, after all, as a recent Washington Post article proclaimed, "The King of New England." "It's been great," Gordon said of watching Brady. "I can't hardly believe it sometimes." Paul, who has traded e-mails with Brady, still can't believe it's his cousin throwing touchdown passes while racking up a 12-3 record as a starter. "It's hard to believe that we're watching him on TV," Paul said. "It is still hard for us to fathom. "He's a Cinderella story. We all felt that someday he would be a household name but we didn't know it would happen so quick." Sundays are a little more special for the Johnsons and their family. Large gatherings have become a ritual, with as many as 25 people getting together to watch Brady and the Patriots. "We think about Sundays all week," Paul said. "We're going to my brother's house this Sunday. He's got a big-screen TV and we're all going to be there. We even get some stragglers rolling in sometimes." Despite all of Brady's success, both Paul and Gordon know he is still the same kid who helped milk cows years ago. "He's a down-to-earth guy," Paul said. "Tommy's got every right to pat himself on the back, but you don't see him doing that. He always gives his team credit." Brady has had a difficult road to hoe to get to where he is today. At Michigan, Brady only played for two years. Gordon, the ever-proud grandfather, thought Michigan was making a mistake by not playing his grandson. "He had a tough go at Michigan, running up against that Henson kid," Gordon said. "I'm sure they would've gone to the Rose Bowl if they would've let Tommy do it all." Both Gordon and Paul are looking forward to this summer as an off-season visit from Brady is in the works. "The last e-mail I got from him said that he requires a few things when he comes to visit," Paul said. "We have to take him fishing, we have to go to Grandpa's for fish fries and we have to go golfing."

"Excuse San Mateo football fans if they're not rooting for the local team in Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game. It's nothing against the Oakland Raiders. It's the city's patriotic duty. And it has rapidly engulfed the Serra High community ever since former Padres quarterback Tom Brady took charge of the New England Patriots when they were 0-2. After taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe, the 2000 sixth-round pick out of Michigan has led the Patriots to an 11-3 record, a first-round bye and a home game against the Raiders. "The attention of the Bay Area is on the Raiders right now with the 49ers having been eliminated last week," Brady said. "So a local guy playing against them and I know it's a pretty exciting story." Brady's story has been well-chronicled. With the Patriots' rise, Brady has garnered recognition for his youthful leadership, his sharp decision-making and his personable demeanor.

Attributes his hometown has known about for years. "Don't tell Tommy he can't do something," Serra athletic director Kevin Donahue said. "He's just beginning. He's very intelligent, he's got a great work ethic, and he's got a tremendous drive to succeed." Brady has made the transition to the NFL game much smoother than most young quarterbacks. His father, Tom Brady Sr., gives most of the credit for his son's quick adjustment to his choice of schools. "He's never been one to get nervous," said Brady Sr., who along with his wife has flown to every game their son has played this season. "He's been playing in front of big crowds for years at Michigan and he prepares himself as well as he can. Besides the team stuff, he's always watching film and doing extra work. He's a gym rat." Brady, a former high school catcher and 1995 18th-round selection of the Montreal Expos, has also kept himself well-attached to the Serra community. "I have a ton of friends from high school that I stay in touch with," said Brady, who ranks second at Serra in career yards with 3,514 and third in touchdown passes with 33. "Two of my best friends went to high school with me at Serra. And I'm back in the Bay Area a lot of time and I'm always seeing a lot of people from around town." Brady has also contributed directly to the school. He has signed footballs to raise money for the Serra auction, has joined the Serra Boosters and was instrumental in last year's hiring of De La Salle assistant football coach Patrick Walsh. "I sat in on a little bit of the interviewing process," Brady said. "I had a little input. Patrick Walsh wound up getting hired and he's done a heckuva job. And maybe he can bring some of what De La Salle had all those years over to Serra."

He's making a name for himself at a school that already boasts football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann and future baseball Hall of Famer Barry Bonds. "When you walk through those hallways ... you always think about the guys who had walked those same paths," Brady said. "Bonds, obviously, Gregg Jefferies was another one I always looked up to. And there haven't been as many football players, Lynn Swann and John Robinson. The tradition of our sports there was always pretty special." And in a year that has seen unparalleled athletic achievement for a high school, Brady's story may be the most compelling. It's not that Brady's story is any more or less important than Swann's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's not that it's more or less important than Bonds' incredible charge past Mark McGwire to 73 home runs. It's just that with Brady more recently removed from Serra, his story is more personal. Admissions director Randy Vogel said Brady's year has been nothing less than a storybook season. "I was walking and his dad honks at me in front of the post office and says, 'I got to tell you, I just got a call from Tommy and Bill Belichick just told him he made the Pro Bowl.' And it was such a great feeling of pride." So if a school that has been producing big-name talent for years seems a little like a small town with their first local resident to hit it big, it's not really the case. They appreciate all their other successes. It's just that it's Tommy Brady and his story just might be the best of the bunch. "Bonds has been doing it for many years," Vogel said. "Brady was an exciting, pleasant surprise.

"But as far as Serra goes, you might want to throw in Lynn Swann and from the August induction ceremonies to Bonds' home run record to the fall and present with Brady's big success, there are three pretty solid national names for a little high school in San Mateo, California.”

-Back on Portola Drive, it was just like the old days -- only with a little more riding on the outcome. I can still see Tommy in the middle of the street, tossing the ball to the other kids," said Terri Brady, Tom's aunt. "And it wasn't that long ago. That's what's unbelievable. "I'm stressed," said Nancy Gonis, a lifelong friend of Tom Brady's mother.Bradys party in San Mateo

SAN MATEO -- They started arriving as early as 9:30 a.m. Super Bowl Sunday. Friends,neighbors, and supporters of New England Patriots quarterback and Serra High School graduate Tom Brady staged a block party outside the Portola Drive home where Super Bowl XXXVI's Most Valuable Player grew up. The house is owned by Tom Sr. and Galynn Brady, the football star's parents. They and the younger Brady's sisters were in New Orleans for the big game, but Tom's cousin, Phil Brady, two uncles, Phil Sr. and Chris Brady, and an aunt, Terri Brady, watched the game on TV at the Portola Drive house. The door was open to neighbors of all ages, who streamed in an out through the afternoon. The neighbors had decorated the outside of the house, and the street was blocked off to traffic with barricades "It was a lot more people than what we're used to here," Phil Brady, Sr. said, laughing. "It's a real, real great community of people on this block, and they're real supportive of Tommy." The crowd burst into a big cheer as the Patriots pulled off a stunning upset victory against the Rams. "It's still reverberating throughout the house," Phil Brady said later in the evening. He said he overheard a conversation between two little girls from the neighborhood as they walked upstairs in the house. "One girl said to the other, 'This is where he (Tom Brady) lives?' and the other girl said, 'Yeah, but he lives back East, too,' and then the first girl said, 'But you know, he's walked up and down these stairs a lot of times!'"It was a special moment, Phil Brady said, reminding him of the esteem that he and other felt about former local resident Joe Montana in his 49er glory days."When you think of the awe towards football, Tommy is kind of a living embodiment of that here on the Peninsula," Brady said.

Tom Brady Sr., dad of the Patsies' QB, nearly had to mortgage his San Mateo house to get to N'awlins for the Game. Brady Sr., an insurance agent, thought the chance of the Pats making it to the Super Bowl was such a risk he didn't attempt to get tickets until the Monday before the game. The cheapest were $2,000 apiece. Multiply that by seven, the number in the group, and Dad Brady was ready to drive a van. A worker in his building e-mailed Oracle boss Larry Ellison about using Ellison's private jet for the Bradys. Though Ellison's personal secretary said they were working on it, Brady received no word from Ellison himself. Finally, a travel agent found tickets for $1,300 each. The Brady Bunch made it. Now they're in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. That must be one terrific travel agent. ...

San Mateo native Tom Brady was the MVP of the Super Bowl this year, as he led his New England Patriots to victory against the St. Louis Rams. The win came in dramatic fashion, in a last-second field goal to bring the final score to 20-17."Absolutely incredible," Brady said after the game. "It's an example of what happens when guys believe in each other.” A lot of people believed in Brady at his family home Sunday. That's where his aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends gathered to cheer him on. They saw him grow up, graduate only six years ago from Sierra High School in San Mateo, and then rise from obscurity to become a first year starter for the Patriots. Now, Brady is the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player at age 24."I thought Tommy had an angel in his pocket," said family friend Nancy Gonis. "I just felt they were going to win.” Aunt Terri Brady said, "I'm so proud of Tommy. I'm proud of the Patriots. They believed in themselves when no one else did. All season long they were the underdogs.” A group of about 90 neighbors who gathered for a block party outside the Brady home say little Tommy Brady was an all-American boy. He played outside like all the other kids, but some older neighbors admit excluding him from their football games.” Tommy was always the underdog, younger than us. He never had a chance to play," said childhood friend Bobby Paul. "Tommy proved us wrong.” But Brady's pro-football dreams grew when he realized in his early teens that he could throw a football through a tire 20 yards away. Those memories came flooding back to the group in San Mateo on Sunday.” Those thoughts are all running through my mind," uncle Chris Brady said. "To have a dream come true, it doesn't get any sweeter.” It’s real. He's actually MVP," said cousin Phil Brady. "I'm so excited I can't see straight.” The celebration isn't over for the sports hero and his hometown. Family and friends are now planning a homecoming for the boy next door who's become Super Bowl MVP.