Brady Who?: A Patriots Fan's Perspective Into the Debut of An NFL Icon

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Brady Who?: A Patriots Fan's Perspective Into the Debut of An NFL Icon

Have you ever had one of those crazy sports predictions where you see an unproven player and get the feeling that they would become the next big star in their sport?

The first time that I heard about quarterback Tom Brady play in the NFL was on a preseason game in 2000 that saw the New York Giants and New England Patriots play at the aging Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

No, Brady did not throw like Brett Favre or make any highlight reel plays that were Kurt Warner-like and Steve McNair-esque.

What impressed me in that game was the way that Brady commanded the offense on the field.  Brady exuberated a type of confidence that even fellow QB Drew Bledsoe seemed to lack in the past few seasons.

Brady would have a measly stat of 1-3 for passing for six yards in the 2000-'01 NFL season, a year that saw the Patriots continue to press on as a mediocre franchise with a record of 5-11.

However, the 2001-'02 season saw one of the biggest shake-ups in not only the sport, but with the Patriots.

Veteran quarterback Drew Bledsoe was critically injured in a late game play by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis.

Bledsoe suffered from internal bleeding from the hard hit and would be replaced by former Wolverine and standout gunslinger.

Tom Brady put up a valiant effort in trying to get the Pats back into contention in the waning moments of the Jets-Pats game, but would come up short in a bittersweet defeat in the first game following the 9/11 tragedy.

Patriots fans had more reasons to sulk and believe that the season was going to be another year of losing and late game chokes with their next opponent.

After all, Peyton Manning and the high octane offense of the Indianapolis Colts were coming to Foxboro and were the hottest team in the league at that point of the 2001 season.

As for this fan, it was a week before I would turn 16 and my focus on the sports world was on NASCAR and my hometown Red Sox baseball team.

The auto racing side was doing quite well with Jeff Gordon leading the charge for the championship, but the Sox looked like a team that had given up on everything.

When my mom came home from work and told me that her co-worker had two tickets to the Colts-Patriots game, I could not pass it up.

So I asked my older brother Chris to watch the game and on that chilly, windy and might I say, rainy Sunday afternoon, the Tiongson brothers went to our nosebleed seats at Foxboro Stadium to watch what has now become one of the most historical games we have ever witnessed.

That was the game when Tom Brady made his official NFL regular season debut as the quarterback of the Patriots, the first player to start in place of Drew Bledsoe since Scott Zolak in 1999.

It was also the same game when the Patriots and the Bob Kraft-led organization declared that day in honor of Bruce Armstrong, a critical component on the defense for nearly two decades.

The game, you might ask? Well, analysts and football columnists had declared the match already won by the Indianapolis Colts, who looked like the AFC's answer to the high scoring powers of the St. Louis Rams of the NFC.

No way the Patriots were going to even compete, much less, score against the Colts, right?

Wrong!

It was an all-around effort by the Pats, who completely dominated defensively, offensively and even on special teams.

Instead of holding on to the ball and scoring at will, the Colts had four turnovers, including three interceptions by the seemingly invisible Payton Manning.

Antowain Smith finally had his breakout game, rushing for 94 yards and two trips to the end-zone. The longtime Buffalo Bills back, Smith's performance was nothing but exceptional and instrumental in that 44-13 victory that day.

As for Tom Brady, he looked like a poised veteran on the field. Instead of looking uncomfortable and lost at sea with the offense at his control, Brady was resolute and determined to show the fans and team why he belonged in the NFL.

While he was shutout out of the end-zone with a touchdown, Brady executed well with the plays, balancing the offense with some rushing by Smith and some short route plays that would eat up the clock.

Brady would end the day going 13 for 23 passing 168 yards, including a 38 yard pass to Smith late in the game.

Leaving the stadium that evening, I told my brother, Chris, how I felt the Patriots were going to be a much different team after this game. The way Brady took control had an immediate impact with his veteran teammates. These were the signs that big things were bound to happen to the second-year player.

After the years of Bledsoe leading the fray and seemingly losing his confidence on the field, his replacement in Tom Brady just appeared to be the breath of fresh air that the organization sorely needed.

While the Pats did lose in a blowout at the hands of the Miami Dolphins the following game, the rest of their 2001-'02 season was one to remember.

The Pats would only lose twice in the last 12 games, a stretch that saw the team finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak to clinched the AFC East title and their first playoff berth in three years.

As the old adage goes, the rest is history.

Tom Brady has become one of the NFL's biggest stars with three Super Bowl Championships, along with a historic 2007 season that saw the two-time Super Bowl MVP break the all-time regular season touchdown passing record with 51.

Surely, there is uncertainty with Brady's career as he will be coming back from a devastating injury from the 2008 season opener.

If one doubts Tom Brady, look at his accomplishments.  Brady has proved to the media and doubtful Pats fans at the way he just commands the football field.

We just might be witnessing a quarterback who may be poised for even bigger things in 2009.

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