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With more Super Bowl appearances than any other player in NFL history, Tom Brady is a sports icon. From his college days as a backup quarterback at University of Michigan to his record-breaking number of winning seasons with the New England Patriots, this new and comprehensive biography gives fans a firsthand look at the highs and lows of the superstar’s life and career, complete with stats and photographs.
Before he was the greatest quarterback of all time—before he won more Super Bowl MVP awards than any player in history—Tom Brady was the fourth-best athlete in his own house.
Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. was born on August 3, 1977, to Thomas Brady Sr. and Galynn Patricia Brady. Tom grew up in San Mateo, California, a suburb of San Francisco. He has three older sisters: Maureen, Julie, and Nancy. All three of his sisters would go on to earn collegiate scholarships for sports. Tom’s parents encouraged their kids to try all sorts of extracurricular activities, but they all chose athletics. That led to the Brady kids participating in 315 sporting events in one year. Their mom and dad made sure at least one parent attended every one.
Maureen was particularly gifted, setting high school records in softball. She would go on to pitch for Fresno State, where she posted a career 80–31 record and 0.98 ERA. Tom’s football career wouldn’t truly surpass Maureen’s softball achievements until he went pro. That’s why for much of his life, Tom Brady was better known as Tommy, the Brady sisters’ little brother.
Tom loved and supported his sisters, showing up to their games and cheering. Still, he always wanted to make a name for himself. In ninth grade, he wrote an essay in which he said that he hoped his siblings would one day be known as “Tom Brady’s sisters.” Surrounded by great athletes, he couldn’t help but develop the competitiveness that would become a driving force in his life.
“I started it,” Tom Sr. would later tell the Eagle-Tribune, a Massachusetts newspaper. “Everything we did—and I mean everything, like running home from church, throwing a rock the farthest—everything was a competition. I guess it made things really fun, at least for the winner.”
Things weren’t so fun for the loser. Tom Sr. took his son golfing starting when Tommy was a toddler. At one father-son tournament, little Tom cried when his father sank a shot, meaning he wouldn’t get to hit it in. On the next hole, Tom Jr. missed a putt on purpose so he would get a few more whacks at the ball.
Another time, before they went to a San Francisco Giants game, the two Toms played head-to-head. The stakes were high: for every hole Tom Sr. won, Tom Jr. promised to wash his car once. For every hole Tommy won, his dad owed him a dollar. When eleven-year-old Tom Jr. threw his club after a particularly bad shot, his dad told him to wait in the car. Tommy cried but asked his dad to play again after the baseball game. When the second game went a lot like the first, however, the club again went flying.
Away from the links, Tom Jr. kept his temper under control. His mom remembers him as a “carefree” child who kept himself busy with a paper route and altar boy duties at church. (His father had nearly become a priest before settling down and starting a family.) Tom’s parents made sure he and his sister understood the values that would make the future Patriots quarterback a fan favorite: treat others well and be humble.
His parents were not teaching Tom these lessons so that he could one day handle his immense fame. They had no reason to believe their Tommy would one day become the Tom Brady. He was not a can’t-miss athlete or a football prodigy. In fact, Tom did not even play football growing up. A speech from former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross convinced Tom’s parents that football was dangerous for little kids. So he played other sports until high school, when his quarterbacking career would begin.
Still, there were early signs of Tom Brady the NFL superstar. His family had San Francisco 49ers season tickets during the best era in the franchise’s history. The Niners won all five of their championships during Tom’s time in San Mateo. Tom’s favorite player was Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana. When Tom was four years old, his parents took him to Candlestick Park for the NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.
The 49ers trailed that game by six points with less than a minute to play. Six yards from a touchdown on third down, Montana took the snap under center and rolled out right. Desperate, and with three Cowboys bearing down on him, he heaved a pass to the back of the end zone. There, Dwight Clark leapt and made “The Catch,” sending San Francisco to Super Bowl XVI. The crowd erupted. Tom cried because his dad wouldn’t buy him a foam finger.
Montana provided more than just inspiration for Tom’s football career. He served as a model for how Tom could be great. Like Tom, Montana never possessed the elite athleticism that excites pro scouts. (The 49ers picked him in the third round of the 1979 draft.) But his knowledge of the game and ability to perform under pressure led many to call “Joe Cool” the greatest of all time. He was the only player to ever earn Super Bowl MVP three times—until Tom Brady, who would do it four times.
And even though he did not play organized football until the ninth grade, Tom showed a knack for tossing the pigskin. On a family vacation during his middle school years, he won a bet against his dad by threading a pass through a tire twenty yards away. He then did it again. Tom Sr. was surprised. His son had a gift. Eventually, the rest of the world would realize the same thing.
His coaches and teammates at Junípero Serra High School saw the potential for Tom to one day go pro. He was a superstar known for his strong arm. A coach at a rival school complained once that Tom beat his team single-handedly. Scouts had taken notice of his skills. And Serra had a track record of graduating some of the game’s greats. There was no doubt about it: Tom Brady was going to make a great baseball player.
“At the time, I thought his future was in baseball,” Pete Jensen, the Serra’s baseball coach, told the Daily News (NY). “He could really throw.”
He could hit, too. Brady was a catcher known for his power from the left side of the plate. He once hit a home run so far, it hit the team’s bus and woke up the driver. And like a true quarterback, he knew how to call a game. Scouts who had shown up to see one of Brady’s teammates—center fielder Greg Millichap—soon became interested in the senior first-baseman-turned-catcher who had already committed to play college football.
Those skills led the Montreal Expos (now the Washington Nationals) to pick Brady in the eighteenth round despite his football dream. The Expos were willing to pay him like a third-round pick. They hosted him at a game at Candlestick Park, the very place where Brady had watched Montana’s heroics and fallen in love with football. Brady participated in batting practice with the Expos’ big leaguers, who were in town to play the Giants. Ultimately, the Montreal players did more to convince Brady to play football, asking him why he’d choose the tough life of a minor league baseball player over the fun of being a football star at a big college.
That college football dream was not always a sure thing. When Tom tried out for the freshman football team at Serra, he wasn’t good enough to be the starter. He rode the bench all season for a team that had zero wins, eight losses, and one tie. When his friend who started ahead of him quit football their sophomore year, Tom got his shot to start for the junior varsity squad. He had grown over the summer and began to demonstrate the skills that would make him an NFL legend, including his accuracy and leadership.
“His first game ever, we’re down five with two minutes to go and he led us on a game-winning drive,” one of Tom’s former teammates, John Kirby, would later tell MaxPreps.com. “It was awesome. It’s just like he does all the time now. Whenever he was in the huddle, he always seemed in control. He never panicked. He was always motivational, not negative. If we were way down, he’d say, ‘C’mon, let’s get this going.’ He never yelled or blamed.”
Serra’s football coach, Tom MacKenzie, recognized an arm that could play at the college level. He also understood how much work it would take for the rest of Tom’s game to catch up. MacKenzie frankly told Tom and his dad after that sophomore season that the young quarterback would need to work on his poor agility and speed to earn serious looks from Division I college recruiters.
MacKenzie created a workout program for his players called “Bigger, Faster, Stronger.” Most high schoolers prefer to work on things they’re already good at, rather than try to fix their weaknesses. Tom, ever a hard worker and a perfectionist, took the opposite approach. He relished the opportunity to improve his athleticism. The most notorious of MacKenzie’s workouts was the “five-dot drill.” Players would have to jump between dots that were painted on the ground in a two-one-two pattern, as if they were playing a very intense, nonstop game of hopscotch. Tom painted the dots in the same pattern on his parents’ patio. He shuffled from point to point nonstop for the rest of his high school career. He also invented his own jump-rope workout, which MacKenzie would borrow from Tom and teach to future Serra teams.
Tom’s hard work paid off. While the team only went 11–9 during Tom’s varsity years, he played well, throwing for over 3,500 yards and thirty touchdowns in those two seasons. MacKenzie tailored the Padres’ offense to its star quarterback, using a spread system, which employs lots of receivers to give the passer options.
College scouts took notice—not that they had a choice. Tom’s dad had an idea to get his son’s name out there: a highlight reel. Tom Sr. created a video that showed Tom’s proficiency at throwing a variety of different passes—all set to generic ’90s pop music.
“I’d like to introduce my starting quarterback from this past season, Tom Brady,” Tom MacKenzie, clad in a white sweatshirt and standing next to a fidgeting Tom Brady, says in the video. “Tom is a six-foot-four, two-hundred-and-ten-pound athlete that started all ten games for us this past season. He’s a big, strong, very durable athlete, who has an excellent work ethic—especially in the off-season—and who does things to try to make himself a better athlete.”
Tom Brady Sr. mailed fifty-five copies of that tape to colleges around the country before Tom’s junior year. He and Tom also visited football camps at colleges all over the West Coast. The trips provided solid father-son bonding time for the two Toms and gave Tom Jr. yet another opportunity to get the attention of schools.
One person whose attention Tom definitely got was Mike Riley, then offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the University of Southern California. Riley saw past Tom’s shortcomings as an athlete—his lack of mobility and arm strength—and recognized his tremendous potential as a leader of both teammates and an offense. During Tom’s junior season, Riley visited constantly and developed a relationship with the quarterback and his parents.
Tom seemed to be leaning toward USC. Then Riley got bad news from his head coach: the team had already signed two quarterbacks and no longer had a spot for Tom. Riley flew to San Francisco so he could break the news to Tom in person. One day, he would get another shot at coaching the young quarterback.
Ultimately, Tom’s decision came down to the University of California, Berkeley or the University of Michigan. Tom Sr. hoped that his son would choose Cal and stay close to the family. Cal felt they were front-runners for Brady. After a recruiting trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, though, Tom was enamored with the U of M. Michigan had a tradition of great college quarterbacks, of which Tom was eager to be a part. The Bradys gathered in their living room in San Mateo. Tom broke the bad news to his dad: he was going to commit to Michigan, not Cal.
“I was crying like a baby and said, ‘Tommy, this is going to change our relationship,’” Tom Sr. told the New York Times Magazine years later. “And he said: ‘Dad, I know. It has to.’”
Tom was leaving California, but he wouldn’t soon be forgotten. Now, at Serra, Tom’s jersey hangs, signed with the inscription “SB 36, SB 38 MVP”—a reference to his first two NFL championship wins. It hangs near that of another former Padre—MLB home run king Barry Bonds. Some figured that Tom would follow Bonds’s path to a career in baseball. He was even drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 1995 MLB draft, which recognized Tom as one of the best high school catching prospects in America. But even when Tom decided to say good-bye to the MLB to focus solely on football, no one anticipated Tom would become the Barry Bonds of that sport.
- On Sale
- Sep 4, 2018
- Page Count
- 160 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers