TAMPA — Some anniversaries are meant to be celebrated, while others should be merely observed.
This one is both.
Tom Brady can still remember how his heart raced faster than his feet when he came bounding into the huddle 20 years ago Thursday to take over for fallen Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
It was Brady’s first real action in the NFL, and nobody could’ve known he would keep the job for two decades and six Super Bowl wins (with New England).
“Yeah, 20 years ago. Time flies,” Brady said Thursday. “It goes pretty fast. Yeah, it’s been a long time since that’s happened. A lot happens in 20 years.”
New England had started the year 0-1 and lost Bledsoe when he was blasted in the chest by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis with the Patriots trailing 10-3 and 5:11 remaining in the second game.
Players and coaches still shudder when they talk about the loud sound of the hit absorbed by Bledsoe, who somehow returned for one more series. He sheared a blood vessel in his chest, which caused him to turn ghostly white and led to a four-day hospital stay.
Brady drove the Patriots to the 29-yard line on their final possession before four straight passes were incomplete, dropping New England to 0-2.
But Brady went on to lead the Patriots to 11 wins in their final 14 games and an improbable Super Bowl win over the St. Louis Rams, executing a nine-play, 53-yard drive that culminated with Adam Vinatieri’s winning 48-yard field goal.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I don’t think anyone thinks 20 years ago where their life will be,” Brady said. “I certainly don’t think in my wildest dreams I could’ve imagined what’s happened. Just very appreciative and grateful for all the different things that happened over time.
“Really, it’s about the support system of people. You know, my teammates over 20 years, my coaches, my family, my friends. I just have great memories. Memories have an amazing way of bringing a lot of people together.”
Flash forward 20 years, and Brady has left the Patriots. He is 44 and led the Bucs to a Super Bowl championship in his first season in Tampa Bay.
Next week, he will return to New England when the Bucs play the Patriots in what some are calling the biggest regular season game in league history.
The anticipation already is building, even though the Bucs are preparing for an important NFC game against the Rams Sunday in Los Angeles, where, shockingly, Brady has never played an NFL game.
Already this week, Brady’s father, Tom Sr., and personal body coach Alex Guerrero have been outspoken about why the Patriots split with their iconic quarterback after 20 seasons.
But Brady said he is more concerned with his job on the field.
“From my standpoint, I had a great time,” he said. “But really, my focus has been on trying to be the best that I could be for this (Bucs) team and try to go out and be a winning quarterback, a championship-level quarterback for this team, this organization, because they certainly deserve it.”
That same focus is what allowed Brady to seize the moment that first launched his unparalleled career two decades ago.
“You have got to be ready when you get your opportunity,” he said. “I try to talk to a lot of people about that, because it’s very rare when you’re like the prodigy and everything is kind of handed to you on a silver platter. A lot of times you have to go earn it. You have to go out there and work at it and work at it and be prepared, then when you get that moment, you’ve got to really take advantage of it.
“I think a lot of people don’t take advantage of it. I’ve seen a lot of people over the years not learning the lessons of learning when other people are in. I think you take advantage of that, so when the moment comes you can be prepared.”
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