Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Tampa Buccaneers retired this week at the age of 45 years old as a 7-time Super Bowl champion and a list of records as long as his career. In his time in the NFL, Brady established himself as a model of consistency after coming into the league as an overlooked 6th round pick.
The reason Brady was a sixth round pick comes down to a situation a lot of Michigan fans ignore, and the fact of the matter is, Lloyd Carr and the Michigan faithful wanted Drew Henson as their starting quarterback. Henson was an incredible athlete coming out of high school and a blue chip recruit from the state.
There are tons of reasons Michigan was excited about having Henson at the helm. As a high school quarterback, he was a Parade All-American. As a baseball player, he was four-time All-State selection and national record holder for home runs. This wasn’t a reason they cared about him as a football player, but it added to the lure of the world class athlete coming into play football.
Brady was an immobile, strong-armed quarterback from Northern California who had to send video tapes across the country to get recruited. He landed at Michigan and won the backup job on the national championship team behind incumbent starter Brian Griese. This was not a reward in hindsight. Brady had doubters of if he was capable of following in the footsteps or had the upside to win another shared national title.
There will be a lot of denial, but the evidence is clear with a now iconic – and a little infamous – story of an autograph day in Ann Arbor.
As the story goes, lines of Michigan fans awaited for the signature of the next great Michigan quarterback — the next player who was going to bring the Wolverines championship glory. That player was not Tom Brady, it was freshman supernova Drew Henson.
This story is the beginning to why the Michigan faithful should not act as high and mighty about the “G.O.A.T” attending the University of Michigan.
Brady waited that autograph day out all the way until the conclusion like a professional, signing few autographs that day and staring off into the distance taking in the scene. His first competition wasn’t with Henson; It was against the Michigan faithful. With Henson standing in the wings – or I guess at the 50-yard line signing autographs – the story of underdog Brady began for the world. This was the pathway to Mr. 199, and he only has Lloyd Carr and impatient Michigan fans to blame.
In an archived article from Sports Illustrated, Tom Brady Sr. was asked about the quarterback battle. His response tells the story of the younger Brady’s Michigan tenure, “It’s a pretty sore spot, to be honest with you,” Brady’s father said. “He wasn’t treated very kindly by the head coach.”
Carr was not against Brady, but to Carr the feeling from the outside is he wanted an influx of talent to the position. Brady wanted to transfer, but the quarterback room cleared up. The competition was still there even before Henson, but there were no guarantees made for Brady, unlike the ones made for Henson who forced all the coaches recruiting him to take one quarterback in his recruiting class.
The tale of the tape was not more clear. It was either Brady was going to earn every snap he played, or Drew Henson was going to start following any real slip-up. After Brady was the starter for a season, the Wolverines wanted to get Henson more playing time. To the ire of the fanbase, Brady was still playing well enough to warrant not passing the torch to a not completely proven commodity at the college level.
At the time of Brady coming into becoming the starter at Michigan, the fans, and more precisely the students at Michigan were not pleased. According to a story recounted in the Providence Journal, a group of fraternity members were engaging into a level of trash talk at an intramural basketball game that divulged into the likelihood of Brady starting at quarterback for the Wolverines.
“You suck,” they shouted. “You’ll never be the quarterback here,” another said.
These quotes from that story paint the picture clear as day how many of the campus members saw Brady — a kid who didn’t even warrant enough respect to even be thought of as a starting quarterback. Brady got back at them later, setting a hard screen on a kid who told him to his face that Henson would be the starting quarterback and that Brady would never start.
Seems like a place that really respected Brady, and deserves to claim him as their own.
In Henson’s first year on campus, many did believe that Carr would give him a shot at the job immediately due to his level of talent and pedigree. The beginning of fall practices saw that was the case, Henson was rotating in with the ones the minute he stepped foot on campus. Looking into this story deeper, an article from The Daily News of Newburyport, a fellow quarterback in the room, Jason Kapsner had a lot to say on the matter:
“Tom had clearly won the job, outright, in the spring, ahead of myself and Dreisbach” recalled Kapsner in Bill Burt’s article. “Then we open camp, Day 1 of two-a-days, and Drew is splitting reps with Tom. Normally, it’s a given at Michigan that a freshman has to earn his reps. This was a unique situation.”
There is a good reason Michigan fans were mislead. If the head coach himself and the rest of the staff aren’t believers, why should they be? That is a valid question, and to no fault of their own, the Wolverine faithful latched onto the hot new thing. I can think back to a time Ohio State fans did that with a certain mullet-ed kid from Texas. There is a distinct level of excitement when the best quarterback in the country declares they are coming to your school.
Where all of the parties from Tom Brady’s dad to his closest friends at the time have credited Michigan, is in how they turned him into the psychotic winner that owned the NFL for over two decades. But is being so dismissive and outright disrespectful to the quarterback from San Mateo, Calif. deserve the ability to say he’s a Michigan man?
“I’m staying,” Brady said, “And I’m going to prove to you I am a great quarterback.”
Brady won over his teammates on a daily basis, as we saw with Kapsner’s conversation. The fact he wasn’t given the reigns cost Michigan a few games in Brady’s two seasons. Carr decided to platoon Henson and Brady. In this scenario, one player would get the first quarter and the other the second. Whoever had the hot hand that day would get the second half — it was usually Brady.
Even when he proved it time and time again, his performances still weren’t enough to fully win over the coaching staff and fans until the platoon cost them a game.
Ohio State and Michigan will always be rivals, and that means when the greatest NFL player of all-time was treated like Joe Bauserman, people can’t let Michigan fans forget. They had the greatest quarterback of all-time, turned him into 6th-round pick, and now claim him as the GOAT.
This might be a personal experience, but my formative years as a football fan were when Brady was first winning Super Bowls. There was not a moment where Brady outright discussed how proud he was to be a Michigan Wolverine. The story with Brady always started at with the combine picture and ended wherever Brady was at in his career.
For many players, the school they played at defines their current stature in the league and the praise is placed back to the alma mater. Patrick Mahomes shares love for Texas Tech, Josh Allen for Wyoming, and even quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield always credited the alma mater for getting them to where they were.
I know those three underdog stories ring a little different. Mahomes took Mayfield’s job as three-star recruit, Mayfield ended up leaving his school to go on to having an iconic career at Oklahoma, and Allen went from JUCO to Laramie, Wyoming to prove he was an FBS level quarterback.
Brady was not invited back, or did not accept an invite back to Michigan until 2016. That day he was an honorary captain. It was the first time Michigan as a university showed real gratitude and a connection to their former quarterback. Even on that day, there was a weird feeling in the air. There definitely was feeling of distance. The memories of the fans wanting Henson and the coaches not giving him respect were significant talking points surrounding the ceremonial honorary captaincy.
This strained relationship adds to the list of reason Michigan fans should evaluate their relationship with Brady. It is strained and always will be. As a fan of neither, there just needs to be a middle ground meeting in reality of how Brady’s career really went at Michigan.
Michigan fans wanted Drew Henson. This drove Brady to finding the competitive fire that defined his NFL career. Tom Brady was 1-1 against Ohio State, he beat Alabama in the Orange Bowl, and finished his career 20-5 as a starter. His collegiate performance was incredibly solid, but at the same time, he will always be connected to the more heralded Henson.
Looking back the choice is probably obvious, Michigan fans would absolutely have handed the keys to the future greatest quarterback of all-time. That’s not how it works though, and the legacy has left a sour relationship for everyone involved. The story of Tom Brady has always been about being overlooked. That fire created continued at Michigan and set him on a path in the NFL that is now history.
Michigan fans will have to live with their history with Tom Brady, and that history is one that disregarded the future NFL Hall of Famer. They will always claim him, but they are lying to themselves and history when they do.
Michigan fans can be salty all they want, history shows that they wanted Drew Henson. And that will always be funny in hindsight.