ANN ARBOR, Michigan-- Wilton Speight can take solace in his first-career start, or more specifically, the first play of his first start -- an interception.

Twenty years earlier in the same stadium a redshirt freshman named Tom Brady threw his first-career pass -- which was promptly intercepted by UCLA's Phillip Ward and returned 45 yards for a touchdown.

All Brady did was become arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, winning four Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. On Saturday, he'll return to the Big House as the Wolverines' honorary captain.

Brady redshirted in 1995, played sparingly in 1996, backed up Brian Griese in 1997 as Michigan won the national championship. He got off to an 0-2 start and lost to Ohio State in 1998 in his first season as the starter, and split time with Drew Henson in 1999 before seizing the starting job and ending his career with a 369-yard, four-touchdown performance in a thrilling overtime victory over Alabama in the Orange Bowl, twice leading Michigan back from 14-point deficits.

"As his teammate, I knew he had a really good arm and made great decisions with the football," said wide receiver Marcus Knight, who played at UM from 1996-1999. "But to say that I knew he was going to be the star that he is today, I would be lying to you. One thing I can say is that it didn't surprise me that he's successful because he has a special mental capacity. He has a tenacity to win, a tenacity to be perfect in everything. He went about his business in a professional manner even at the college level."

Brady, who's serving a four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate, has been largely absent from Ann Arbor since he graduated, only making sporadic appearances.

One of those came on signing day in February, when Brady attended the Wolverines' Signing of the Stars event.

The relationship has changed since Jim Harbaugh was hired. Brady and Harbaugh reportedly had a two-hour phone conversation in December, 2014, weeks before Harbaugh's hiring became official. And when Brady was asked to be an honorary captain, the decision came easy.

"It's been really good," Harbaugh said this week about his relationship with Brady. "There was an email, a text, we had one phone conversation. It really came down to this, he goes, 'Whatever is good for Michigan' ... That says it all, doesn't it?"

Perhaps Brady's finest moment came in his final game -- the 2000 Orange Bowl. Brady, a senior captain and team MVP, had quite the NFL Draft audition, completing a school-record 34 passes. The final pass of his collegiate career was a game-winner to sophomore Shawn Thompson.

"The type of game Tom had, it served him well for some of the things he went through that year," Thompson said. "To see him go out like that was awesome."

Brady was 20-5 as a starter, with 5,351 yards and 35 touchdowns.

"When we went into Syracuse to play [in 1999], in the second half, I decided to go with Drew Henson," said former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr in 2010. "Late in the game, we won. After the game, the captains said a few words and led the team in 'Hail to the Victors.' There was no tougher time for Tom to not have played. He stood up and told his teammates how great they played without him. He's a special guy."

"What I remember most about Tom was his composure," Thompson said. "He's one of the most calm leaders you can have. To have that leader in your huddle is huge. I don't think anyone could have anticipated what he's done, but I never doubted that he'd be successful. He was pretty remarkable in pressure situations. The success he's had, it couldn't happen to a better guy."

Knight said Michigan still would have won the national championship in 1997 if Brady was the quarterback. His ability to limit critical mistakes combined with a knack for not only finding open receivers, but also the best available option, foreshadowed an NFL acumen that's among the most savvy in league history.

"He knew how to take command of the offense. He was a general out there," Knight said. "He was a great decision maker. He wasn't going to force the ball into small spaces. He did a great job of finding guys who had one-on-one situations. The way he went about the game, it just shows you that hard work pays off. He was built for success. Now you see the Tom Brady of today. He wanted to be perfect on every rep. He had to do it with his arm and his brain, and he was up for the challenge."

 

This article was written by Kyle Rowland from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.