By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Tom Brady is returning to Foxboro on Sunday night, not as the quarterback of the Patriots, but as a visiting opponent. It’s certainly a strange scenario — one that most people in New England always believed to be possible but never hoped to see.
Alas, 18 months have passed, Brady’s won another championship, time has moved on, and the stage is now set for the latest — and perhaps final — chapter of Brady playing in New England.
Including the playoffs, Brady started 324 games for the Patriots, and he’s gone on to start 23 more games (and counting) for Tampa Bay. He’s won seven Super Bowls along the way, made three more, and has set just about every record there is to be set — with the all-time regular-season passing yards record set to become his on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium.
Obviously, a career like that can’t be summed up succinctly. But for now, amid all of the emotions that are flowing this week in New England, here’s a quick trip through 20-plus years of Brady.
Here’s an image that should serve as a lesson to all athletes about paying dues and putting in work. Brady’s seen carrying the shoulder pads and helmets of two quarterbacks — one being John Friesz, and the other belonging to either Drew Bledsoe or Michael Bishop — while talking with quarterbacks coach Dick Rehbein.
Rehbein is remembered for making the push for the Patriots to sign Brady. Rehbein died tragically in the summer of 2001, never able to see Brady become the quarterback that he believed he could be.
This could be any picture from any game in a 20-year span, but this one carries more significance. This one comes from Week 2 of the 2001 season, when Brady entered for his first real NFL action. (He did play in garbage time during a Thanksgiving loss in 2000, when most people had turned off the game in favor of turkey.)
Brady got a taste of the QB1 responsibilities that day. He held on to that job for 20 years.
Brady famously squared off against Peyton Manning and the Colts in his first career start. The Colts were favored by 11.5 points for that late September meeting, but an unstoppable rushing performance (177 yards, 3 TDs) and an efficient game from Brady led to a blowout New England victory, 44-13.
This was the first of Brady’s 266 (and counting) victories in the NFL. Exactly zero people present at Foxboro Stadium that day knew what they were witnessing.
Of course, the game that birthed a legend was played in New Orleans on Feb. 3, 2002. After the Rams furiously fought back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Brady displayed what would become his trademark grace under pressure while calmly leading the Patriots into field-goal range. Adam Vinatieri did the rest, and for the first time in history, the Patriots were champions of the world.
Though Tom Brady led the legendary game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams, his stats in that game were modest, to say the least. His Super Bowl performance two years later was in another stratosphere, as he threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns with one interception, all while taking zero sacks against one of the most ferocious pass rushes in the league. The Brady in this Super Bowl was certainly a different animal.
In this photo, he’s celebrating a 12-yard run late in the second quarter. He threw a touchdown to Deion Branch on the next play.
One of the signature wins of the early 2000s dynasty, the Patriots visited Pittsburgh, the site of one of their two losses in the previous 32 games. As legend has it, Brady had a 103-degree fever and chills the night before the game, which was scheduled to be played in freezing cold, single-digit temperatures.
Brady was a casual 14-for-21, for 207 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. He threw one of the most beautiful passes of his whole career, and the Patriots beat up on rookie Ben Roethlisberger while punching a third ticket to the Super Bowl in four years.
When the Patriots beat the Eagles in a somewhat drama-free Super Bowl, it seemed like they might never stop winning. But this win very much represented an end of an era. Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel departed, and the likes of Ty Law, Ted Johnson, Roman Phifer, David Patten and Joe Andruzzi left the team, too. Adam Vinatieri and Willie McGinest, along with a number of multiple-time Super Bowl winners, left the following year as well.
Brady wasn’t the MVP of this Super Bowl, but receiver Deion Branch was. In the two Super Bowls where Brady won but didn’t receive the MVP award, one of his pass catchers did get the honors.
You can count on one hand the number of times Brady has juked a Hall of Fame linebacker out of his shorts. In fact, you can count it on one finger.
That’s why Brady’s scamper against Brian Urlacher remains so memorable.
This was memorable for another reason: It was the first game at Gillette Stadium with artificial turf, an acceptance of sorts from the football operations department that the league was shifting to favor offenses, and it was time to adjust. The offseason that came next was the follow-through in that philosophical shift.
On the one hand, it’s a shame that the sport only got to see Tom Brady and Randy Moss at their full power for one season. On the other, that just makes the one season all the more special.
In Week 17, Brady set the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a season, and he did on a pass that gave Moss the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a season.
Brady’s mark has since been beaten by Peyton Manning and tied by Patrick Mahomes, but Moss’ record of 23 receiving touchdowns still stands. That’s incredible, considering the offensive explosion the league has welcomed in over the past decade-plus. Nobody’s really even come close.
(Brady and Moss did have the 2009 season, too, but Brady was coming off knee surgery, and the 2007 magic was largely lost.)
Brady finally lost the first playoff game of his career in 2005, and he lost a real heart-breaker in 2006. That all was supposed to be rectified in 2007, when the undefeated Patriots faced the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
You know how it ended. Brady knows how it ended — and he recently said he’d trade two of his Super Bowl wins for that one.
Nobody makes it through an NFL career unscathed, not even Tom Brady. The helmet shot from Bernard Pollard ended his 2008 season. Remarkably, after missing the remainder of that season, Brady has not missed a start due to injury in the 219 games he’s played since. That’s impossible. But like many things that seem to only apply to Brady, it isn’t.
The 2009 season wasn’t great for the Patriots, and it wasn’t great for Brady. On the old side of 30, and coming off a major knee injury, some people questioned which way his career would go.
He answered that question emphatically with one of the finest seasons of his career in 2010, when he led the league with 36 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions. He threw 26 touchdowns and no interceptions in the final 11 games of the season, leading the Patriots to a 14-2 record.
The year ended with a shocking playoff loss to Rex Ryan’s Jets, but Brady became the first ever unanimous MVP in league history for his performance that year.
This gallery wouldn’t be complete with photographic evidence of the best QB sneaker in football history doing what he does best. Brady scored this rushing touchdown in the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore, even though it meant absorbing a solid shot from Ray Lewis directly to his spine.
The Patriots got a mulligan with a Super Bowl rematch against the Giants in 2011. It went just as poorly for New England, starting with Brady getting tagged with a safety for an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone, and ending with a Hail Mary that came ever-so-close to becoming one of the craziest endings in Super Bowl history.
At the time, it looked like this might have been the final kick at the can for the 34-year-old Brady. Little did we know what was in store.
The 37-year-old Brady (yes, we used to be impressed by a QB’s exploits in his late 30s) put together a fourth quarter for the ages against an all-time Seattle defense, completing 13 of 15 passes for 124 yards with two touchdowns to win the first Super Bowl for himself and the franchise in a decade.
It’s still very difficult to imagine a world where the time of real judges and attorneys gets spent on allegations of a slightly deflated football, but it was very much a reality for two years.
Even though the NFL eventually stopped fighting the actual charge on footballs, the league eventually won the war based on Roger Goodell’s powers afforded to him in the collective-bargaining agreement.
28-3. What else needs to be said?
After everything Brady went through for this Super Bowl — personally with his mother battling cancer, and professionally with the league forcing him to serve a suspension to start the season — this one seemed to hit Brady a little bit differently. He took a moment in the back of the stage to collect himself before letting out the primal roar with the trophy.
This one also moved Brady past his idol, Joe Montana, with five Super Bowl wins.
At the time of the mass hysteria surrounding Tom Brady’s injured throwing hand, many of us assumed it was some ploy or tactic to throw off the Jaguars, who entered that game with the best defense in the NFL. It was only much later that we learned the exact details of that injury, and they were gruesome.
It was a miracle that Brady didn’t suffer a fracture or dislocation didn’t occur when Brady suffered the injury at practice on Wednesday of championship week. And just minutes before kickoff, Brady demanded that the sutures be removed from his not-yet-healed wound.
Brady threw for 290 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions against that top-ranked defense. And two weeks later, he set a Super Bowl record (in a losing effort, of course) with 505 passing yards.
Brady gets credit for a lot of things, obviously. But his ability and desire to play through all sorts of injuries — while still performing at the absolute highest level — tend to still fly under the radar.
Tom Brady had won quite a bit in his career as he entered the 2018 AFC Championship Game in Kansas City. Yet he still managed to be completely shocked when his team came out on top with an overtime victory.
Brady didn’t have great numbers that night, thanks to a bad end zone interception and another pick that bounced off Julian Edelman’s hands. But he completed three passes on third-and-10 in overtime, gaining 20 yards on the first, 15 yards on the second, and 15 yards on the third to set up the winning touchdown run for Rex Burkhead. That was after Brady went 3-for-5 for 56 yards (with some major help from Dee Ford) to lead the comeback/go-ahead drive in the final minutes of regulation.
After that winning touchdown in OT, Brady reacted like he truly could not believe it.
You could write a whole story about this one. In fact, someone did:
After a draining game, after a taxing couple of years, after rewriting what is possible for a quarterback older than 40, Brady celebrated appropriately — with what amounted to a total emotional eruption.
A 41-year-old winning the Super Bowl for a sixth time was remarkable. But as we know now, he wasn’t done.
Brady rode the Duck Boats for one last hurrah through the streets of Boston in February of 2019, sporting a notch for each of his six Super Bowl victories on his back.
Once the team and Brady couldn’t come to a long-term agreement in the summer of 2019, the writing was on the wall for Brady’s departure. When the team rode its defense to an 8-0 start, there was plenty of hope that another Super Bowl run was in the cards. Alas, a shorthanded offense sputtered down the stretch, and Brady played his final game in a Patriot uniform on Jan. 4, 2020, in a playoff loss to the Titans.
It was the end of an era.
In an image akin to seeing Bobby Orr in a Blackhawks jersey, Patriots fans saw Tom Brady in full Buccaneers garb in Week 1 of the 2020 season.
Brady took the Bucs on an 85-yard scoring drive in his very first game action with his new team, capping it off in familiar fashion: a QB sneak for a touchdown.
Brady lost that Week 1 game in New Orleans, but he’d end up throwing 40 touchdowns on the year — the second-highest total of his entire career, behind only his historic 2007 season.
At the age of 43, Brady went out for Super Bowl LV in his home stadium and locked up the MVP award by halftime.
It wasn’t shocking, no. But such an accomplishment still shouldn’t get brushed aside. Indeed, it’s unlikely the world will ever see anything remotely like this again.
All of which brings us to the present. Brady’s certainly playing this season, and it seems like he’s setting up for 2023 to be his final season.
That means that, barring Super Bowls, Sunday night will be his one and only chance to face his former team and his former coach. It will certainly be a spectacle, and while fans’ emotions are sure to run the gamut, it’s this long, unparalleled history that will fuel those feelings for all involved.