Kemp: Brady can parlay popularity into politics

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — He’s smooth, doesn’t sweat puddles in the big moments, shows tremendous leadership skills, appeals favorably to mass audiences and fits the definition of a winner. For those reasons, he’s considered the next Joe Montana, although one day, we might think bigger, stop selling Tom Brady a little short and start calling him the next Jack Kemp.

Besides, after he was done playing quarterback and winning championships, Kemp turned to politics, was elected to Congress by the people and once ran for vice president.

Meanwhile, has anyone seen or heard from Montana since he hung ’em up? Yes, if anything, Brady seems headed for a higher calling and a more meaningful role than the one he’ll play Sunday in the Super Bowl. Really: What’s not to like about his chances of holding office one day?

Already, he brings the basic qualities for a foundation to a possible political career. He’s poised and polished, free of controversy and scandal, has boy-next-door charm, is respected by millions and is the undisputed commander in chief of a team conveniently called the Patriots.

“I love the way he handles himself,” Kemp said. “I really admire him. He’s the man of the hour who’s going for a third Super Bowl. A guy with a record and image like that, particularly being a quarterback, would be perfect for politics. I think he’d love it.”

He’s definitely thinking about it. Brady has expressed a desire to be a senator someday, and just a year ago, he sat famously next to Laura Bush as a guest of the first family and listened to the president’s State of the Union address. Brady couldn’t make a repeat appearance in Washington last night because, as you might guess, his schedule is booked all week.

What the country will see Sunday, if Brady remains his usual self in the postseason, is someone who’ll complete a 15-yard pass on third-and-13, give his team a sense of security and will lift the Lombardi Trophy shortly after 10 that night. Then he’ll be humble in victory, and somewhere among the sellout crowd at Alltel Stadium, one spectator in particular will feel a sense of kinship. Or Kemp-ship.

If there’s a direct link between Kemp and Brady, it’s the level of expectation. Neither had any. Very few NFL scouts thought highly of Brady’s work at the University of Michigan, then he lasted until the sixth round of the 2000 draft.

Kemp had even fewer believers; he was a 17th-round draft choice who was cut by three NFL teams and had the queasy and humbling experience of being dumped by the Canadian league. None of those setbacks broke the spirit of an eternal optimist, who saw the newly formed American Football League as another chance in 1960. He started with the San Diego Chargers, who lost the first two AFL title games, then joined the Buffalo Bills, who won a pair of championships with a quarterback who didn’t ring up big numbers but was clever and could always be counted on when the situation grew tense.

Does that sound familiar? Kemp always saw himself as more than just a quarterback. He worked for California Gov. Ronald Rea.gan and got hooked on politics. In 1970, the year after he retired from the Bills and with the solid support of upstate New York voters, Kemp was elected a GOP congressman who lasted 18 years. His tax-cutting ideas helped shape Reaganomics and he quickly rose in the Republican ranks, culminating with his selection as Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.

Kemp believes Washington is lacking quality quarterbacks.

“Ever since J.C. Watts and myself left Congress, we could use a little more help at the position,” Kemp said with a laugh. “If Tom were to run in Massachusetts or Michigan, he’d be attractive to both political parties.”

He paused.

“Although I hope he leans to the right.” Another laugh. “Seriously, he’s in the tradition of Roger Staubach or Bart Starr or Doug Williams, who I thought would’ve been an excellent political candidate. I’d like to think quarterbacks are strong individuals and strong leaders who can articulate the needs of every person, regardless of their ethnic background, religious preference or economic status.”

Kemp turns 70 this year but keeps busy with various causes in politics and sports. As national chairman of Habitat for Humanity’s More Than Houses program, Kemp arrived yesterday to help dedicate 39 homes, one for each Super Bowl, recently built for low-income families. Next comes the game and another chance for Kemp to catch the player whose best contribution to society might not begin until he’s done with football.

Something tells Kemp that Brady has what it takes to be a Patriot for life.

Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.