The history and tradition that come with playing at Michigan can either motivate or stagger those who play in the shadow of past greats. Quarterbacks face a special burden—being to compared to arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
To many Tom Brady was merely a stopgap falling in the shadow of Brian Griese (who led Michigan to a National Championship) and Drew Henson who was destined to lead the Wolverines to 3 or 4 National Championships, while leading the Yankees to World Championships during the football off-season.
No disrespect to Drew Henson but the hype surrounding him was completely out of control. The spotlight on Henson obscured Brady and many fans couldn’t wait for him to make way for Henson.
While Brady was technically the starter, Lloyd Carr employed the dreaded dual QB system giving Henson ample to time to challenge. At the time it seemed like a concession to keep Henson from bolting and playing baseball full time.
But Brady held on as the starter for two seasons and capped his career with an OT win over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl.
During his time at Michigan no one could have predicted the success he’d have in the NFL.
I always thought that Brady would be successful at something– he had that air about him. A quiet determination and confidence. No matter how obnoxious fans would be, “Hey Tom, how long until Drew takes your job?” he stayed calm, cool, and collected.
Only later did we learn how close he came to transferring.
But there was one indication of his character. I took this picture during the 1998 season and was determined to get all three players who were featured prominently to autograph it. At 1999 Media Day fans had an opportunity to meet the players and I quickly tracked down center Steve Frazier (#64) tight end end Aaron Shea (#36) but couldn’t find Brady anywhere.
I went from line to line looking for him. Finally, I tracked him standing practically alone near the sideline. When I showed him the photo his first reaction was to ask how I took it (from my seats) and how cool it was that it showed all three players together in the same shot. I found out later that Aaron Shea was one of his best friends in college which helps explain why he liked the photo so much.
He signed the photo and said, “Go Blue!” and thanked me for taking the picture.
It always struck how classy he was. At the time there was a huge line of people waiting for Drew Henson’s autograph while Brady, the starter, stood by watching.
A lesser man may have been resentful, but Brady was a Michigan Man.
I wondered how he felt when he found himself drafted by the Patriots and was again overshadowed by another quarterback phenom named Drew (Bledsoe).
I have no doubt that he handled himself with the same class he showed at Michigan.
And his hard work and dedication have made him one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.