The history and tradition that come with playing at Michigan can either motivate or stagger those who play in the shadow of past greats. Quarterbacks face a special burden—being to compared to arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady.
Gardner has turned to Brady for inspiration as he works to overcome last season’s disappointment and do what many consider unlikely, if not impossible—beat all three of Michigan’s traditional rivals on the road. He also faces competition from a talented group of younger players who may be better suited for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new offense.
At Big Ten media day in Chicago, Gardner shared the advice he received from Brady, who began his NFL career as a lowly sixth-round draft pick.
“Come every day,” said Gardner. “Prove to your teammates and coaches that you’re the best guy for the job.”
|Michigan's 2014 Rivalry Games|
|September 6||Notre Dame||South Bend, IN|
|October 25||Michigan State||East Lansing, MI|
|November 29||Ohio State||Columbus, OH|
Brady, who rode the bench during Michigan’s undefeated 1997 season behind Brian Griese and dueled with phenom Drew Henson for the starting position later in his collegiate career, was no stranger to adversity and competition.
Gardner met Brady when he visited the team last August and stayed in touch throughout the season.
“It’s amazing to have such resource,” said Gardner. “A guy who has been through adversity and been successful at the next level who knows how to win.”
Gardner acknowledged that he faces competition for the starting role but is focused on improving his own game and becoming better leader for his teammates.
“If the coaches feel that Shane Morris is the best quarterback on the team then that is their decision,” said Gardner. “It’s my job is to make sure that I’m the best quarterback on the team.”
Nobody took last season’s 7-6 record harder than Gardner. Whether it was being sacked 34 times or playing with a turf toe injury versus Ohio State, Gardner took a physical and mental beating as Michigan tumbled from Big Ten title contention. As the losses mounted, Gardner was under constant attack from opposing defenses, behind an offensive line that struggled to protect him.
This year he faces the prospects of playing behind another inexperienced offensive line as Michigan rolls out a new offense that may finally bring the power running game back to Ann Arbor.
The odds are stacked against Michigan competing for the Big Ten title this season, but Gardner is defiant.
“I look forward to being the underdog.”
Michigan is unaccustomed to playing that role, but for the team to beat its rivals on the road this season, Gardner needs to do more than just listen to Brady—he’ll need to start playing like him.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via press conferences or in person.