BOSTON (CBS) — It was 17 years ago Friday that the New England Patriots hired Bill Belichick to run their football team.
Three months later, Belichick had his first draft with the franchise. While most of his 10 picks turned out to be rather underwhelming selections, he did come up with the greatest draft pick of all time. With his seventh pick of the weekend, the 199th overall selection, the head coach drafted a lanky quarterback out of Michigan named Tom Brady. He was fourth on the depth chart his rookie season behind franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe, a project pick who maybe someday would develop into a backup.
Belichick had enjoyed success as a defensive coordinator, winning a pair of Super Bowls with the New York Giants under Bill Parcells, but that didn’t translate in his five seasons as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. So there was plenty of skepticism surrounding the hire. After a 5-11 campaign in Belichick’s first season, and an 0-2 start in 2001, things weren’t looking good for Belichick or the Patriots. Bledsoe was in intensive care after a devastating hit by New York’s Mo Lewis nearly killed him, and that kid they drafted in the sixth round just over a year earlier was tasked to lead the way.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Now, Brady and Belichick are getting ready for their seventh Super Bowl together. They’ll go down as one of the greatest coach-quarterback duos even if the duo can’t capture a championship ring for their respective thumbs next Sunday in Houston.
Brady took the podium at Gillette Stadium on Friday and was asked to reflect on his run with Belichick. The two will always be connected, the yin and the yang of New England’s success, which no one could have foreseen back in April of 2000.
“We came in at the same time; it was our first year together. I wasn’t drafted at the time of that announcement, but when they picked me I had to look on a map to see where the New England Patriots played because I had never been this far east,” Brady said Friday. “But it was a magical day of my life, and I know for Patriots fans, having coach Belichick come to this team was the best thing for this franchise. He’s been a great coach and a great leader for our team, along with Mr. Kraft and Jonathan. It always starts at the top.”
Brady didn’t want to reflect on the past too much on Friday, sidestepping a question about his four-game DeflateGate suspension serving as his motivation this season (he reiterated that his teammates are the source of his motivation). Instead, he’s as focused as ever on the task at hand (in this case, the Atlanta Falcons), one of the first lessons he learned under Belichick’s tutelage.
“We’ve had a good run and have to keep it going. This is an important week for us. There’s a lot of practice over the next couple of days, and with the start of Super Bowl week there is a lot of hoopla that goes into that. This is the biggest game of the year and it’s our opportunity to be at our best and not let anything get in the way of what our goal is,” he said. “I’ve been a part of a few of these that we’ve lost and it’s been pretty crappy thinking about those memories. Hopefully we can make it a great outcome.
“We’re playing against a great team. This team has beaten everybody. They’re just a great football team offensively, defensively and special teams with a great coach,” he said of the Falcons. “We’re going to have to play our best game of the year.”