New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is one of the most polarizing and successful figures in the history of the NFL.
Since Week 2 of the 2001 NFL season when Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured, forcing Brady into the game, he has dominated the league at unprecedented levels.
Brady’s road to superstardom wasn’t easy, however. In fact, it almost never existed at all.
After playing back-up quarterback for his first two years at the University of Michigan, he took over as starter for the Wolverines right before the 1998 season and played out his last two years as the leader of the team.
Brady broke a few school passing records in the process and eventually built up a solid resume going into the 2000 NFL Draft. However, even in a uniquely weak draft for quarterbacks (Chad Pennington was the first QB to be selected at 18), Brady’s subpar combind showing dropped him all the way to the sixth round, during which he was selected by the Patriots as the 199th pick.
The Pats already had a solid starting quarterback in Drew Bledsoe, and as a late pick in the draft Brady actually entered his rookie season at fourth on the team depth chart.
By the end of the season he had only thrown one completion, but his strong work ethic and effort with the practice squad propelled him into the back-up spot.
When Bledsoe took a huge hit from Jet’s linebacker Mo Lewis in the second week of the 2001 season, which put him in the hospital, it was time for Brady to take over.
After a shaky couple games to start off, Brady eventually went on a tear.
The Patriots ended their season on a six-game win streak and earned a bye week going into the playoffs, Tom Brady earned a Pro Bowl nod for the next season and he ultimately led the Pats to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history.
From that point on, the New England Patriots and Tom Brady have been the dominant force in the NFL all the way until now. In his 19th season, Brady holds a smorgasbord of NFL records, including: most regular season wins (207), most passing touchdowns (590), most playoff wins (29), most Super Bowl wins (5) and many more.
It didn’t seem as if the Patriots had that same magic to start off the 2018-19 season, however.
Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, a slow start (including two early losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions) brought the doubters out of the woodwork, and as much of the glory is usually bestowed upon Brady, a lot of the hate was pushed upon him as well.
Analysts on SportsCenter gave the Patriots a zero percent chance to make it back to the championship game, and narratives around Tom Brady’s old age being a factor started to surface.
These narratives actually haven’t gone away, with Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman just last week claiming that Brady might be too old to lead the team to another ring.
“Age has definitely taken a toll,” Robey-Coleman said to Bleacher Report. “For him to still be doing it, that’s a great compliment for him. But I think that he’s definitely not the same quarterback he was.”
Brady would probably beg to differ, and a six-game win streak in the middle of the season this year seems to refute that claim as well.
He averaged around 308 passing yards and two touchdowns per game during that stretch and ultimately ended around the middle of the pack in those two categories by the end of the season.
The Patriots came into the postseason at the top of their division and in second place in the AFC, and they steamrolled over the Los Angeles Chargers 41-28 in their first playoff game.
Brady threw for 343 yards and one touchdown with a 106 QBR in the game, setting up a matchup with sophomore phenom Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the conference championship.
This game had the potential to fulfill all the negative prophecies about Brady.
Mahomes was a young quarterback seemingly poised to take his spot, the Chiefs defense had been forcing crucial turnovers all season and the Patriots had only been tested in the first round by the worst team in the playoffs.
After a tightly contested four quarters it all came down to a final drive in overtime, and yet again Brady marched the Pats down the field and turned in another clutch performance to score a touchdown and push his squad into the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady’s legacy as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is already set in stone — his five rings make that clear.
But if he leads the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory over the Rams on Sunday afternoon, it will be hard to say that he doesn’t belong in a category all to himself.
A version of this article appeared on p. 8 of the Jan. 31, 2019 edition of the Daily Nexus.