Sometimes in sports, you just don’t know. In the 2000 NFL preseason, much of the hype getting ready for the regular season surrounded the defending Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, the oh-so-close Tennessee Titans, and the up-and-coming Indianapolis Colts led by young gun Peyton Manning.
The New England Patriots were coming off an 8-8 season in which they lost six of their last eight games and went into the season with Drew Bledsoe at quarterback and much uncertainty behind him on the depth chart. Competing to be Bledsoe’s backup were Michael Bishop, a former Heisman Trophy winner, John Friesz, a journeyman, and a sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady.
Of course, that season, the Patriots went 5-11 and Brady’s final statistics read 1-3 for 6 yards in one mop-up effort of Bledsoe on Thanksgiving.
So naturally, Brady’s only time to shine came in the preseason that year, when the stands were half-empty and the fans that were in attendance were too drunk to know or care who was playing by the second quarter.
The Patriots first preseason game that year, ironically, was the Hall of Fame Game against the San Francisco 49ers. Ironic why? Because who other than Joe Montana, Brady’s childhood idol, was standing on the sidelines following his induction the day before. Brady, sporting a shaved head (likely a result of rookie hazing) went 3-4 for 29 yards in the fourth quarter of his first game, a 20-0 Patriots rout.
That was July 31, 2000. Four days later, the Patriots were in action again, in Detroit, where Brady starred just down the road at the University of Michigan. In the building where he would throw his only meaningful passes that season nearly four months later, Brady entered the game in the third quarter of a 10-10 game.
That score remained until just 1:02 remained in regulation, when the Patriots had the ball at their own 31-yard line needing only a field goal (does this script sound familiar?).
With Adam Vinatieri warming up, Brady calmly directed a 3-play, 59-yard drive, with the big strike a 47-yard slant to special teams ace Sean Morey. The Brown alum split the safeties, and the Patriots stopped the clock with :02 remaining so Vinatieri could chip in a 28-yarder to lift New England to a 13-10 victory.
No, Morey, did not go on to have the kind of career that Deion Branch, Randy Moss or even David Givens did with the Patriots – in fact, Morey spent the majority of that season on the practice squad – but he did earn a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005, a year after Brady had won his third.
At the time, it is likely that only a scattered few thousands even witnessed the ending of a dull, meaningless preseason game between the Patriots’ and Lions’ scrubs, and why would the masses stick around? If you’ve ever been to a preseason game, after the first series it feels like curling moves faster. But for anyone who did stay to watch the end of that game, who knew what they were watching?
A precursor to history and greatness?
Maybe it just felt like bad Lions defense at the time. Still, it’s bizarre yet fascinating now to look back and say, “Who knew?” This was a fanbase that seemed convinced that Bishop was the heir apparent to Bledsoe, with his bazooka for an arm and ability to scramble.
Instead, Bishop was cut before the 2001 season and became a CFL icon instead, and Brady… well, let’s just say Brady