The Evolution of Tom Brady
By Karen Guregian
ATLANTA -- Playing against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl 17 years ago, Bill Belichick had a decision to make.
The Rams had tied the score late, kicked the ball off, and the Patriots returned it to their 17-yard-line with a little over a minute to go.
While TV analyst John Madden suggested the best move for the Patriots was to have 24-year-old quarterback Tom Brady take a knee and head for overtime, Belichick didn’t think that was his best chance.
Forget taking a knee. It was here that the legend of Brady was born.
“Playing in this game, you have the two best teams. You fight it out. One team wins. There’s no do-overs. There’s no retakes,” Brady said Thursday with respect to the Super Bowl. “This is live bullets. You have to get the job done under pressure.”
And that’s exactly what happened. A cool, calm, ice-water-in-his-veins Brady delivered the first of what has become many game-winning drives in his illustrious career.
Belichick knew the makeup of his young quarterback. There wasn’t a lot of time, but he trusted Brady to make enough plays in the two-minute drill to move them close enough for Adam Vinatieri to win the game.
Brady was good in 2002, but certainly not in GOAT category. He showed signs of being a great quarterback, a strong leader, but not the quarterback we’re seeing now in 2019.
In that first Super Bowl, Brady was 16-of-27 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Six of those completions came during the game-winning drive as he went 6-for-8 for 53 yards, the big play a 23-yard completion to Troy Brown.
“I think the only thing that might be the same now, as it was back then, was his confidence in himself,” said Brown, “and his positive thinking about getting through every situation.”
No question, Brady has always been a believer in his abilities to overcome any odds or any obstacles. He’s always walked the walk and backed it up on the field.
But what he showed the world in 2002 only scratched the surface of what he is now as a quarterback.
“Yeah, Tom’s a much better player now then he was then,” said Brown. “At 41, he’s got a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience that he works with every day. I don’t think anybody files away as much stuff, and is able to retain as much stuff as he does. Plus, there isn’t another player that can say they’ve seen more things than he’s seen defensively. He’s able to figure things out. So he’s pretty comfortable out there.”
And then there’s the legendary quick release.
He always got rid of it fast
Brady got rid of it pretty quick when he first came on the radar in the NFL. Like 2019, he didn’t mess around in the pocket when he first started out. But people who played with him then, and watch him now believe he’s even quicker -- at 41.
“You wouldn’t think it could get out of his hands any quicker than it did back then,” said Brown, “but it’s getting out of his hands a whole lot quicker now. He just knows all the reads, man, and where the ball should go after that. It’s kind of hard to stop somebody when they got the answers to the test.”
Whether it’s Brown, Tedy Bruschi or Willie McGinest, none of them could have imagined what transpired for Brady, even after he helped lead them to their first Super Bowl. Whether it was the four championships after the first one, all the MVPs, the passing records, no one could have envisioned what he became even with the greatness Brady displayed in that closing minute.
Bruschi said Brady has evolved from a quarterback who basically was there not to screw it up, to one who is the cornerstone of the offense.
“I don’t think any of us knew what we had back in ’01 ... It was a team, the foundation was special teams and defense. ‘We’ve got this young quarterback. He’s learning as he goes, and so let’s play like that.’ That’s how it started,” said Bruschi. “Now it’s sort of turned into ’The quarterback’s gotta do a lot to get this team to be successful.‴
Charlie Weis, who was the offensive coordinator for the Patriots early run of Super Bowl wins, joked that Brady used to be a normal guy who used to eat cheeseburgers and fries and drink beer during the first championship. Now, that’s changed. His body has gone through some transformations over the course of two decades as he’s gotten leaner and more pliable with the TB12 diet and training methods.
As for his football playing, we’ll let Weis tell it.
“He’s always been smart. He’s always been prepared. He’s always gone into games calm. The first (Super Bowl) after we went off the field (after warmups) after all that long stuff before the game, he took a nap. And this was the kid that was supposed to be so nervous? He actually took a nap for about 10 minutes,” said Weis. “He was always calm. The thing is right now, he’s just so confident. Back then, he was the quarterback earning his way up. Right now, he’s like a coach on the field. When you need to get yelled at, or need to get on someone, he does that, too.”
On Thursday Brady was asked how he might be better than he was during that first Super Bowl against the Rams.
“I think I’m a better player now than I was in 2001. I don’t think I was the best player I could possibly be at that point. I think there’s been a lot of work and effort over years to get to where I’m at now,” he said. “It’s really about playing at a championship level. I think that takes a different shape every year based on how the team is set up.”
Whether it’s 2002, or 2019, chances are, the focus will be on Brady with the game on the line.