After sorting himself out and apparently deciding that landscaping with a baseball bat didn't hold too many long-term career prospects, Tom Brady reported to the Patriots' training camp ready to go. As a backup quarterback he watched all but one game without playing a down as New England went 5-11.
In his sole appearance his rookie year he managed to complete one pass for six yards, playing mop-up duty as the Patriots fell to the Detroit Lions 34-9 (good grief, the Lions again?)
Year two saw a change not only in Tom's physical abilities, but also in his career potential. During his rookie year he had plenty of time to work out and improve his game, and he reported to camp 15 pounds heavier and with markedly improved footwork. The payoff was being named the second-string quarterback behind Drew Bledsoe.
It appeared that another slow climb to the starting position was under way.
Once again, however, fate inserted her fickle finger into the mix. Drew Bledsoe took a hit from Mo Lewis of the Jets that was so vicious it was ultimately revealed to have ruptured a blood vessel in Drew's chest, nearly killing him. With Bledsoe sidelined, the job fell to the skinny kid from San Mateo.
Brady's response to the challenge was nothing short of amazing. Although he struggled a bit in a few games, he led the Patriots to an AFC East title, going 6-3 as a starter, and the Patriots ended the season 11-5 with a first round bye.
The Patriots almost saw their improbable postseason run ended against Oakland, when Brady appeared to have been sacked and fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Oakland.
Walt Coleman—of Ed Hochuli notoriety following his overturned call in Pittsburgh this year—saw things differently. Invoking the rather new "tuck rule," which stated that any forward movement of a quarterback's arm instituted the beginning of a pass, ruled the play an incomplete pass, and suddenly the fumble that was became the fumble that wasn't.
The Patriots went on to the AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh, the No. 1 seed and Super Bowl favorites. Brady was hurt in the second quarter, and Bledsoe, who had been cleared to play again, stepped in and led the team to the AFC Championship.
Brady and Bledsoe's relationship had cooled over the course of the season. Drew felt slighted that he had not been returned to the starting position after his return from injury—according to the unwritten rule of pro quarterbacks, the starter gets his job back when he returns from injury, no matter how well the backup played.
But Bledsoe's performance in the AFC Championship wasn't enough to keep him at the top. Brady returned for the Super Bowl against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, quite possibly at the player's behest—the announcement of Brady as the starter was met warmly by the team, with the obvious exception of Drew Bledsoe.
The high-flying aerial attack of the Rams lead people to believe that this was going to be a blowout. Instead, Brady and the Patriots executed a game plan that had them up 14-3 at the half and eventually led to a 20-17 victory over the highly favored Rams.
Despite his workmanlike numbers of 16-of-27 for 145 yards and one touchdown, Brady was named the game's MVP and became at the time the youngest winning quarterback in Super Bowl history.
And so a new era began in New England. All the years of heartache, hard work and frustration were finally paying off.