23 years ago a Patriots rookie sixth-round quarterback agreed to keep a diary chronicling his first training camp for the team's newspaper, Patriots Football Weekly. Little did anyone know at the time that the quarterback would go on to become one of the best and most accomplished players in NFL history.
While most can recall the events of 2001 that led to Tom Brady ascending to the Patriots starting quarterback role, Brady was well under the radar as a rookie in 2000 and even the team's own newspaper showed low expectations for a player who in all likelihood would face an uphill battle to find a roster spot with three veteran quarterbacks, including $100 million starter Drew Bledsoe, above him
"Brady is certainly not the same level quarterback as the Patriots three-time Pro Bowl incumbent, [Drew Bledsoe], but he is comfortable in high-pressure, big-stage situations," wrote PFW's Shane Donaldson in a feature on Brady from the spring of 2000. He also received a prescient scouting report from Brady's quarterbacks coach at Michigan.
"He came through under pressure for us all the time," Michigan quarterbacks coach Stan Parrish told Donaldson in May of 2000. "I don't think that changes at each level with guys.
"I think the Patriots will be pleasantly surprised at the way Tom can get the team up and down the field."
Despite waiting until the sixth round, Brady remained confident after being selected by the Pats.
"I wanted to go to Michigan and be the starting quarterback and play out in front of 120,000 people," Brady said after landing with the Patriots. "Certainly coming to New England is a great step for me but I think I'm ready for it. Actually, I know I'm ready for it."
Training camp got underway for the Patriots in mid-July of 2000, still operating out of Bryant College for two final summers before moving permanently to the fields behind Gillette Stadium in 2002. Brady expressed his excitement on July 16 as camp kicked off.
"I just felt there was a lot of excitement for me, you know finally getting a chance to get out here and start playing professional football," wrote Brady in PFW. "This is something you dream about doing your whole life and now it's a reality getting in here and going through two or three months in preparation, and now finally, the day has arrived."
Two days later Brady noted that "the intensity is definitely way up from where it was in May," and that the initial shock to the system provided by training camp was wearing off as he and his teammates adjusted to the grind.
"It's getting easier on my body in the sense that I am adjusting to the routine but it's just as hard mentally to kind of push yourself and drive because we get hot out there," wrote Brady on July 19. "You're tired and you've been working out, you're running and you haven't been getting a lot of sleep."
A week into training camp and Brady thought things were starting to come together for the offense as they prepared for their first preseason game against the 49ers in Canton, Ohio for the Hall of Fame game.
"Our offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said, 'Guys, we've got to stop running routes and start running plays last night.' By that he means we can't have a route here and a route there, but now these plays have to start coming together, and the plays have to get some sort of ebb and flow to them."
A few days later, Brady wrote that the offense was progressing and he was getting more and more familiar with running an NFL system.
"I'm feeling more and more comfortable on the field, definitely it's to the point where I know the plays but I have to become more comfortable running them," wrote Brady on July 25. "I'm seeing more where it's easy to mess up and I have to get used to the different sorts of nuances of each play.
On July 28, the progression continued as Brady added, "I felt really good out there today. I feel like I'm starting to see the reeds pretty well and I get a good I can feel a good comfort level as far as knowing where the other players are going to be."
The day before heading to Canton, Ohio for their first preseason game, the veterans got ahold of the rookies in time to give them some new haircuts, but Brady didn't complain.
"Last night they got to us after bed check, a couple of guys just stormed into the room and said, "Alright it's time to go, you can't be playing your first game without your head being shaved," Brady wrote in his diary. "We had a lot of guys out there and they were just kind of watching as their hair fell to the ground, but it was fun for all of us. We kind of got a laugh out of it. I think this kind of brings guys together, the shaved heads are identifiable for all of the rookies. It was just a fun night. Things could be worse. They did a pretty good job on my head compared to some of the others. They took pretty good care of it."
With the rookies all sporting new haircuts, Brady and his teammates got a tour of a place where he'd eventually end up, the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"It was fun to get out here and get the chance to see the Hall of Fame," wrote Brady. "We're part of the NFL now, someday we'll be part of the tradition of the game." That was quite the understatement from the future GOAT.
Brady made his debut against the team he grew up rooting for, the San Francisco 49ers, in a 20-0 victory. Brady entered the game in the fourth quarter, going 3-of-4 for 28 yards on a drive that moved from New England's 13-yard line to the 49ers' 17-yard line before falling short on a 4th-and-1 attempt that ended the possession.
"We had a big lead and everyone was playing pretty well so that made it easier for me when I got out in the fourth quarter," wrote Brady of his first game action. "I just went out there and had some fun. It was just playing football like we always do. It was pretty much just going out and throwing the ball in the first attempt. I tried to make it just like we rehearsed and practiced and just like I've done it since I started playing this game. I was trying to just be myself and make some easy throws."
A week later Brady would see even more action against the Detroit Lions in the team's second preseason game. He went 10-of-15 for 129 yards, playing from the late third quarter and through the fourth. Most notable was the final drive. With the game tied at 10, Brady connected with receiver Sean Morey on a big 47-yard play that set Adam Vinatieri's game-winning field goal. It was only a preseason game, but it was an early glimpse of the clutch gene that was inherent in Brady.
"We had our second preseason game and I got more playing time," wrote Brady on August 3. "We were out there and Sean Morey made a great play and the line made some great blocks. Unfortunately, it wasn't our best game offensively but fortunately, we did get the win. I just went out and took it play-by-play and read-by-read. If you do that most of the time you'll be successful. You have to think about the play you are in and hope the guys will be in the right spots."
Brady sat out the next two preseason games, as starter Drew Bledsoe and backups John Friesz and Michael Bishop got the majority of snaps during the team's "dress rehearsals". In the preseason finale against the Panthers, Brady would see the field again, throwing his first touchdown pass to Dane Looker, while going 9-of-13 for 97 yards.
Despite the limited summer playing time, Brady was grateful for the help from the vets like Bledsoe and Friesz as camp wound down.
"Drew and John have been helping me so much, understanding the footwork and the responsibilities of the quarterback on the team," wrote Brady. "They're both professionals and you know why they've been successful just by watching them practice and play the game.
"I've enjoyed every minute of it. I've had the opportunity to learn from Drew and John and to learn what it takes to be a professional. It's like living a dream but at the same time every step you take you set your own goals higher."
In a shock to some, Brady's performance during the summer of 2000 was enough to force Bill Belichick to carry four quarterbacks, a move that would pay off handsomely for the next two decades.
"The Patriots are just one of five teams in the league with four active quarterbacks but they were unwilling to gamble on him clearing waivers to place him on the practice squad," wrote PFW's Paul Perillo after the roster was finalized.
View some of the best images of Tom Brady throughout his rookie season with the New England Patriots.
"We felt Tom showed enough during the preseason to belong on the roster," Belichick said at the time, "If you don't want to take a chance on him clearing waivers, you don't put him out there for someone to take."
And with that, the stage was set for one of the greatest stories in NFL history. Brady waited in the wings for a year before his chance finally came, but from the moment he made the 2000 team the die was cast.
"I really wasn't nervous," Brady said shortly after making the team. "The approach I took was that I had the ability to play in the NFL and hopefully my coaches had seen it and if they didn't want me, I would go somewhere else to play football. I remember thinking this wasn't the end, but the beginning. Just because I made the team is no guarantee that I'll be here next week. I have to go out and earn my keep every day."
That, Brady did.