Once again, hundreds of former college football players are hoping to hear their names called during the NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday night in Cleveland. While some of those players will be selected early on in the three-day draft and quickly sign multimillion-dollar contracts, plenty of others will likely be waiting days for a call from an NFL team, unsure of whether or not their dreams of playing in the NFL will come true.
Once upon a time, Tom Brady was in the latter camp.
Brady is considered, by many experts and fans alike, to be the greatest NFL quarterback in history. In February, he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, which marked Brady's seventh overall NFL championship win in a 21-year career. But there was a time when Brady wasn't even sure if he'd ever get the chance to play quarterback in the NFL.
"Twenty years ago, I was a sixth-round [NFL Draft] choice from the University of Michigan who wasn't sure he was going to get drafted at all," Brady wrote in a 2020 essay for The Players' Tribune.
Of course, Brady was referring to the fact that the New England Patriots famously selected the future Hall of Famer in the second-to-last round of the 2000 NFL draft. Brady was a relatively unheralded prospect coming off a college career where he'd served as a backup his first two seasons at Michigan.
"When the call finally came," Brady wrote about the moment the Patriots alerted him that he'd been drafted, "I packed up all my things and moved to the other side of the country."
"I didn't know how long I'd be playing for the New England Patriots, or whether I'd even get the opportunity to play for them. (I was the fourth quarterback on the depth chart my first year.) I had no idea I would spend the next 20 years in New England, or start a family there."
Indeed, Brady became the Patriots' starting quarterback in 2001, his second season in the NFL, and the rest is history. He won six Super Bowls with that team and earned three NFL MVP awards over 20 seasons in the league. Brady has also earned more than $263 million in total from his NFL contracts over that time, according to Spotrac — including $27.8 million in his first season in Tampa Bay.
The 43-year-old Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March 2020, and a contract extension he signed last month means he'll earn more than $50 million in total over the next two seasons. Brady's decision to leave New England after 20 years was the biggest non-coronavirus story in the sports world at the time.
Brady penned the essay for The Players' Tribune, he wrote, in part to explain his free agency decision and in part to dwell on his first two decades in the NFL. He was adamant that, even with all of the acclaim and records he's amassed in the NFL, his career has not been without its challenges.
"Everyone comes up against challenges," Brady says. "Whether they're physical, mental or emotional, they're part of everyone's lives. I'm no exception."
In fact, one of Brady's biggest challenges was simply getting into a position where he could prove that he was an NFL-caliber player.
Brady has talked in the past about how he "struggled" during his college playing career, and in 2014 he even shared a photo of the resume he crafted after college in case his dream of playing in the NFL did not come to fruition.
"Found my old resume! Really thought I was going to need this after the 5th round," Brady posted on Facebook at the time, referring to his long wait to be selected during the 2000 NFL Draft. (In case you're wondering, the resume was mostly filled with various summer jobs and internships with the brokerage giant Merrill Lynch.)
When it did come time for the draft in 2000, Brady writes that he remembers "sitting in my parents' house in San Mateo, California, growing less and less confident that the phone would ring."
In the sixth round, the call came, as the Patriots selected Brady with the 199th overall pick in the draft. Now, Brady can joke about how unceremonious the selection seemed at the time for the Patriots, even though it was a life-changing moment for him.
"By the way, in the sixth round it's not like Coach [Bill] Belichick himself was on the other end of the line — I think it was his assistant, Berj [Najarian, who is now the Patriots' director of football and head coach administration]. 'We just wanted to let you know you've been picked by the New England Patriots,'" Brady says he remembers the assistant coach telling him at the time.
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