On the surface, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady couldn’t be the furthest thing from an underdog. Four time Super Bowl Champion, three time Super Bowl MVP, two time NFL MVP, comeback player of the year, offensive player of the year, eleven time Pro Bowler, and three time All Pro. He holds the franchise record for passing touchdowns, completions, and passing yards, as well as career wins. While setting the record for most playoff wins by a quarterback, he also set the records for most passing yardage and touchdown passes. He lives in a mansion, is married to a Victoria’s Secret supermodel, and is worth well over one hundred and twenty million dollars. Yet nobody epitomizes the American Dream quite like the NFL’s most hated quarterback.
Unlike Andrew Luck or the Manning brothers, Tom Brady was not born into NFL royalty. There weren’t piles of scholarships being dumped on his doorstep as a senior at Junipero Serra High School, there was no suspense regarding whether he would forego his senior year at Michigan for a chance at the pros, and absolutely nobody considered him for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2000.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment where Tom Brady’s football adventure began. Some point to his first start as a junior in high school, where he led the Padres to an underwhelming 6-4 record. Others point to his freshman season, where he rode the bench on a Junior Varsity team that finished the season without a win or a touchdown. But ultimately, the most poetic answer is that Tom Brady’s football journey began on Jan. 10, 1982. On that day, four year old Tom Brady watched his idol, Joe Montana lead the San Francisco 49ers back from a six point deficit against the Dallas Cowboys. With fifty-eight seconds left, Joe Montana took the snap, scrambled towards the sideline, and heaved a seemingly doomed pass towards the back of the endzone. Instead of falling incomplete or being intercepted, 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark made a miraculous leaping catch, setting up the go-ahead extra point, and sending the 49ers to the Super Bowl. This moment is famously referred to as “The Catch”, and not only did it mark the end of the Dallas domination, and the beginning of the 49er dynasty, but it very well may have inspired a young Tom Brady to pursue a career in football.
As stated before, Brady’s high school football career was underwhelming. The Serra Padres went 6-4 his senior year, and his numbers failed to attract many scholarship offers. Many of Brady’s family and friends assumed he would pursue a career in baseball, where he was projected to be a second-round pick. But Brady insisted that he wanted to play football, so he and his father created highlight tapes and sent them out to major colleges. He was able to generate some interest this way, and he ultimately committed to the University of Michigan.
It didn’t get any easier for Tom Brady at Michigan, where as a freshman, he found himself behind six other quarterbacks on the depth chart. Brady didn’t see significant playing time as a true freshman, and he could only sit and watch as Brian Griese led the Wolverines to an undefeated championship season as a sophomore. This frustrated the infamously competitive Brady to the point where he actually sought out the help of a sports psychologist. Fortunately for Brady (and Patriots fans everywhere), he was finally given the reigns as a starter in 1998. Unfortunately for Brady, he wasn’t given complete control. Wolverine coach Lloyd Carr didn’t have faith in the young Tom Brady, and began a quarterback controversy between he and Drew Henson, a highly touted young recruit. Carr would start Brady in the first quarter, then Henson in the second, and give the quarterback with the hotter hand the ball in the second half. This never diminished Brady’s confidence, though it may have hurt his draft stock. Despite achieving some success and having adequate stats at Michigan, Brady was overlooked by most pro scouts. Most experts believed he would be drafted somewhere in the third round. He was not.
As the legend goes, Tom Brady went undrafted until the New England Patriots selected him with 199th overall pick. It was a move that received little fanfare, if any, but is now widely considered the greatest draft steal of all time. Mel Kiper once infamously said, “Brady’s selection should not affect backup quarterbacks John Friesz or Michael Bishop”. Brady sat behind Bishop and Friesz, as well as established starter, Drew Bledsoe. In 2015, no NFL franchise kept four quarterbacks on the active roster all season. That is how close Tom Brady came to being a practice squad casualty. However, in 2000, Friesz retired, Bishop was released, and Tom Brady became the backup quarterback. During the second game, Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and the Patriots turned to the young Tom Brady. And as they say, the rest is history.
There’s no question that when carving out the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks, it would be incomplete without Tom Brady. The numbers, moments, and championship rings are all there. Whenever the former Michigan quarterback does decide to hang up his cleats, there’s no question that Canton will be waiting. Tom Brady was a boy that wasn’t good enough to start on a winless Junior Varsity team, was seventh on the Wolverines’ depth chart, and was barely drafted, but he still managed to become the greatest quarterback of all time. If an underdog is someone “thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest”, then nobody embodies the spirit of an underdog quite like Tom Brady.