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A Special Night For a Special Player

Tom Brady night at Gillette Stadium is sure to be something special.

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On Wednesday night the Patriots world will convene in Foxborough to honor the greatest quarterback that ever played. Fittingly, that will take place on June 12 – 6/12 – representing both the number of Super Bowls Tom Brady won for New England and the uniform number he adorned throughout his illustrious career.

But back before the wins, all 286 of them. Before the touchdowns, all 737 of them. Before the Super Bowl titles, all seven of them. Before the MVP awards, all seven of them – three of them in the regular season and four for Super Bowls. Before the famous actresses and supermodels and fashion statements. Before he went to Tampa and capped the most storied career in NFL history with his seventh and last title.

Back before Tom Brady was the GOAT.

He was just Tommy, the skinny fourth-string quarterback just looking to find his way.

That was back in 2000, when the sixth-round pick out of Michigan who arrived at Bryant College with a simple goal in mind: find a way to make the coaches realize he was worth keeping around.

As strange as it sounds now, that was no easy task. The Patriots had three other quarterbacks on the roster when training camp rolled around. Drew Bledsoe was the franchise at the time, but John Friesz and Michael Bishop were also ahead of Brady on the depth chart, and Brady knew it wouldn't be easy to prove his worth.

As part of our camp coverage back then we used to include a feature we called our "Rookie Diary" where we'd speak to one player and have him recount each day's events. In 1999 that player was Marcus Washington, a cornerback who was also a sixth-round pick but failed to achieve much notoriety.

As surreal as it seems now, Brady was our subject the following year.

Shane Donaldson and I were tasked with chatting with Brady every day, and while neither of us would ever pretend that we knew what was going to happen, we both came away quite impressed with the youngster's demeanor and poise. We enjoyed the daily briefings and watched him during practice a little more closely in order to help our conversations afterward.

We both felt he was far superior to Bishop (nothing gets by us!) and should make the team over him. Turns out the scrambling young quarterback, who briefly became a sensation in New England with his ability to freelance, stuck around, too, as all four were on the roster for the entire season.

As camp continued the first game of the Bill Belichick era arrived – a trip to Canton, Ohio, to take on the 49ers in the Hall of Fame Game. How fitting that Brady's career began in the same place it will end – at the Hall of Fame.

In looking back over some of those diary entries, Brady unwittingly offered a glimpse of the future. In describing his first professional road trip, Brady explained his thoughts on the visit to Pro Football's shrine.

"It was neat walking through the Hall of Fame and seeing the history of the game," he said. "We're part of the NFL now, and someday we'll be part of the tradition of the game."

If he only knew just how much he and his teammates would indeed become a part of the tradition of the game. Or maybe he did.

Much has been made of Brady's famous first meeting with Robert Kraft, when the rookie introduced himself to his new boss and told him he was the best decision the team ever made. Now 22 years have passed, and somehow calling Brady the best decision the Patriots ever made seems like an understatement.

So, perhaps Brady did envision the magic he was about to sprinkle throughout New England over the following two decades. After all, the kid led a game-winning drive to a last-minute Adam Vinatieri field goal in the very next game, a 13-10 win over Detroit in Week 2 of the preseason. That was the first of many victories he would secure.

Last-minute heroics and historic success would become commonplace. All because of Brady's presence at the center of the greatest modern-day dynasty in sports history.

As impressive as the numbers are, they don't begin to tell the story of what the Patriots have become in his tenure. It's true that the franchise's metamorphosis began nearly a decade earlier with the arrivals of Bledsoe, Bill Parcells and Kraft, but the massive heights attained since would come under Brady.

Brady simultaneously became the game's most iconic figure and in a true testament to his immense popularity, one of the most reviled among opposing fans. That kind of juxtaposition can only be achieved by pure greatness. While there are some lingering detractors out there, he is now widely considered the greatest quarterback to ever play.

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All of which is remarkably impressive on its own, but perhaps equally so is the reputation he's earned off the field. Through two decades, most of which was spent under the bright spotlight of fame at the highest level, Brady has barely ever had a misstep let alone made any egregious mistakes. He's always been able to avoid the controversy that many other celebrities manage to find regularly.

Much has changed since that skinny kid from San Mateo by way of Ann Arbor found his way to Foxborough. The golly-gee-shucks persona he wore then is long gone. The boy next door has morphed into that rare celebrity who transcends sports, with his every move monitored everywhere.

The idea of chatting with him one-on-one every day nowadays seems as likely as it was to watch him leave New England. But on Wednesday night Gillette Stadium will be packed with adoring fans wanting to thank him one last time for the memories. It will be a star-studded event and one sure to be worthwhile.

Tom Brady was no longer a Patriot at the end of his career, but he will always be The Patriots.


DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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