August 3, 1977 • San Mateo, California
By the mid-2000s Tom Brady was the undisputed king of the gridiron. In 2002 he became the youngest quarterback in the history of the National Football League (NFL) to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory. Two years later, in 2004, he proved the magic was still strong when he led the New England Patriots to their second Super Bowl title in three years. In addition, Brady was named the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player (MVP) in 2002 and 2004. The dimpled, clean-cut quarterback had reached career heights that most veteran football players envied, and he had done it all before he was thirty years old.
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. was born on August 3, 1977, in San Mateo, California, the youngest child, and only son, of Galynn and Tom Brady. The Bradys were a close-knit family, and they were all sports enthusiasts. The three Brady girls (Maureen, Nancy, and Julie) played every sport imaginable, including softball, soccer, and basketball. Tommy, as his family calls him, always went to their games and cheered them on. He also caught their competitive spirit. As Julie Brady explained to People Weekly, "We used to compete for absolutely everything, and we pushed [Tom] all the time." The nightly battles to control the television remote were especially fierce, and frequently the fighting took place with water pistols.
Brady's interest in football started when he was very young. Some of his earliest memories are of attending San Francisco 49ers games with his family every Sunday when the team was in town. "The Niners were my team," enthused Brady in a CBS Under the Helmet interview. Brady was a particular fan of San Francisco quarterbacks Joe Montana (1956–) and Steve Young (1961–). When not going to football games, or watching football on television, Brady was playing football. While attending St. Gregory's elementary school in San Mateo (where he was an altar boy), he played flag football and touch football at recess and after school. His position? Quarterback.
"Football has so many elements of sports. It's strength, and it's speed, and it's quickness. It's endurance. It's toughness. It's so fast. It's a great game to watch. It's a great game to play."
Brady first played organized football as a freshman at San Mateo's Junipero Serra High School, a Catholic all-boys school. By his junior year he was a starting quarterback, and by his senior year he was being noticed by college and pro scouts. During Brady's high school quarterback career, he completed 236 of 447 passes (52.8 percent) for 3,702 yards, and thirty-one touchdowns. The multi-talented Brady was also a star catcher on the school's baseball team, and, when he graduated from high school in 1995, he was recruited to play professional baseball for the Montreal Expos. Instead, he opted to accept a scholarship to play football for the University of Michigan (U of M), in Ann Arbor.
In February of 2004, just hours after leading the New England Patriots to their second Super Bowl victory, quarterback Tom Brady was whisked away to join a whirlwind of celebrations. Where was he going? As he told millions of fans who were watching their television screens, "I'm going back to Disney World."
Brady joined a long line of athletes who have been featured in one of television's most famous advertising campaigns. In the ad, immediately following the game, a narrator asks, "You've just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do next?" The player responds, "I'm going to Disney World!" The first ad, which aired in 1987, focused on Phil Simms (1955–), quarterback for the New York Giants, winners of Super Bowl XXI. The "What's next?" commercials became so famous that the phrase "I'm going to Disney World" became a part of American pop culture.
In 2004 Brady was going back to Disney World because he had already been there following his first Super Bowl win in 2002. Only three other NFL players have been featured twice in the commercials: Joe Montana (1956–), Emmitt Smith (1969–), and John Elway (1960–). Many of the players, like Brady, are MVPs, but not all. As Disney senior vice president of marketing Ken Potrock explained on PR Newswire, "We select players based on success in the field and a Cinderella-type story."
Brady definitely fit the bill. In both 2002 and 2004, he led his team to a storybook finish, so what better way to celebrate than with a fairy-tale ending. On February 2, the fairytale came true. Just one day after his Super Bowl win, Brady and his mother were riding through the streets of Disney's Magic Kingdom and thousands of fans, including Mickey Mouse, cheered the latest Super Bowl hero.
During his first two years as a U of M Wolverine, Brady warmed the bench as a backup quarterback for future NFL stars Brian Griese (1975–) and Scott Driesbach (1975–). He was frustrated by his lack of play, and at one point, considered transferring back to California. However, Brady stuck it out, and in 1998, his junior year, he earned the starting quarterback position. He went on to earn an All–Big Ten Conference honorable mention; he was an Academic All–Big Ten Pick (he had a 3.3 grade point average); and he set several University of Michigan records, including the record for most attempts (350) and completions (214) in one season. Brady also led the Wolverines to victory at the Citrus Bowl in 1999 and was named team co-captain the same year. In 2000 he became team captain.
Despite his success, Brady faced a setback his senior year when he was forced to share his quarterbacking duties with teammate Drew Henson (1980–). Henson was only a freshman, but he had been highly recruited in both football and baseball, and Wolverine coach Lloyd Carr feared that if not played, Henson might leave U of M in favor of a pro baseball career. Brady worked all the harder and completed the year by throwing the twenty-five-yard pass that brought victory to U of M over the University of Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl, like the Citrus Bowl is a post-season competition between two college football teams. The four most prestigious bowl games are the Orange Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and the Rose Bowl. Bowl games are always played as close as possible to New Year's Day.
By the time his college career came to a close, Brady had won twenty of the twenty-five games he started. He had arm strength and throwing accuracy, and he believed his chances were good for being chosen to play professional ball during the 2000 NFL draft. Things did not turn out as Brady hoped, however. During the draft he was the 199th player chosen, and he was picked up by the struggling New England Patriots. According to sports analysts, coaches were leery of Brady. They questioned his speed, but mostly they wondered why Henson, a freshman, had received so much playing time at the University of Michigan over the more seasoned senior. Brady showed up at the Patriot's training camp determined to prove himself. His U of M coach expected nothing less. "The more he gets knocked down," Carr commented to People Weekly, "the harder he competes. You can't underestimate Tom."
Although he was a fourth-string Patriot quarterback, Brady did not complain. Instead he watched and studied and prepared. He learned the Patriot playbook front to back, and he hit the weight room to bulk up his six-foot-four-inch frame from 204 to 220 pounds. He also pelted veteran teammates with questions about ways to improve his on-field strategy. By the end of his first season, Brady had played in only one game, during which he completed one pass. The game was against the Detroit Lions, and the Patriots lost 34 to 9. The team ended the season at the very bottom of the AFC East division with a record of five wins and eleven losses. The thirty-two football teams that are part of the NFL are divided evenly into two conferences: the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Within each conference, there are four divisions: North, South, East, and West.
During the off-season, Brady continued to work on improving his game, and at the 2001 training camp he was one of the team's most improved players. Brady so impressed his coaches that he was named back-up to the Patriot's star quarterback, Drew Bledsoe (1972–). On September 23, 2001, during the second game of the season, Bledsoe received a stunning blow to his chest, and barely made it off the field. A jittery Brady, who had not expected to play, stepped in to finish the game, which the Patriots ended up losing.
With Bledsoe out of commission, it seemed that the Patriots were doomed to face another losing season. However, as Brady began to get comfortable in his new role, things began to change. "I'm a big fan of Drew's," former Patriot safety Lawyer Milloy (1973–) told Michael Silver of Sports Illustrated, "but it was obvious the team needed something different, and Tom brought that youthful energy." With the calm confidence of someone much older than his twenty-four years, Brady helped the Patriots rack up a string of wins. In 2000 they finished at the bottom of the heap; in 2001 they were AFC Division champions, and they were going to the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl is the top competition in football, played each year between the two teams who are leaders from the AFC and NFC divisions. It has become a major television event that is watched by millions of fans throughout the world. Going into the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots were considered the underdogs, even though they ended the 2001 season with eleven wins and five losses. For one thing, their Super Bowl track record was not good. They had only competed twice, and they lost both times. Plus they were being led by an inexperienced quarterback: Tom Brady. The St. Louis Rams were the hands-down favorite to win Super Bowl XXXVI, scheduled for February 3, 2002.
Regardless of the predictions, Brady was so calm before the big game that he took a nap in the locker room. "When I woke up," Brady explained to Dave Kindred of The Sporting News, "I told myself it's a football game. It just comes down to playing football. I felt calm and confident." Brady's confidence was key since the game turned out to be a nail-biting battle. When the Rams tied things up with only one minute, thirty-nine seconds to go, people expected the game to go into overtime. Brady, however, set up a spectacular nine-play drive that positioned the Patriots for a field goal. With mere seconds left on the clock, the Patriots defeated the Rams, 20 to 17.
The Super Bowl win was only the beginning of Brady's Cinderella story. He not only led his team to victory, he was also named MVP of the game, and he set a new record as the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl at twenty-four years and 184 days old. One of the previous record-holders was his childhood idol, Joe Montana. In addition, Brady emerged as a true leader of his team, earning the respect of his coaches, teammates, and the sports press. According to sportswriter Paul Attner, "he has embraced his position with a passion and intelligence rarely seen in the game." Analyst Phil Simms of CBS noted that Brady "really knows how to play quarterback, how to interact with teammates, when to be their friend, when to be their leader and when to be their enemy when he has to. He can influence an entire franchise."
After the thrill of the Super Bowl, the following season was disappointing for the Patriots, and they did not make the playoffs. A determined Brady, however, rallied his team in 2003. The season started off slow with two wins and two losses, but then Brady and the Patriots took off on a winning streak. After winning fourteen games in a row, they were headed, once again, to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXXVIII, played on February 1, 2004, was a memorable match-up between the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers. The first half was agonizingly long as both teams fought hard to control the field. At half-time, the score stood at Patriots 14, Panthers 10. The second half of the game proved to be a humdinger. The two teams scored a combined 37 points in the fourth quarter, and with four seconds left on the clock, New England's Adam Vinatieri made a forty-one-yard
For Brady, it was a sweet repeat. His game statistics were impressive: thirty-two completions in forty-eight attempts for 354 yards, and three touchdowns. He was named, once again, Most Valuable Player, and he broke another record by becoming, at age twenty-six, the youngest quarterback to win two Super Bowls.
After his first Super Bowl win, Brady-mania swept the United States. Sportscasters could not heap enough praise on him, calling him meticulous, conscientious, and self-assured. Girls everywhere thought he was dreamy. Parents liked him, too. According to fellow teammate Larry Izzo, who spoke with reporter Michael Silver, "Every mother and father in New England wants their daughter to be dating Tom Brady."
It seemed everyone was clamoring for the fresh-faced quarterback. Brady was a judge for the Miss USA Pageant; his face beamed down from billboards for the famous "Got Milk?" ad campaigns; and he was named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People of 2002." Just before his second Super Bowl, Brady was even invited to be a special guest at the White House for President George W. Bush's January of 2004 State of the Union address.
Brady seems to be handling his celebrity status with the same cool approach he has toward playing football. As he told Silver in Sports Illustrated , "Look, I'm a football player, and when I think back to the Miss USA pageant and all the other cool stuff I've done these last few weeks, the most fun I've had by far was winning the Super Bowl.... I know how I got here, and I'm going to devote myself to helping my team win it all again."
In addition, throughout it all, Brady has remained very close to his family, and perhaps it is thanks to them that he stays grounded. In an interview with Brady's hometown newspaper, the San Mateo County Times, Tom Brady Sr. put his son's celebrity into perspective: "Tommy's a hometown boy and, generally, everybody likes to see the hometown boy succeed."
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