INDIANAPOLIS -- Super Bowl XLVI is Tom Brady's fifth trip to the Big Dance. In his first Indiana media session he was asked how Number Five compares to the others.
Dangerous idea. It is the Patriot Way to avoid comparisons of any kind, whether teammates or seasons. To elevate one is to -- at least in the public eye -- denigrate another.
Brady addressed the subject broadly with careful enthusiasm.
"They're all pretty special," he said. "I say it every week: It's pretty hard to win a football game in the NFL. Every week there's a certain level of quality of competition that you face. Thirty-two teams throughout the year, really, with hopes of being in this situation. I think we're very fortunate to be here. We've overcome quite a few things, quite a few adversities to get us here.
"We're really honored to represent the AFC. I think we've certainly earned it; the Giants have earned it. It makes for a great game. One week from now we'll be about to kick off at about this time. We'll spend the time getting ready, but I know all the players will be very anxious to get the game going."
Now take the same theme and hold it under a different light.
Of course he's happy to be in another Super Bowl. Of course he's grateful for your team's resilience and conscious of the hard work. But how do the feelings compare between the former rookie quarterback and the current record-breaking field general? Are the emotions tinged by time? Does he ever allow himself a lingering look backward?
While Brady didn't eulogize his career, he neither denied his NFL mortality.
"I think, for all the players, you don't know if this is your last time taking the field," he said. "This is a very physical sport; there's a lot of players who go out there one day and the next day they don't have the opportunity to play again. That's part of this sport."
It would be impossible to feel invincible in Indianapolis. Brady will be playing in the house respected rival Peyton Manning built; there's no escaping Manning's absence here. The neck injury and surgeries that kept him an impotent spectator this season hang over Lucas Oil Stadium. His younger brother Eli, whom the Patriots face next Sunday, will be asked about it. The fact Brady missed a season with that 2008 ACL tear make he and Manning a morbid pair of brothers in missed time.
Once the subject of time is raised, it's like people can suddenly hear the clock ticking.
"You wish everybody the best of health when they take the field, but a lot of things you can't control," said Brady. "It was really a bummer for me when I missed the season. I've spoken to Peyton several times and I know how disappointed he is to miss a season, but if anybody will be back, it will be him."
A diversion from himself, from the questions of his own future. But with a Super Bowl one week away Brady is perfectly content to focus on the present anyway.