Tom Brady was a senior in high school when he made an important decision that would impact the rest of his life and career.
A two-sport star at Serra High School in San Mateo, California, just south of San Francisco, Brady was drafted by the Montreal Expos baseball organization as a catcher in the 18th round of the 1995 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. But the youngster passed on the minor leagues for a chance to play college football.
"I played both all through high school and baseball was probably my favorite sport up until my senior year," Brady recalled. "We had a great baseball tradition at the high school I went to. (San Francisco Giants outfielder) Barry Bonds went there, so did (former Major League infielder/outfielder) Gregg Jefferies. A lot of pro baseball players went there so I thought I was going to play baseball in college until my senior year of high school when I decided football is what I really want to do."
Although on the surface, catching a 90-mile-per-hour fastball and throwing a touchdown pass may seem to have little in common, Brady can see some similarities between the two positions. "You're kind of in command in both," he said. "In football, as a quarterback, definitely. As a catcher, maybe the pitcher is really in command but everything starts with the catcher. He calls the pitch and he's always in on the action. I always liked being right in the heart of things."
Another unfortunate similarity between catchers and quarterbacks are frequent visits to the training room. But Brady, who has taken his share of abuse from defensive linemen and linebackers, feels sorry for Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, and the rest of the catchers of the world. "You're sore in different places," he said. "It's more of an arthritis pain with catching. Your knees and your elbows and your shoulders hurt whereas with football it's more bumps and bruises. I think I can deal with the bumps and bruises easier than the bad knees."
But Brady hasn't had too many bumps in the road since making football his sport of choice. He recorded a 20-5 record in two years as the starter at Michigan before being drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft. After one year of watching from the sidelines, he emerged from a quarterback controversy with Drew Bledsoe, a New England hero, and proceeded to lead his team to Super Bowl glory. Not bad for a guy who turns 26 in August.
And although he supplanted Bledsoe as the starter, Brady has tremendous respect and admiration for the current Bills quarterback. "He has been a great quarterback for a long time and he set a great standard of play here," Brady offered. "He's a great player and he continues to play great football. To watch and learn from him for a couple of years, and to still learn from watching tape on him now, I couldn't ask for anything more than to watch him as a player and a professional off the field as well."
Brady really arrived on the NFL scene two games into the 2001 season when he replaced Bledsoe after the veteran suffered a serious chest injury in a game against the Jets.
Over the remainder of the 2001 season, Brady, who appeared in just one game in 2000, completed 63.9 percent of his passes, threw 18 touchdowns, and finished the regular season ranked third in the AFC with a passer rating of 86.5. He also led the Pats to the AFC East division title and a Cinderella charge through the playoffs that culminated in a win over the high-powered Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
When asked to recall some of his favorite memories of that run to NFL glory, Brady smiles as he thinks. "There was a touchdown run, in the snow, against the Raiders," he remembered. "And Adam Vinatieri's kick was unbelievable. The snow was probably four inches deep and he was kicking through sand, the wind was blowing, and he just buried it."
Brady became the youngest starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl and the third-youngest player to win the game's MVP honors. "That feeling when we won that game was unbelievable," he recounted. "It almost felt like we had won the Super Bowl then. But we had to go to Pittsburgh and we had a great game against them and beat them. And then obviously, the Super Bowl. I think every play of that game is something I will cherish for the rest of my life."
But along with the glory of winning the championship, came the responsibilities of being a national celebrity. Brady's personal life became fodder for magazines and newspapers all over the country. "In a lot of respects, it's a little bit different for professional athletes but I think everyone changes and grows in their life," he offered. "It was a quick learning curve for me and I'm still trying to come back to where I want to be. So much is thrust in front of you, it's almost like as prepared as I thought I was, no one could have prepared me for that."
Last season, Brady was voted an offensive co-captain by his teammates. He led the NFL with 28 touchdown passes and ranked fourth in the AFC in passing yards with 3,764. But the Patriots failed to make the playoffs and no personal success could make up for that. "It still eats at me," Brady admitted. "I couldn't watch the playoffs - I had a hard time. I love the sport of football and I love watching football but after a while, I just got a little sour realizing that those teams were where I wanted to be."
When he looks back on that important decision he made as a young man to pursue football instead of baseball, Brady is proud of his choice. "I think I made a good decision," he laughed.