Imagine first stepping onto your college campus and instantly becoming the talk of the town. That’s what the University of Michigan is like even today for Tom Brady.
“When I came on my official visit, I was walking with my host," Brady said in an interview with NCAA.com. "Like 2 minutes in, he’s like, ‘You know Tom Brady is a big deal here, right?'”
Not too far in the distance, a swarm of Wolverine fans left Michigan Stadium. This was 2018 and the Wolverines had just beaten SMU, 45-20. Some fans wore a No. 10 Tom Brady Michigan jersey or a No. 12 Tom Brady Patriots jersey.
That was the moment when it really hit 18-year old Tom Brady from Park Ridge, Illinois, that he signed a letter of intent with the same university where Tom Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, laid the foundation for his legendary NFL career.
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The Wolverines track and field program was one of many in the country that made Brady’s shortlist. Growing up in Park Ridge and attending Maine South High School, Brady excelled in Spanish, science and social science. He graduated in the top 1 percent of his high school class as a National Merit finalist. Balancing running with academics was and still is his way of life, and he would not have it any other way.
“It’s very hard especially with [majoring in] computer science at Michigan," Brady said. "It’s pretty demanding of my time. Once I get outside of practice, I take care of what I need to take care of and then focus on getting my schoolwork done. I feel like I usually don’t have time to relax. I wake up, eat breakfast, go to class, practice, eat, work on homework somewhere in there, sleep. There’s no relaxing, and it’s something I’m OK with because I really enjoy running. It’s [what is] relaxing for me.”
The balancing act is working. On Jan. 16 at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational, Brady ran a career-best 7:58.06 in the 3000 meter run, breaking the meet and facility record.
Brady has a particular strategy for long-distance runs — stick with the leader, but don't use all your gas until the end. Brady exemplified it perfectly at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational. As the final 300m approached, Brady gunned it. "If I'm going to win this, I’ve got to go now."
With his 2019-2020 freshman season abbreviated because of injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, Brady took the off time to beef up his physical and mental training. His motivation: "Prove that I can win a college race."
"The feeling of winning and doing well is going to easily overcome the pain I might experience in trying to do it," Brady said of his newfound mentality.
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Up until his record-breaking 3000m race, Brady was known to apologize to his coach after every race. There always seemed to be a misstep or a gear left unused. That changed at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational.
"I think that was the first race in my entire career — college or high school — where I felt like I did everything I needed to, and I was fully satisfied with it," Brady said. "I didn’t feel like I left too much out there. I ran to win and that was the perfect way to race it. It was a really satisfying moment to come off that check and be like, 'There's nothing I really regret about how I raced that.' I’ve had races that I’ve won that I regretted the way I approached it. I had no regrets."
Tom Brady the football player endured his own mental roadblocks while at Michigan. Brady hired a sports psychologist to help rewire his competitive thinking, according to Lee Jenkins in this 2008 article from SI.com. The focus needed to be on himself and not the other quarterbacks he was competing against on the depth chart. Brady made the decision to be his best. He then quarterbacked the Wolverines to Citrus Bowl and Orange Bowl wins in 1998 and 1999.
Growing up, Tom Brady the track and field athlete was told he wasn't tall enough to out-kick his opponents. He's slowly realized how toxic that line of thinking is.
"It’s about having that confidence that I can run my own race and do well," Brady said.
The Tom Brady comparisons started when Brady was a kid (Brady was born in 2000, the same year Tom Brady debuted with the Patriots), and they've only intensified with age. In elementary school, the lunch lady joked that when she saw Tom Brady on her list, she thought she would be supervising Tom Brady, the football star.
"He has such a good work ethic and he’s so successful that I don’t really mind the comparisons," Brady said.
Got a #SuperBowl you need to win? Need someone to win a distance race?— Michigan Track & Field / Cross Country (@UMichTrack) February 4, 2021
You can't go wrong with a Tom Brady from @UMich.
Here's how our @tdbrady15 stacks up against that other @TomBrady
From the @NCAA: https://t.co/3qUXSKo0Jk#GoBlue pic.twitter.com/j4AkAQNgOW
The buck stops, however, with Tom Brady and the Patriots' lopsided history with the Chicago Bears, Brady's childhood team.
"Growing up in Chicago, for some reason there’s some kind of rivalry with Tom Brady there. I don't know why but I think it’s because he destroys us every time we play him," Brady said. "Except for the last time, that was a good time."
Brady is of course referencing the Bears' 20-19 victory over Tom Brady's new team, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in 2020. Chicago moved to 4-1 on the season, while Brady and the Bucs moved to 3-2. It was an eye-opening performance, with Bucs general manager Jason Licht calling it the worst loss in his career there. Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians called it "the best thing that happened to us, looking back." It brought the team closer together.
Now Tom Brady's Bucs are headed to Super Bowl LV as the first team in NFL history to host the Super Bowl at its home stadium.
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Brady will never root for the 20-year NFL veteran because of his "unhealthy" Chicago Bears obsession, but he respects Brady's work ethic, and for that, he admits Tom Brady is the greatest NFL player of all time.
So let it be known: Tom Brady, Michigan's emerging track and field star, was not named after Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. of San Mateo, California. Thomas Declan Brady's name actually dates back to his late-great grandfather, followed by his late-grandfather, father and now him. It's a family name that will likely continue into future generations.
There are 51 people in the US named Tom Brady, according to HowManyofMe.com.
As for the Super Bowl, Tom Brady picks Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs. Sharing names does not carry much weight for current Wolverine Tom Brady. How ironic?