FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tom Brady grew from a sixth-round draft choice into one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Off the field, he’s a celebrity with a supermodel wife and lucrative marketing deals.
All that has made the New England Patriots superstar the object of admiration and respect to some, jealousy and enmity to others.
On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hears Brady’s appeal of a four-game suspension for using deflated footballs in the AFC championship game.
Goodell’s decision upholding, reducing or eliminating the punishment won’t likely cause major changes in perceptions of a four-time Super Bowl champion – perceptions enhanced during a stellar 15-year NFL career, yet sullied in one game in which he may have knowingly used deflated footballs.
”He is a guy that I have said for a long time is the best in the business,” said Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethslisberger, who faces the Patriots in the season opener Sept. 10, when Brady’s suspension is set to start. ”I have a lot of respect for him on the football field.”
Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, a longtime nemesis, says Brady’s legacy hasn’t been tarnished.
”I just know the kind of quarterback that he is and what he’s meant to me personally,” Ryan said, smiling and sighing about Brady’s success against him when he coached the New York Jets. ”I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy.”
Companies the boyishly handsome 37-year-old has represented in stylish ads – Under Armour sportswear, UGG footwear, Movado watches – haven’t abandoned him.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank sat with him at ringside at the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquaio fight May 2 in Las Vegas, where Brady flew by private jet after attending the Kentucky Derby. Less than six weeks later, Plank said at an appearance in Boston, ”Tom has our undying support.”
On Memorial Day, fans held a ”Free Tom Brady” rally in a parking lot outside Gillette Stadium.
Backers of other NFL teams may not be as supportive.
”People would like to know: yes or no,” said Marc Ganis, president of sports business consulting firm SportsCorp. ”If it’s no, then clear the guy. And if it’s yes, then nail him.”
The 243-page Wells report issued May 6 said Brady ”was at least generally aware” of plans to prepare balls below the NFL-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch. Wells defended that in a conference call a few days later.
But in a 16-page report this month, the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said, ”The Wells report conclusions are likely incorrect.”
Goodell will reach his own conclusions.
”If you’re not from the area, the Patriots are an amazingly easy team to hate,” said Adam Brasel, an associate professor of marketing at Boston College. ”The actual severity of the punishment is not going to change people’s perceptions. They’ve already made up their minds.”
The hyper-competitive Brady could challenge Goodell’s ruling in court.
”If there was some clear exculpatory evidence, Brady’s reputation gets even more enhanced,” said Ganis, who grew up a Jets fan and is based in Chicago. ”He will have taken these terrible accusations and didn’t do what most people do, which is find the easiest, most convenient way out with the least amount of disruption to their lives.”
That may not sway critics who feel Brady, MVP in three Super Bowls and two regular seasons, and the Patriots can’t be so successful without cheating.
Did he ask team employees to deflate footballs in other games or know they did that?
”As a human, you care about what people think. I think also as a public figure you learn not everyone is going to like you,” Brady said at Salem State University the day after the Wells report was issued. ”There are a lot of people who don’t like Tom Brady, and I am OK with that.”
The constant media/social media drumbeat keeps the debate about Brady’s culpability alive.
”It’s really easy to try to be infuriated about everything,” Brasel said, ”but people forgive a lot over time.”
Whatever Goodell decides, many players feel Brady’s positive legacy is assured:
-”The guy’s a winner,” said Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who once said he didn’t like Brady and Brady didn’t like him. ”I don’t think it really tarnishes it.”
-”I don’t think four games will do anything to tarnish four Super Bowl rings,” said Saints cornerback Brandon Browner, Brady’s teammate last season.
-”That’s not the talk in the locker room,” Cincinnati tackle and NFLPA President Eric Winston said of the feeling Brady’s legacy is stained. ”He’s always going to be one of the great quarterbacks of all time.”
Jim Kelly and Troy Aikman criticized Brady. Dan Marino said his opinion of Brady as one of the best quarterbacks ever won’t change.
Brady could be enhancing his own image through his increased use of Facebook, showing a regular-guy side to the fabulously wealthy globe-trotting husband of Gisele Bundchen.
There have been posts of him as a child holding a basketball with a Celtics headband photo-shopped in; his job resume from college; and a video of him jumping off a cliff into water while on vacation.
”He’s not trying to win people over,” Ben Rawitz, Brady’s manager, told The Associated Press. ”It’s all coming from him. He’s always held things kind of close to the chest, but times are changing. It’s nice for him to put out a little bit of who he is.”
Rule changes to assure properly inflated balls are expected. There seems one surefire way for Brady to enhance his reputation.
”The best way to cement the legacy,” Ganis said, ”is to go out and win this year.”
Contributing to this report were AP Sports Writers David Ginsburg in Baltimore, Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Joe Kay in Cincinnati, Brett Martel in New Orleans, Arnie Stapleton in Denver, John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., and Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tenn.
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