Brady's Cinderella story never gets old
ESPN documentary 'The Brady 6' captures quarterback's defiant rise to the top
The voice on the other end of the telephone was Tom Brady's, the words he was speaking unforgettable. This is what he said to his good friend and former University of Michigan teammate Aaron Shea: Don't forget about me.
Brady and Shea had been tight at Michigan, living in the same apartment building, but now they were embarking on their professional careers in different cities. And although Brady seems to have always exuded confidence, maybe there was just a sliver of internal doubt as to where things were headed.
So that's what he said to Shea. Don't forget about me.
They can laugh at the memory now.
Brady's championship emergence from sixth-round draft choice -- the 199th overall selection and seventh quarterback off the board -- is an unforgettable story, one of the best in the history of the game. It will be revisited Tuesday in a documentary called "The Brady 6" to be aired on ESPN (8 p.m. ET).
"The Brady 6" refers to the six quarterbacks selected before Brady in 2000. So, in addition to chronicling Brady's football journey from San Mateo, Calif., to the NFL's quarterback peak, the lives and careers of Chad Pennington (No. 18, Jets), Giovanni Carmazzi (65, 49ers), Chris Redman (75, Ravens), Tee Martin (163, Steelers), Marc Bulger (168, Saints) and Spergon Wynn (183, Browns) also are highlighted.
They could have even called it "The Brady 7," as highly touted Drew Henson -- the quarterback Brady rotated with for parts of his senior year at Michigan -- is a big part of the story, as well. Shea reflected on that up-and-down chapter of Brady's career and how Brady handled the competition with Henson with class, and said, "I think it's a big part of why he is who he is today."
It's also one of the main reasons Brady dropped to 199. As coach Bill Belichick explained, that was the big question the Patriots had entering the draft: If Brady was so good, why was Michigan seemingly trying to replace him with Henson?
What shines through in the hourlong documentary is how "199" has stuck with the now-33-year-old Brady, even after leading the Patriots to three Super Bowl championships and as he enters his 12th NFL season. The most powerful moment comes when Brady reflects on draft day and a long walk around his California neighborhood with his parents and finds composing himself a challenge. It is rare to see Brady, ever so polished and often guarded in his public remarks, open himself up to such emotion.
Shea has seen it before, mainly because he was there with Brady for some of the lowest moments of his career, such as the time Brady considered transferring from Michigan to Cal. "He just wasn't happy; he wasn't playing," Shea said.
But instead of leaving, Brady ultimately decided to work even harder.
"We had apartments right above each other, and I would hear him at 6 in the morning going to run the stadium stairs," Shea recalled. "He didn't tell anyone. I was probably the only one who knew that this guy was working out on his own, and then he'd come back and work out with the team."
To Shea, that's the fabric of what has defined Brady. When things were at their most challenging -- such as a spot deep on the Michigan depth chart, splitting time with Henson or life as the 199th pick -- it only seemed to drive him that much more.
That is captured throughout "The Brady 6," as are the times when Brady's NFL rise connected with the six quarterbacks selected before him.
In the 2000 Pro Football Hall of Fame preseason game, for example, the Patriots faced the San Francisco 49ers. Carmazzi seemed overwhelmed by the moment while Brady was in his element, and their careers were soon headed in opposite directions.
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Of all the quarterbacks selected before Brady in the 2000 draft, none hurt Brady more than Carmazzi because, as Shea remembered, "Tommy was a huge 49ers fan. We'd always argue who was better, the 49ers of the '80s or my '85 Bears. Joe Montana was his idol."
Brady revered Montana for many reasons, among them his ability to keep cool under pressure. Brady had a similar gift, and that's what stood out to Wynn, who was selected 16 spots ahead of Brady out of Southwest Texas State.
"I think back 10 years ago, a kid fresh out of college, and I didn't really understand what a big deal it was to play quarterback in the NFL," said the 32-year-old Wynn, who now works as an energy trader in Houston.
"I was young and naive, but you put Tom in that situation, and he had that 'it' -- he took that pressure, channeled it and didn't blink. Ten years ago, it was pretty easy to rattle me, and that's kind of what I look at him and I'm very impressed with. I can say we were in the same position, and he handled it very well, much better than me."
Wynn played two seasons in the NFL -- one in Cleveland, one in Minnesota -- before ultimately landing in the Canadian Football League. By the time Wynn signed with the CFL, Brady had already led the Patriots to the first of three Super Bowl championships.
"One of the questions you get is, 'What would have happened if you were in New England and he was in Cleveland?' But I think he's one of those guys where it really doesn't matter," Wynn said.
"Put him in Cleveland, Minnesota, Tampa, wherever, it's going to work, he's going to find a way to get the job done. It's those intangibles that really make his career stand out. I don't mean that as a slight to his arm or his feet, but there is a lot more that goes into it."
Much of which is captured in "The Brady 6."
Shea, who played six NFL seasons and now works in suite sales for the Cleveland Browns, can now laugh at the memory of Brady once calling and reminding him not to forget him. "That was when he was Tommy Brady, not Tom Brady," he said. "But he's still the same guy."
That's why when Shea's son is born later this year, Brady will be his godfather.
Some bonds never fade, and some stories, like Brady's rise from 199, never get old.