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By most important stat, Brady is best

Today, the world is his. Today, he is king.

His fame is in place. His fortune is assured. Any time he wants, he can pose for his statue.

Say this much for Tom Brady.

He knows what to do with last-ups.

Stardom came to Brady late Sunday night. He stood in the confetti rain, a champion again, and the glitter poured over him. He is 26, and he has won two Super Bowls, and two game MVP trophies, and soon, the adjectives will fall across him as well.

He is cool. He is calm. He is clutch. The argument now can be made that Brady is the finest quarterback the NFL has to offer, and no one should laugh at the idea.

All because Brady and New England had the ball last.

So much for a bland Super Bowl, and so much for a defensive struggle. This one was a battle with light sabres by Brady and Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. It was terrific stuff, with Delhomme leading his team from behind, then Brady leading his team back, then Delhomme, then Brady.

The Super Bowl has never seen two quarterbacks play finer in the closing quarter. This was Ali-Frazier, Bird-Magic, Russell-Chamberlain sort of stuff. It was like watching one of those souped-up car movies: 2 Fast, 2 Furious meets Gone in 60 Seconds.

Brady, as it turned out, was the Last Quarterback Standing.

Do you believe yet? Do you believe that Brady is a little better than your typical caretaker quarterback? If not, you weren't paying attention.

This was Brady at his best, poised when the game threatened to unravel, sure when things seemed uncertain. Such is the essence of a quarterback, moving his team, making the key play at the key moment, making sure no matter what happened, his team finishes on top.

"Who would you rather have in a two-minute drill?" Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said. "I'll take Tom 10 times out of 10. I'm not talking about all-time. But as far as guys playing today, who are you picking?"

It's a fair question. Who is the best quarterback playing?

Other guys have the statistics, and other guys win the regular-season awards, and other guys go to the Pro Bowl. If you judge by the number of rings, Brady has set the standard.

When it comes to winning, he is better than Peyton Manning, better than Donovan McNabb, better than Steve McNair. He is better than Rich Gannon and Trent Green and Brett Favre. Better than Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper and Marc Bulger. Better than everybody.

By about a quarter of an inch, it turns out, he's better than Delhomme.

The world will catch on now. By winning his second Super Bowl, and his second game MVP award, and his 15th straight game, Brady has arrived. Not even a stat-hungry, flash-addicted public can ignore him now.

"I can't put that into perspective," Brady said when asked about his legacy. "I don't know what I feel now. There are a lot of things going through my mind."

Funny. Even recently, there were a lot of doubts in everyone else's minds. When former 49ers coach Bill Walsh dared to suggest Brady was the closest thing he'd seen to Joe Montana in some time, some scoffed.

Turns out, Walsh had a point. Brady has a similar presence, a similar spark. There is something there, and if you follow football, you wish it were on your side.

If nothing else, this Super Bowl was about the naked truth. Janet Jackson lost her top. The streaker who showed up for the second half lost his marbles. Oh, and Brady left a great defense stripped bare.

You remember the Panthers' ferocity, right? It was because of its defense that Carolina made it this far, especially that front four that spent a lot of time knocking Brady around. It was that defense that left most of us convinced this would be such a low-scoring game, fractions might be involved.

Instead, Brady hit 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards, and he made everyone around him better. With Brady throwing, his receivers didn't look so young, his backs didn't look so much like retreads and his line didn't look so rickety.

Those who would judge Brady by his numbers have always missed the point, however. He's a man-for-the-moment quarterback, one of those calm, unshakable players who keeps his team out of the ditches.

If you really want to know the essence of Brady, start with his worst play of the night. With a five-point lead and 7:48 to play, he rushed a pass and threw an interception in the end zone. It was a critical mistake, one that gave Carolina new life, and was nearly the death of New England's chances.

"It was just a bad throw," Brady said. "He made a good play. Of course, I threw it right to him."

After that play, however, with defeat a distinct possibility, Brady was a surgeon. He rallied to play his best football of the night, refusing to let the Panthers take this game over the way they had done so often in the fourth quarter.

When his team fell behind 22-21, Brady hit 5 of 6 passes for 66 yards to give his team the lead. When the Panthers, Team Impossible, managed to get the ball yet again, Brady then hit 4 of 6 passes for 51 yards to set up the winning field goal.

"That's a quarterback's job, to do what he needs to do to make his team win," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Tom does that about as well as anyone."

After this, can there be an argument? Brady didn't quite become Montana Sunday night.

Starr, maybe. Staubach, maybe. Aikman, perhaps.

As for the other guys, hey, Brady is only 26. He'll be back.

Anyone want to bet against him?