A STAR NAMED BRADY? NO ONE SAW IT COMING

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – I could have started with “I’m sorry.” I could have looked Tom Brady square in the eye and said, “Before we go any further, before we talk about the Super Bowl, your perfect season, your girlfriends, your ankle, can I just say, on behalf of the greater Michigan media, I’m sorry that we didn’t see you coming? I’m sorry we didn’t write a lot, or much – or, in my case, almost anything – when you were in Ann Arbor.”

I could have done that.

But I’m not that brave.

Instead, I asked Brady a question. I asked him Thursday morning what many in our state have been wondering for years.

How did we miss you?

And we did miss him. Oh, some wrote more than others. Some who cover Michigan on a regular basis dealt with Brady the way they deal with any Michigan quarterback.

But no one – no one – saw THIS GUY coming. No one saw the future of the NFL. No one saw a rock star/playboy superstar. No one saw a man who would have three Super Bowl rings before his 30th birthday and who might, before he’s done, be considered the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. No one saw that when he wore No. 10 for the Wolverines.

It was like being handed the first iPod and saying, “Eh … not interested.”

So I asked Brady to explain my shortsightedness. And here was his polite reply: Always in the background at Michigan

“Well, my first three years, I was just trying to get on the field however I could. After we won a national championship with Brian (Griese) as the quarterback, I competed with him pretty hard that year to be the starter, and he beat me out in training camp, and we went on to be 12-0.

“That next season was when Drew (Henson) came in. Drew was an incredible player, an incredible athlete. He was from Brighton. He was recruited heavily by Coach (Lloyd) Carr. … I was recruited by Coach (Gary) Moeller. The guy who recruited me, Bill Harris, left the year that I got there. … The following year, the quarterback coach that recruited me, Kip Cartwright, left. So going into my second year, there was nobody that had really known me or really sat in my living room and said, ‘Tom, this is the place for you.’ “

That explains a lot. Coaches always are partial to the players they recruit. Brady got caught between administrations and star players. And Henson, remember, was the most heralded recruit in years. Carr immediately used him in his freshman opener – invading Brady’s first start – and after that, the coach frequently shifted quarterbacks in and out.

That might seem insane now that 1) Henson is out of football and 2) Brady has become a guy you would never, ever bench.

But Brady, politely continuing, had an answer for that, too. Attributes best suited for the NFL

“Maybe some of the attributes that it takes to be a great professional quarterback aren’t really the same things that are required as a college quarterback,” he said. “I feel some of my strengths are my awareness and my decision making. I’ve never been a great athlete, and those tend to be some of the great players in college, because when you’re playing against linebackers who run a 4.9 in college, if you run a 4.7 in college, you’re going to outrun those linebackers. In the pros, those guys run 4.5. So if you run 4.7, you’re a slow guy again.”

So Brady took his skill set, waited his turn and rocketed to the top when he got there. Oh, it took awhile. He didn’t get drafted until the 199th pick. He was fourth on the Patriots’ depth chart. In those days, he was so sure he wouldn’t play, “I was eating nachos before the game.”

But just as he overcame the odds at Michigan, so did he rise in the NFL – from obscurity to top of the heap. The difference is, this climb, everyone noticed. Back then, it was like he was here and gone.

I even asked Dan Dierdorf, the famed Michigan alum who broadcasts for CBS, whether he saw today’s Tom Brady in the Ann Arbor version.

He laughed out loud.

“If I had said yes, wouldn’t you have thought I was the most full-of-crap guy you’ve ever met in your life?”

So I wasn’t alone. Yet I still feel guilty. I feel like I missed a stock pick. I feel like I overlooked the birth of the computer. I feel like I owe Brady an apology.

So once again, I asked him a question. I asked whether he felt “slighted.”

And he showed a hint of that world-famous grin. And he said:

“No, I never think it’s personal.”

Ah. I feel much better.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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