Brady is an obvious boon for DATA (“There’s something about Hollywood stars that people can dismiss,” says Jamie Drummond, DATA’s executive director. “But people don’t dismiss the NFL and they don’t dismiss Tom Brady. If Tom gets it, it means that a lot of other Americans will get it”) and a pleasant traveling companion, to boot. “He really is one of the most genuinely smart, tall, good-looking guys I’ve met from any walk of life,” says Drummond, who, having shepherded Brad Pitt and George Clooney on similar trips, knows from charisma.

That universal, anchorman-like appeal has landed Brady in some high-profile places. He was on conspicuous display next to Laura Bush at the 2004 State of the Union address (“If you get invited, you go” is the response he gave me in 2004 to a question about the appearance). He did a surprisingly deft turn on Saturday Night Live in 2005, but he stumbled his way through questions about steroids on This Week With George Stephanopoulos that same year.

“Football is easy for him,” says Kevin Brady (no relation), Brady’s best friend since the two were classmates at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, California. “It’s the stuff off the field that’s hard.” Kevin, a financial adviser who lives in New York, knows what Brady likes: “The guy loves Propel, the guy loves ketchup, the guy loves chicken, and oh my god, does he love grapes.” Kevin also understands Brady’s grapple with celebrity. “He’s going to control whatever he can control.” Of course, he can’t control everything.”

There are few things Tom Brady seems to hate more than having no control. He was not blessed with the arm of a Daunte Culpepper or the pedigree of a Peyton Manning, but he is preternaturally good at analyzing obstacles rushing toward him and reacting accordingly. Of course, having that skill is no guarantee that things will go the way you planned. In the first play of the 2006 NFL season, Brady misread the Buffalo Bills defense, was sacked, fumbled, and watched London Fletcher-Baker recover the ball and run for a touchdown—all within 12 seconds of the kickoff. “I was looking to the right and the guy blitzed from the left,” he says. “By the time I started to react, the ball was gone. I thought, ‘What the hell just happened?’ Things go pretty fast when you don’t know what you’re looking for.”

And just as there’s sometimes a lineman coming in from the left, there will sometimes be an ex-girlfriend telling the world she’s pregnant with your baby. As a testament to his bulletproof appeal, the announcement that Brady was responsible for knocking up actress Bridget Moynahan sparked little negative press about him. But he was still bothered by the coverage. “It doesn’t affect anybody but me anyway, so why is it a big deal?” he says.

But if the man wanted to stay out of the public eye, couldn’t he find lower-profile things to do in the off-season? There are attractive, available women who aren’t Brazilian supermodels. At this suggestion, Brady flashes irritation, a look that asks: What kind of world is this if I have to defend having sex with Gisele Bündchen? “I’m attracted to women who are smart and funny and ambitious and have lives of their own and great families. Isn’t that what attracts anyone?” he says. “People want to go out and travel around and meet cool people. I could just go live in Vermont, but is that what I really want?”