Michigan senior captain Shawn Thompson remembers looking into Tom Brady”s eyes in the huddle on several occasions in Brady”s fairy-tale senior season and feeling a certain sense of calmness.
That same feeling came over Thompson and many other former Brady teammates on Sunday night, as they watched Brady become the youngest quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl and earn MVP honors.
Thompson knew Brady was going to get the job done, just like he had so many times in the maize and blue.
“He had such a big presence on the field and in the huddle that you just knew in his eyes that he was going to lead you to a win,” Thompson said.
Thompson caught Brady”s last pass as a Wolverine, a 25-yard touchdown reception in the 2000 Orange Bowl, capping off a Michigan comeback in the 35-34 thriller over Alabama.
Just over two years later, Brady is the newly respected leader for the World Champions and don”t be surprised if it stays that way for a while.
For a Californian, Brady isn”t flashy. But he”s smart, and as cool as a cucumber under pressure.
That”s what shined through in the waning minutes of the Super Bowl. With no timeouts and just over a minute left, he led the Patriots down the field with precision passes and savvy time management.
His 16-for-27, 145-yard performance wouldn”t necessarily be something to brag about, but he brought the Patriots to the promised land by doing what he”s always done best playing mistake-free football and making the big plays when he needed to.
He didn”t get rattled by blitzes. He didn”t become intimidated by the supposed “Greatest Show on Turf” even after hearing everyone”s expectations of a Rams blowout. Even with a $110 million quarterback looking over his shoulder, he remained confident and composed.
Brady acted like he”s been there before, probably because he feels like he has.
“He had just a certain aura about him,” said Michigan senior defensive end Eric Brackins. “He didn”t let anything get to him or rattle him. He wasn”t cocky, just confident in himself.”
Brackins remembers how Brady handled the quarterback controversy with golden-boy Drew Henson a few seasons ago. Brady had just received the reigns from a departed Brian Griese, and it could have been easy for Brady to play second-fiddle to the highly-touted Brighton native.
Henson was the man with tons of talent, a cannon of an arm and a national reputation. He was also a college student with a million dollar baseball contract in the bank.
But Brady started nearly every game and was the man everyone followed.
“He”s not a big rah-rah guy at all,” Thompson said. “But he”s got such a big presence in the huddle. Just his presence is going to make you listen to him and follow him and that”s the type of guy you want leading you.
“Guys wanted to be just like Tommy.”
A similar situation arose in New England. Even when veteran Pro Bowler Drew Bledsoe was healthy enough to play, coach Bill Belichick stuck with the guy who got the Patriots there.
He realized that just as money can”t buy you love, money can”t buy championships (unless you”re George Steinbrenner). Belichick found a rock his team could lean on and look up to.
At the beginning of the year, Brady was fighting for the clipboard as the Patriots” fourth-string quarterback. By mid-season, the sixth-round pick that completed just one pass during his entire rookie season had earned the starting job.
“Let me tell you, nobody worked harder on this football team than Tom Brady, nobody,” said Belichick in a press conference yesterday. “He made himself into a player, believe me, by not just showing up for the offseason stuff. He showed up and he worked his butt off.”
Brady made himself a player, a Pro Bowler and a World Champion with his work ethic, poise in the pocket and the respect he commanded from his teammates.
“It couldn”t have happened to a better guy,” Thompson said.
And nobody should be surprised when good things continue to come his way.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.