Fourteen years after he left Michigan, Tom Brady stood inside the locker room at Michigan Stadium. He wore a jersey with the number 10.
The Michigan football team released one overexposed photograph of the moment: Brady, smiling and looking down, football in hand. Next to him, was Devin Gardner, the current redshirt junior quarterback, beaming, hands clasped.
Brady had returned, for the first time in years, to visit with the Michigan football team Thursday. His New England Patriots would play the Detroit Lions in their third preseason game Thursday night in Detroit. He had spoken with Michigan coach Brady Hoke about meeting with the team, and he made good.
Brady is the Michigan football team’s most recognizable alumnus. He has won three Super Bowls, two Most Valuable Player awards and two Super Bowl MVPs.
For Michigan, he has also been elusive. He had not visited the university since 2007, and his appearance in an in-game promotional video in recent years — albeit for just a few words — was cause for surprise.
Brady, of course, has a busy schedule that doesn’t often bring him near Ann Arbor. He also was never as popular during his time in Ann Arbor as he became in the NFL. Brady split time his redshirt junior and senior years with Drew Henson. In 1998, the Michigan Stadium crowd cheered when he was pulled during a game against Syracuse. He didn’t cement his legacy — he didn’t have much of a legacy at all — until an overtime victory over Alabama in the 2000 Orange Bowl , Brady’s last game.
Brady bristled at the way coach Lloyd Carr treated him. He thought about transferring.
The team released a video of Brady’s address to the team. At the very end, he seemed to reference the near-transfer.
“ ‘Those who stay will be champions,’ right?” Brady said, referencing the phrase coined by Bo Schembechler and printed on posters and walls in the football facilities. “We touch that. What does that mean to you? It means you stick around, you fight, you work, you do everything you can every day for each other, and you’ll be a champion. That’s all I got for you guys.”
Hoke has been well-received by former players during his tenure. He was an assistant at Michigan during Brady’s tenure and served as the recruiting coordinator for California, Brady’s home state, after the quarterback committed to Michigan. Hoke said he met with Brady at a former player social in Boston, and they spoke about Brady returning to the University.
Hoke kept the news a secret and surprised the team in a meeting Thursday morning.
“As you can imagine, some wide eyes,” Hoke said.