COLUMBUS, Ohio – Tom Brady’s postgame press conference last Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California had a little edge to it, when his hometown team was brought up.
Brady said, to paraphrase, “I grew up loving this team (the 49ers)…then I grew to love another team.” Brady waxed poetic over his days as a youth in San Mateo, rooting for the 49ers. It was his dream to one day play for that team.
In the 2000 NFL Draft, with the chance to draft Brady and make his dreams come true, the 49ers passed on him and drafted Giovanni Carmazzi of Hofstra with the 65th pick (third round). Brady felt betrayed by his home team, after he had seemingly been given the impression that the 49ers would take him if he were available and that position was what the 49ers wanted to address. Carmazzi was embarrassed by the Patriots in that year’s Hall of Fame game and never played a down in the NFL.
Six quarterbacks were taken in the 2000 draft before Brady was taken with the 199th pick. In the ESPN presentation <i>The Brady 6</i>, which features Carmazzi (the second of the six) and the other five quarterbacks taken before Brady, Brady gets very emotional when he relives that gut wrenching day, seemingly resigned to being an undrafted free agent. The Patriots changed the course of their franchise by selecting him, and to this day he remains perhaps the most misjudged draft pick in the history of the NFL.
Part of the reason Brady fell so far in the 2000 draft has to do with the other team Brady loves, his alma mater, which has an awfully big game Saturday.
Brady attended the University of Michigan, who plays Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus in what is annually one of the biggest regular season college football games. The biggest matchup of these Big Ten titans since 2006, #2 Ohio State will try and continue its recent dominance over #3 Michigan, with the winner going to the Big Ten Championship and an inside track to the college football final four.
Other Patriots have attended Michigan, most notably Jon Vaughn, Greg McMurtry, Ty Law, Corwin Brown, Damon Denson, Zoltan Mesko, and current defensive lineman Alan Branch. But Brady is far and away the most noteworthy ex-Wolverine to play for the Patriots.
After the 1997 Michigan team went undefeated and won a share of the national championship, quarterback Brian Griese graduated and went to the NFL. Brady seemed poised to take over the starting quarterback role at that time. But Michigan landed a plum quarterback recruit, Drew Henson from Brighton, Michigan. Head coach Lloyd Carr had himself one whale of a quarterback controversy, and struggled the next two seasons to reconcile that controversy.
Over the 1998 and 1999 seasons, Brady started every game for Michigan, but in 1999 Carr made sure that Henson got his share of snaps per game. Brady went 20-5 in those two seasons, and more importantly, 2-0 in bowl games. The first bowl win was in the 1999 Florida Citrus Bowl over Arkansas, 45-31. The second was a scintillating 35-34 win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl, the win sealed when the Alabama kicker, Ryan Pflugner, missed a PAT in overtime.
The fact that Brady had to share playing time with Henson further damaged Brady’s scouting report, and his draft status. Henson’s role during the Brady years at Michigan were as a supporting role, but most all observers who watched Michigan back then seemed convinced that Henson was the best quarterback on the Michigan team and not Brady. Carr was never criticized over his handling of the quarterbacks because of Brady’s winning record. Some people might believe that Brady threw a monkey wrench in the quarterback mix in Ann Arbor by being so unexpectedly good, when in fact Carr fully expected Henson to emerge as the full fledged starter.
This is why when you sit down and watch draft shows and listen to all these “experts” talk about players entering the draft, you the fan must give pause and accept the fact that drafting football players is the most inexact science on the planet. How many football men, Carr certainly near the top of that list, misjudged Brady is staggering. On the aforementioned <i>The Brady 6</i>, ESPN draft commentator Mel Kiper and former Ravens head coach Brian Billick are seen reading Brady’s 2000 scouting report, shaking their heads.
“Poor build…skinny…lacks great physical stature and strength…lacks mobility and ability to avoid the rush…lacks a really strong arm…can’t drive the ball downfield…does not throw a really tight spiral…system type player who can get exposed if forced to ad lib…gets knocked down easily.”
Carr has been scorned by several observers for his handling of Brady and Henson in 1999. Carr, who won a national championship in his first season as Michigan head coach after many seasons as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator, coached at Michigan for 28 total seasons. He had Michigan undefeated in 2006 going into that epic 1 vs. 2 battle against Ohio State (the Buckeyes won, 42-39). Carr would leave the next year after his 2007 team began the year with demoralizing losses to FCS champion Appalachian State and Oregon.
Carr had generally a good to outstanding run at Michigan as a coach. For him to misjudge Brady and allow Henson to intrude on his playing time, if that had any direct bearing on Brady’s scouting report and subsequent fall in the 2000 draft, it represents an exception rather than the norm. Looking back in retrospect, Henson had no business taking even one down away from Brady. Back then, however, Carr was faced with a nearly untenable dilemma which fortunately worked itself out until Brady finally graduated.
The man largely credited with bringing Brady to Foxborough was the late Dick Rehbein, former Patriot quarterback coach. According to Carr in <i>The Brady 6</i>, it was former director of player personnel Bobby Grier, in one of his last duties as a Patriot, who called Carr about Brady. Carr said that the Patriots were the only NFL team to inquire about Brady. Rehbein was the man who made the recommendation to then-new Patriot head coach Bill Belichick, and the Patriots grabbed him with the now-iconic 199th pick. Brady came to Foxborough and had to deal with another quarterback named Drew, this guy named Bledsoe.
Brady, to this day, likely never forgets this draft. These days, his memory of DeflateGate is also probably a bit fresher. But make no mistake, the former Wolverine plays with a fire that was lit during the 1999 season with his battles with Henson, and the draft that followed that spring. When adverse serendipity intervened and Brady took over for Bledsoe as Patriot quarterback, the legend was born and all experts who thought Brady was what he was are still wiping the egg off their faces.
The current Michigan quarterback is Wilton Speight, an outstanding quarterback who is fighting a shoulder injury not unlike Brady’s backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. If Speight can play, he will take the legacy of great Michigan quarterbacks into this big game against “that school down south”. Men like his current head coach, former 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, other former NFL quarterbacks like Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Griese, Chad Henne, all used to play quarterback for the Maize and Blue. Guys like Rick Leach and Dennard Robinson, who did not play quarterback in the NFL, carry the legacy as well.
But Brady stands tallest of all. In both Ann Arbor and Foxborough, there was none finer to throw the football in either town.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary