Brady and his competitive attitude hasn’t changed since being drafted in 2000. (USA TODAY Images)
It’s amazing how much things change, and Tom Brady has definitely proven that what you see initially isn’t necessarily what you get.
If you looked at the former standout out of Michigan as a rookie and told anyone he’d become a Super Bowl winning quarterback just one season later, one can only imagine the reaction that statement would have garnered to anyone outside of Ann Arbor. After all, their loss to the Packers in New Orleans in 1996 had seemed like a lifetime ago and the thought of even getting back to the Super Bowl seemed far fetched. The 8-8 season Pete Carroll had just finished with in 1999 had been a frustrating year, especially after starting out at 6-2 heading into the bye week.
Unfortunately for Carroll, from there they fell apart, losing six of their final eight including three of their final four games. Carroll walked away with a win in his final game, which was a 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens at Foxboro Stadium. But by then, most fans and media knew his time as head coach was over. Standing there that afternoon the buzz among those of us who were there centered on who would replace him, as after such a drastic turn it seemed extremely unlikely that he would be back.
Carroll seemed to know it too. After answering questions with reporters, he stepped down from the podium and smiled and exchanged a look with one of the reporters as if he knew it would be the last press conference he’d ever hold in New England, and then turned and headed down the hallway for the final time.
From there his chapter ended and Bill Belichick’s began, with fans mixed with their reactions on his hiring. Despite those doubts, after having had a taste of playing for a title, everyone hoped that Belichick would be the one to get this team back to a championship level. That, in itself, seemed like a daunting enough goal. Never in a million years could anyone have ever expected it would be a skinny kid out of Michigan drafted a few months later instead of Drew Bledsoe that would eventually be the one to get them there.
Back then while seeing him in the locker room each week, Brady certainly didn’t look like a future Hall of Fame quarterback. On paper he was just another late round pick, with most likely expecting him to be nothing more than just a quarterback on the practice squad. Obviously when you look at the number of college standouts that come into the league, it’s probably one of the least exact sciences out there since regardless of how much film scouts watch, the film doesn’t show you the desire or the work ethic behind the scenes that ultimately make for a great player.
For Brady, there were clearly glimpses of what he was capable of that obviously caught the eye of Bill Belichick. His rookie year Brady did just enough during the preseason after finishing with the highest completion percentage of the four quarterbacks at 68%, completing 22-of-32 for 254 yards along with a touchdown and no interceptions, giving him a quarterback rating of 102.9. Bledsoe, meanwhile, didn’t have a great preseason that year after finishing with one touchdown and three interceptions, and it foreshadowed what would end up being Belichick’s first losing season.
By the time training camp came to an end, Belichick seemingly had a difficult decision to make as keeping four quarterbacks on the active roster is generally a little unusual. Brady’s numbers weren’t staggering, but they were enough to prove to Belichick that he was worth keeping and the Patriots’ coach revealed years later that one of the reasons they didn’t waive him and attempt to put Brady¬†on their practice squad was that he was concerned another team might have claimed him.
That was a group that included the likes of then back-up John Friesz, followed by Michael Bishop, ahead of Brady. ¬†Back then Bishop was the one getting much of the attention, with his late game mobility and big arm having been the talk of fans in his prior preseasons. ¬†His glitzy play in the 4th quarter against third-string players started the unrest behind Bledsoe by fans who started clamoring for a change at the quarterback position. ¬†Bishop can’t say he didn’t get a chance, as¬†Belichick used him in his¬†first¬†season as head coach when Bishop was brought in on several occasions in different situations that year. ¬†His one big moment¬†in New England that year was a¬†44-yard Hail-Mary touchdown pass he threw to Tony Simmons in week six against the Colts, which at the time knotted the score at 10-10 in what finished as a 24-16 win for New England. ¬†One of the only five games they won that year.
Following their 5-11 season, Belichick made changes, one of which spelled the end for Bishop. ¬†The team had signed Miami Dolphins free agent quarterback Damon Huard during the offseason, and after he and Brady had both performed well during training camp, Bishop was released in August.¬† From there Brady’s preseason play saw him elevate to becoming the team’s back-up ahead of Huard, and that’s how the 2001 season started.
However, everyone by now, knows how it finished.
Now here he is, with¬†Brady in the midst of yet another season where he’s guided the team to double-digit victories. ¬†It’s the Patriots 12th straight year of double-digit wins, 11 of which he’s responsible for, which is a staggering number. ¬†That trails just the San Francisco 49ers, who had 16 consecutive seasons from 1983-1998 of accomplishing the same feat.
“Tom will play and we expect him to play well. I don’t think I’ll be standing here week after week, talking about all the problems Tom Brady had.” – Belichick talking about Brady following Bledsoe’s injury in 2001.
(USA TODAY Images)
One of the biggest things that has always set him apart is the fact that he’s had to work hard to get where he is and to stay at the top of his game. ¬†As a former 6th round pick (Bishop was actually a 7th rounder), he knows what it’s like to battle his way up¬†from the bottom of the depth chart.¬†¬†He also knows what it’s like to have to fight to keep his job once he gets there.
Despite beating out teammate Drew Henson for the starting job in 1998 and 1999 in college at Michigan, his college career was somewhat rocky. Brady actually set Michigan records for most pass attempts and completions in a season (214) during his first year as a starter, and the following year won the Citrus Bowl in 1999. But the 1999 season saw him in a battle with Henson to remain the team’s starter, yet Brady never faltered and it showed a lot about the type of player he really was.
‚ÄúHe had a very challenging, arguably unfair, shake during his period,” former Michigan QB Jason Kapsner later said. “He had to always over-prove himself. I think it sums it up: He never complained, he just persevered through a lot of unnecessary obstacles and challenges.”
That’s obviously what sets guys apart. Each year guys with big arms and even bigger reputations come into the NFL, but the majority of them end up being just a name on past team rosters as the years go on. Most of those high draft picks end up making more noise coming into the league than they do once they get there.
Fortunately for the Patriots and their fans, Brady doesn’t fall into that category. ¬†Now in his fifteenth season, Brady’s obviously become one of the NFL’s elite and there’s no questioning the fact he’ll end up in Canton some day when his career comes to an end. ¬†However, despite his success, very little has changed. ¬†He’s always had a good sense of humor, and one of the things that was discussed about Brady¬†early on after Bledsoe went down with an injury were the debates in the media about things they had heard about ¬†in terms of how much more approachable Brady¬†was and that he was more like “one of the guys” when compared to Bledsoe.
Part of that started even before training camp began that season. ¬†In Mark Stewart’s “Heart of the Huddle” book about Brady, the second-year quarterback was a perfect 60-for-60 in on-time attendance at training camp during the summer of 2001, landing himself a key parking spot for his yellow Jeep Wrangler. ¬†According to Stewart, over that period Brady took on something of a leadership role and had taken unofficial charge of team workouts while trying to make sure things were going smoothly for all the first-and second-year players. ¬†He also took it upon himself to talk to team veterans to try and learn every player’s responsibility on each play.
That likely caught the attention of many players in the locker room, and after Bledsoe’s injury, Belichick’s comments were telling considering the confidence he already seemed to have following Brady’s 5-of-10 46 yard performance in the final minutes of the Jets game following the infamous Mo Lewis hit. ¬†Belichick told the media that he believed Brady would be a consistent player week-after-week and that he didn’t expect to be talking about persistent issues on a weekly basis.
“He did OK with [the situation] he had there,” Belichick said at the time. “Tom will play and we expect him to play well. I don’t think I’ll be standing here week after week, talking about all the problems Tom Brady had.”
Looking back, given Belichick’s normal reputation¬†of downplaying any one player’s performance, that was quite a vote of confidence.
During Brady’s rookie season and the following year in 2001, Brady’s local off the field appearances were handled by a Rhode Island marketing agent, who also handled the same role for players like Tedy Bruschi, Adam Vinatieri, Lonie Paxton, Joe Andruzzi, and several others. ¬†Each player had their own website, which had a little about themselves and Brady actually would even occasionally send a late night email ribbing his teammates. ¬†He was a fun-loving guy then, and it’s pretty obvious that not much has changed years later. One thing that will probably never change is the fact he still really appreciates the relationships in the locker room that makes each year so special.
“I always feel like I’m the same guy. I feel like I’m still the kid from Portola Drive,” Brady told Boston.com’s Erik Frenz in November. “I know probably from the outside-in, it’s different, but from the inside out it’s the same. A big part of playing this game is the relationships that you have with your teammates. Winning is great. Seeing all those guys come back that I played with ‚ÄĒ Roman Phifer and Tom Ashworth and Willie [McGinest] and Ty [Law] and Richard [Seymour], and all those guys who’ve been such an important part of my life ‚ÄĒ the guys now are an important part of my life, because we all make sacrifices for one another.
“We see each other at our most vulnerable moments. When you lay it on the line like that, you develop a really special bond with those guys. That’s nothing that I think about, it’s just probably part of who I am and it’s probably why I love the game so much, it’s why it’s a really natural thing. I don’t think I ever have to force those things. Hopefully I chose the right occupation for that.”
His relationship with the fans seems to also have grown this season. Despite some who questioned his ability after the Kansas City loss, far more expressed their gratitude of who he is and what he’s accomplished, including the chants of “Brady!, Brady!” that were heard when the team blew out the Bengals 43-17 the following week and really haven’t looked back since. He’s been on Facebook for a while now, but this season it seems like he’s been more active than he’s ever been. ¬†He hasn’t joined Twitter just yet, but Facebook seems to be a place where he’s become more comfortable and he’s posted quite a few updates this season compared to past years, allowing him an even stronger connection with the fans who appreciate what he does on the field each Sunday. ¬†His former back-up, Brian Hoyer, still can’t believe Brady’s on social media, seemingly because Brady seemed a little behind the times when it came to new technology.
‚ÄúI still can‚Äôt believe he‚Äôs on Facebook,” Hoyer told MMQB recently. ¬†“I remember when Twitter first came out. He would be like, ‚ÄėHow does it work?‚Äô We‚Äôd give him s‚ÄĒ for being the old guy.‚ÄĚ
He’s settled in quite well on Mark Zuckerberg’s website, including posting a video of himself blowing a kiss to fans while thanking them for the “unbelievable support from Patriots nation” in San Diego during their Week 14 win.
Now here he is, trying to finish strong in a month where he’s 42-8 overall over the final four regular season games during his career, the most of any starting quarterback since the 1970 merger.
He’s certainly come a long way from where he began to get to this point and it’s definitely been quite a road for the 37-year old quarterback. ¬†He’s no longer a 23-year old kid fighting the odds. Now he’s a future Hall of Fame NFL quarterback, a 3-Time Super Bowl Champion, a husband, a father, and the barometer of any player coming into the league. ¬†It’s the perfect story for any player coming into the NFL, especially guys who believe they’re a long shot. There are so many who don’t believe in themselves enough that they can be anything other than that, but it’s the ones who never quit and believe all they need is just one opportunity to prove everyone wrong that make it.
Fortunately that’s exactly what Brady has done, and each week just adds another chapter.