The childhood essay was part boyhood bravado, part prophetic. But it had Tom Brady's competitive spirit written all over it.

One day, the future Hall of Fame quarterback wrote, I will be a household name.

One day, the boy his parents called "Tommy" predicted, I will no longer be known as "The Little Brady."

One day, the kid brother to three older superstar sisters would turn the tables and go from being Maureen Brady's little brother to the Most Valuable Player of the San Mateo, Calif., Brady Bunch.

That much, Tom Brady knew. He didn't predict that he would go from a sixth-round draft pick to a two-time Super Bowl MVP. He never mentioned a marriage to an international supermodel. All he knew is that one day, he would be the Brady that people talked about, stepping out from the shadow of his sisters.

"I hate to say it," Maureen Brady says. "But I think the roles have reversed a little bit."

We've heard plenty about the older sibling Eli Manning grew up emulating, but Tom Brady had his own lofty standard to meet -- that set by the three older sisters he admired so much. One of his first dreams was to stand tall not in comparison to the New York Giants, but the giants within his family.

Maureen, Julie and Nancy Brady will all be in Indianapolis Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI. They will all want Tom to avenge the Patriots' Super Bowl loss to the Giants. They are all every bit as competitive as the only Brady boy. So if you wonder where Tom Brady got the steel nerves he's used to lead his teams to football's ultimate prize, look no further than the Brady ladies.

Losing never sat well with the Brady children -- even when Tom was just the little brother traipsing off to his sisters' softball and soccer games.

Even then, the disappointing losses were tough to stomach -- even if they weren't his.

Back then of course, Tom Brady wasn't the face of a championship NFL organization. He was a cheerleader.

"They were the best athletes in my house -- certainly a better athlete than I ever was," he says. "I just loved tagging along and I was living and dying with every loss they had."

Even though Tom Brady, Sr. and his wife, Galynn, tried to introduce their children to music and the fine arts through piano, guitar and dance lessons, all four kids gravitated toward sports.

"We were kind of the ballpark, gym rat type of family," Brady, Sr. says.

Each of his four children was accomplished. Maureen, the oldest, was a star softball pitcher, landing a spot on the U.S. Junior Olympic team at 17 and a college scholarship at Fresno State. Now 38, she is a nurse and a softball instructor living in Bakersfield, Calif.

Julie, now 37 and a teacher in San Mateo, was a standout soccer player who walked on at St. Mary's before earning a scholarship.

Nancy also excelled in softball, earning a scholarship at Cal-Berkeley before deciding early on she wanted to follow a different path. Now 35, she is in graduate school in Boston.

Then there was Tom.

Despite being the youngest and the only boy, Tom made his own mark -- but not in football. Like his sisters before him, he starred on the diamond. Tom didn't discover football until he was 14. He played basketball as well as baseball, but his motivation was to keep up with his siblings, who were always the talk of the town.

Tom was a year behind his youngest sister and almost five years behind Maureen. Even at age 5, Tom was determined to live up to the family name -- even if he had to go about it without being mentioned in the same sentence as his sisters.

"Being younger, he was the guy that just absorbed it," says Tom, Sr. "San Mateo isn't a big town and his sisters were always the all-stars and the ones in the newspaper. So even if it came through osmosis, he picked up on it."

The age difference never caused any rift, though. Because of their family bond and their shared love of sports, the four Brady siblings were tight, deeming each game as important as the last -- no matter who happened to be playing.

As many soccer and softball games as Tom watched from the stands, his sisters repaid their brother's loyalty by watching each of his basketball and baseball games. And the whole family went to Candlestick Park to watch the 49ers. The family held four season tickets for home games, where Tom -- dressed in either a Joe Montana or Steve Young jersey -- threw a football around the stadium parking lot, soaking in an NFL experience he later would be a huge part of.

As his football career began at Junipero Serra High School, Tom's sisters provided him a cocoon against the disappointment that would surely come with defeat.

"We three sisters have his back," Maureen Brady says. "The most important thing for us is for him to know that we love him."

Tom and his father established a closeness early, spending Sundays golfing or visiting out-of-state football camps as Tom Brady the quarterback began to mature. Tom always looked up to his dad and received the same kind of support he did from his sisters while also getting the 1-on-1 time often shared between dads and sons.

But being the lone male among the four Brady children came with unique perks.

"It was great," Brady says with a wide smile. "I didn't have anyone to share clothes with, I didn't have to fight over the bathroom. They were pretty easy on me."

There were the occasional times when the sisters took advantage of Tom, dressing him up and even going as far as painting his toenails. But Tom remembers the blessings more than the curses.

"It was pretty easy when you were a kid and you had three older sisters," Brady says. "They'd bring all of their girlfriends over to the house. It was pretty cool."

But the challenge of living up to his sisters had already taken root, and it gave Tom the mental strength to keep working to catch up to those ahead of him. That's something that would define him at the University of Michigan and again in the NFL.

"The girls growing up sort of took center stage as to 'Who is the athlete in the family?'" says Tom Mackenzie, who was Brady's high school coach and is still the guidance counselor at Junipero Serra. "There was Maureen, Julie and Nancy. Then, there was Tom and growing up, I'm not sure anybody would have pointed and said, 'That's going to be the star, The professional athlete, the featured superstar. I don't think mom and dad felt that was Tom, and I think he was basically in his older sisters' shadow."

Far from being a prized recruit, Brady arrived in Ann Arbor, Mich., determined on proving himself. He sat out his freshman year, picking up meaningless garbage time as the Wolverines' third-string quarterback. As a sophomore in 1997, he failed to beat out Brian Griese for the starting job in a year Michigan won a share of the national championship.

Brady kept pressing.

He finally earned the starting job as a junior, narrowly beating out local phenomenon Drew Henson, but he would continue to share the spotlight for the rest of his college career.

And he coped with that. Starter or backup, win or lose, his family's support never wavered. Brady's parents traveled around the country to Tom's games, trading in the short neighborhood commute of his childhood to a wealth of frequent flier miles. As always, his sisters continued to cheer him on -- albeit from a distance as The Little Brady took baby steps toward the NFL.

As a sixth-round draft pick of the Patriots, Brady again had to settle for mop-up duty behind Drew Bledsoe. That didn't matter back home.

"It was just great to grow up in a house like that and feel so supported by your Mom and Dad," he says. "I've always had that great support at home. I certainly wouldn’t be standing here if I didn’t have the love and support of my parents and my sisters and my family."

Maureen's support for her superstar brother even extends to her cell phone, which has an old-school Monday Night Football-themed musical interlude while an incoming call is being connected. Even in little ways, Maureen is the consummate big sister.

"Whatever he needs -- whether it means talking about his sons or his wife, he's still a normal guy," Maureen Brady says. "The same things we all go through, he goes through."

And now the learning Tom did as a little brother is being passed on to his own kids -- both boys.

"I have a four-and-a-half-year-old who is much more interested in the Millennium Falcon and his Lego sets than football," Brady says. "I try to keep tossing him the ball. My two-year-old, he's definitely going to be a little athlete. One thing over the years that has really changed is being a parent. It's a little different (balancing) your work and your parenting. That's obviously a great part of my life."

But make no mistake -- the fire still burns. Four years ago, the Patriots fell agonizingly short of a perfect season when the Giants beat them in the last minute of the Super Bowl. Brady counts that defeat as one of his biggest career disappointments. His sisters still feel it, too. Maureen calls the Super Bowl loss to the Giants "brutally painful to watch."

She knows Tom may be running out of time. For all of his success -- including in the Super Bowl -- she realizes as well as anyone that every career runs its course. She has watched Tom on television this week, sensing a different side to her 34-year-old brother, who she fears may not get many more championship chances.

"It just feels different," Maureen says. "Every time, we say, we really need to enjoy this one because we probably won't get back here. You just never know. So this one for our family is really special."

If Brady wins, he'll stand alongside Joe Montana in NFL history -- a boy's dream come true. But even if he loses, his own childhood prophecy has been made into reality. The Brady brother is the most famous family member of all.

Though his sisters still call him Tommy.

"We still love him and just because you're a big superstar or because you have a lot of money, he's still normal," Maureen says.

"He's still my little brother."


Tom Brady And Gisele Bundchen

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