ARLINGTON, Texas — There is no quarterback battle at Michigan today. It’s Denard Robinson’s job, no questions asked. Twelve years ago, it wasn’t that way. One quarterback had to fight for the starting spot every season he was at Michigan.
That quarterback was Tom Brady.
During interviews for a story on the 2000 Orange Bowl, a game in which Brady set Michigan and Orange Bowl records with a 34-for-46 passing night for 369 yards and four touchdowns, his former Michigan teammates reflected on the Brady they knew before he won four Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots.
Brady was also upstaged by receiver David Terrell, who made 10 catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns that night in Miami and took home MVP honors.
Below is the additional coverage from the players’ look back at that season that culminated in a 35-34 overtime victory over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
DRAFT HORSE vs. QUARTER HORSE
For half of the 1999 season, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr split snaps between Tom Brady and Drew Henson at quarterback. Henson would start the first quarter, Brady the second quarter and the hot hand would take over the second half.
The decision to split snaps was a controversial one among the Michigan fan base. Here’s how a few members of the team felt about the quarterback battle:
Ian Gold, senior linebacker: “Do you want the draft horse or the quarter horse to run the race? We look at it today and see how much success the draft horse has had and it’s a no-brainer. But you had this young quarter horse coming in, looking pretty, running fast, slinging the ball like Tom’s slinging it today.”
Drew Henson, sophomore quarterback: “After Michigan State, we had a stretch run for the Big Ten. For continuity’s sake and trying to win the league, we were just going to go with Tom to start in November.
“I knew the next year was going to be my year. Tom and I had a really good working relationship anyway.”
Bennie Joppru, freshman tight end: “I don’t know how many teams have an ongoing quarterback controversy and end up the No. 5 team in the country.
“I thought both were great quarterbacks. Drew was in my class, so in the back of your head you want your closer friend to be the guy (to start) — Drew was one of my best friends on the team, so obviously I pulled for him — but at the end of the day we just wanted to win football games.”
Jason Kapsner, senior quarterback: “Being a day-in-day-out observer as a quarterback in practice everyday watching this, for me it was really never a decision: It was always Tom’s job. I think Tom earned the job in practice everyday and I think Drew was not ready at that point. He wasn’t the leader of the team, he hadn’t earned it in practice, but for reasons that were there, there was a lot of pressure to play Drew.”
David Terrell, sophomore receiver: “Drew was a great quarterback. Tom was a great quarterback. At that time, to be straight up with you, it was more or less like: ‘Throw Drew in there.’ But it was Tom’s team. Tom played the majority of snaps.”
“I would have loved to see just one go.”
Gold: “There wasn’t a game that we had that I would look in Tom’s eyes and question whether or not he was confident. It was just a matter of, here you have Drew, this highly touted, athletic kid, gunslinger and he’s more of an athlete than Tom. Then you have Tom, who probably runs a 6.7 in the 40!”
Aaron Shea, senior fullback: “It was one of those things that Coach Carr had to do. You had an Ohio State fan in George Steinbrenner who was going to give Drew $3 million to leave (to sign a contract with the New York Yankees) and he was very highly touted, talented guy. I loved both Drew and Tom. But that was Tommy’s team.”
TOM BRADY — THEN AND NOW
Brady Hoke, defensive line coach: “Tommy had a tremendous game. It was the right way for Tom Brady to finish his career at Michigan.”
Kapsner: “As a quarterback, I remember just being in awe of what Tom was doing on the field. It was really no different from what he’s done in his NFL career. It was the crescendo of his Michigan career and set him up for the amazing NFL career that he has had.”
“That game really sums up his legacy. He had a very challenging, arguably unfair, shake during his period. He had to always over-prove himself. I think it sums it up: He never complained, he just persevered through a lot of unnecessary obstacles and challenges.
“If you look at that game, it sort of summarizes that: Starts off slow, has to deal with Drew Henson going into (Brady’s) last football game that he’s going to ever play at Michigan, persevering and then dominating the second half. Going through obstacles even with the offense, fumble at the goal line, the missed field goal that could win it, and every time still coming back and making the big play. That’s what being a leader is — not letting the team down when it’s very easy to feel that way, to feel sorry for yourself.
“I think if there’s a legacy of Tom’s at Michigan, that sort of embodies it. That is totally, completely mirrored in the rest of his career in the NFL. That kind of character played out. He is who he is and he never changed. It just took a while at Michigan for the coaches to realize that.”
The next spring, Brady was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round, 199th overall of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Shea: “I’ve done stories with people asking why Tommy was a sixth-round pick, and if you put that Orange Bowl game on and see that second half, I don’t see why he wasn’t a first-round pick.”
Henson: “You had a feeling that if he got a chance in the league, he was going to be good. We didn’t know what types of quarterbacks are in the NFL, we only know the guys in the room with us. But we saw his poise and the way he brought the team back in a lot of games.”
Joppru: “I think Tom still would have gotten drafted without that game, but had that game gone differently would he have ended up in New England? He was given a chance and stepped up and took advantage of it.
“But he could have been drafted by someone else? That’s the even bigger question. Tom deserves everything he’s worked for. Not to say he wouldn’t have won Super Bowls with other teams, but the storybook would probably be a little different.”
Henson: “There are so many different things in all of our lives where one little thing can affect the next thing and the next thing. Who knows? I don’t think for a second he wouldn’t have had success if he’d gotten an opportunity in the league, but you never know if someone else picked him or the Pats didn’t there were so many things that could have happened with a couple little changes for all of us.”
Terrell: “If you look at New England’s offense — and I played in New England’s offense after I left the Bears — it was the same stuff we were doing at Michigan. When I was in New England with Tom, it was so crazy and so much hype was going on around it because I knew out connection, it’s nothing to be talked about.
“Bill Belicheck ran a system where he’d come in and tell you that the only person secure in his job is Tom Brady.
“In the NFL, every team is a Fortune 500 company, a billion-dollar company. If they add four more teams there would be four more billion-dollar teams. So you’re talking about a league of Illuminati men, that’s what it is. They run their teams like it’s a real, real, real business. From numbers all the way down.
“So when I say that I hate it when people say that (Tom was a surprise success) about Tom, you can’t say that about Tom. C’mon man, people need to be real about things. That’s not what they got out of Tom. What they got out of Tom was a steal, period.”
Brady was set up perfectly to succeed in New England, according to Terrell.
“Soon as they got Tom, he was the backup quarterback to Drew Bledsoe. They knew Tom Brady’s skill set, they knew what they had in him.”
“Drew Bledsoe wasn’t a runner, he’s not no Denard. Drew Bledsoe ain’t no Mike Vick. Drew Bledsoe ain’t no RGIII. He ain’t no Slash. He ain’t no Doug Flutie. Drew Bledsoe was a Tom Brady.”
DAVID TERRELL — MVP
Kapsner: “Dave was arguably one of the most pure, raw, talented receivers Michigan has ever had. Him, Braylon Edwards, those type of guys are right at the top of the list from a sheer talent perspective. I don’t think anybody was surprised by the success he had.”
“That game put him in the superstar category as he went into his junior year. There was Heisman talk and all that. It propelled him to a significant, national level.”
Joppru: “He was expected to be that game-changer. He came in and was wearing the No. 1 jersey right away. He was a great player and everyone knew it the minute he stepped on campus.”
Henson: “Dave always had a swagger and confidence from the day he walked in the door. He always thought he was going to be the man, so by the end of his second year we knew what kind of talent he had.
Terrell: “The only thing I remember about that game is I really could have had a 190 (yards), four touchdowns, and it really could have been out of reach, but I dropped the ball. I dropped the post route (midway through the third quarter). That’s the only thing I remember.”
“Tom was pissed. I came in the huddle and said, ‘Man, please come back,’ and he just ignored me for a minute.
“Tom and Drew handled me different, because I had a different relationship with both. Me and Drew came in together, were McDonald’s All-Americans. And I ain’t knocking Drew, but Tom did something different. Both of them could really play, but both handled me different. Drew is very direct — he looked at me like I was his brother — but Tom was smooth.
“Tom’s like Batman. He come to me, real smooth, like, ‘DT, come here. I’m coming back to you. I’m coming back to you.’ ”
After just one catch for three yards in the first 29 minutes of the Orange Bowl, Terrell finished with MVP honors and a career night.
“That game did a lot for me. But it was just my job. I guess I was the benefactor somewhat by getting the MVP, but there were a lot of MVPs that game — Cato June, Tom Brady, Train (Anthony Thomas), Dhani Jones.”