There’s not much Tom Brady hasn’t accomplished in the NFL.
The 15-year veteran is a three-time Super Bowl champion. For two-thirds of his playing career, he’s been a Pro Bowl selection. He was named the league’s MVP in 2007 and 2010. The long-time Patriots quarterback has also broken several passing records in regular and postseason play.
Brady’s name is in the conversation as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever set foot on the field. But before all the glamour and fame, before the numerous awards and accolades and before he became New England’s football mogul, Tom Brady was just some kid at the University of Michigan.
The California kid didn’t see much action his first two years in Ann Arbor and was sitting behind starter Brian Griese for Michigan’s national championship run in 1997. With Griese’s final season in the books for the maize and blue, Brady’s time to take the reins had arrived.
Heading into his junior season, Brady had thrown only 20 collegiate passes, one of which was an interception. It was a sizeable task, asking a relatively inexperienced guy to run the show for a team sitting atop the peak of the college football mountain.
In the first two games of the 1998 season, it was apparent that Brady was still in the learning process. Michigan opened up losing to Notre Dame and Syracuse in the first two weeks of the season. Brady completed 60 percent of his passes, but threw for only 361 yards and had one touchdown in the pair of losses.
After a lowly start to the season, things began to clear up for the defending national champs, finishing the season winning 10 of their 11 games on the year. The only loss came at the hands of Ohio State in Michigan’s final Big Ten game of the season.
The success of the program improved. Brady’s numbered didn’t necessarily follow suit.
He finished his junior season with just 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. He still completed over 60 percent of his passes for the year, but the numbers were rather pedestrian for a kid steering the ship of a 10-3 team.
Brady’s performance in 1998 didn’t impress head coach Lloyd Carr. It prompted Carr to insert Drew Henson into the lineup on multiple occasions in Brady’s senior season with Michigan.
It was the apparent spark the future NFL-Hall of Famer needed.
All controversy or skepticism regarding Brady’s drive or competitive edge were hushed in his final season, when he led the team to a 10-2 season. He finished the season with 2,217 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Even more impressively was the way Brady engineered five comeback victories for the Wolverines that season, earning him the nickname “Comeback Kid,” with the Michigan fans.
The 1999 season was the starting ground for a quarterback who has orchestrated more come-from-behind victories than anyone in NFL history.
Still, the numbers that Brady posted nor his 20-5 record at Michigan was enough to impress many folks. He was a two-year selection as a Big Ten Honorable Mention. Despite going 2-0 in his bowl games, Brady was never a focus on the national stage.
His career at Michigan didn’t impress many scouts at the professional level, either. Finally, Brady was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round. At the time, it was a safe pick for New England. With Drew Bledsoe at quarterback, all the franchise needed was a usable backup.
But the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft became the Pats franchise player and one of the top quarterbacks in the game.
A kid who was in jeopardy of losing his starting role in his senior year at Michigan has led New England to five Super Bowl appearances and is on the verge of getting to the NFL’s grandest stage for a sixth time.
15 years ago, we judged Tom Brady by his cover. His statistics were never eye-popping, he never won an outright Big Ten championship and he never gained much recognition or praise from the media.
But we forgot one thing.
Even though he never hoisted a trophy or raised a banner, Tom Brady was a true champion at Michigan.