Centers to the stars

Woody was with Brady in the beginning, when he was a fresh-faced 24-year-old stepping in for an injured Drew Bledsoe. At first, the kid leaned on Woody a bit, but Brady was a fast study and soon everyone turned to him.

Early in Brady's career, the Patriots were playing at Miami, a place that was a very tough road venue for New England. Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor was taunting Brady, roaming and lining up all over the place.

Finally, Brady got fed up with Taylor.

"He tapped me on my rear end," Woody said. "He said, 'Take care of that guy right there. Take him out of the play.' So we changed the play at the line of scrimmage. We got Jason Taylor really good on that play to kind of send him a message that this is going to be a long day for not only you but everybody out there."

It was a special locker room back then, Woody said. There were no cliques. Brady was friends with everyone. He was just one of the guys. If they botched a snap -- which didn't happen very often -- both Woody and Brady got an earful from coach Bill Belichick. The coach didn't discriminate in terms of whom he yelled at, Woody said. 

Woody could never quite master the shotgun snap. Four yards seemed like 40. It was such a mental challenge that he saw a sports psychologist for help.

"It was always like, 'Man, I don't want to snap it over his head,'" said Woody, who now works as an NFL analyst at ESPN. "I'd either snap it one direction or the other or snapped it without enough velocity. It was always something.

"In the latter part of my career, I was a backup center for the Lions and Jets, and I would just go up there and flick it back, no problem. But when I was with New England, it was all in my head. I just didn't want to be the one making that mistake."

STEVE FRAZIER, Brady's center at the University of Michigan

They came in together in 1995, and what Frazier remembers about that freshman year at Michigan is how skinny Brady looked. Guys called each other by their last names back then, but Brady hated that. He went by Tom or Tommy.

Frazier, who's now a pilot for American Eagle Airlines, sweat a lot back then. Most people thought the towel hanging on his back was for Brady, but it was actually so Frazier could dry his hands before he snapped the ball. Frazier rarely made mistakes, but during their senior season in 1999, when the Wolverines were ranked No. 9 and playing Illinois, he launched a shotgun snap that sailed over Brady's head. Brady fell on it for a 25-yard loss, and the Illini wound up pulling off an upset.

For days, Frazier received hate mail from angry fans (players' emails were in the student registry). Brady, though, never lashed out at him. He was a cool customer, in command in the huddle. He made everything easy.

"He just expected us to do our jobs and we did it most of the time," Frazier said. "If guys were not getting it done, he would say something but he was never … I don't remember him ever losing his cool over anything like that."

Frazier still gets a Christmas card from Tommy and supermodel Gisele, and he sees Brady at reunions. On Saturday night, when the Patriots beat the Colts for a spot in the AFC Championship Game, Frazier's two kids wore Michigan gear. They always do that during New England games.

Sometimes, when he watches Brady on TV, it reminds him of their days and their chemistry at Michigan.

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