Before the opener, Carr made a decision: Brady would start; Henson would play the second quarter; at halftime the coaches would pick which one would finish the game. While this must have irritated Brady (who declined, through the Patriots, to talk to SI for this story), he couldn't complain to his teammates, who had voted him captain. He couldn't complain to his parents, who had let him make his own decisions—including the one to stay at Michigan—and expected him to live with them. He could only compete.
Brady earned the second-half nod in four of the first five games, and Michigan won all five. Asked about the unusual platoon system, he endorsed it: "It's working great for us."
He may not have realized it, but Brady was turning Carr into a believer. The coach had primarily valued arm strength and athleticism in his passers—"If you went to a coaching clinic where coaches are talking about quarterback play, you didn't hear about accuracy," he told SI—but Griese and then Brady convinced him of the importance of throwing precisely to a target. And concerns about Brady's arm strength were largely misguided. Wolverines tight end Aaron Shea says that because Brady put the proper touch on his passes, he rarely threw as hard as he could.
In Michigan's sixth game, at Michigan State, the quarterback platoon fell apart. Carr chose Henson for the second half, and the offense stalled. The coach switched back to Brady, who led a spirited comeback; it fell short but was another indication of who he would become. Brady had always been impressive running the two-minute drills at the end of practice. Now he was executing when it counted.
The Wolverines lost their next game, to Illinois, when the defense blew a 20-point second-half lead. But Carr had seen enough. Brady was his quarterback.
Brady had vanquished Henson, but the two had also become friends. When Brady would break down the upcoming draft class for Henson: I'm better than him ... better than him.... He's O.K.... I like him.
In November, Brady threw three interceptions against Penn State as Michigan fell behind 27--17 in the fourth quarter. He was also sacked six times, and receiver David Terrell remembers coming back to the huddle and saying to his quarterback, " 'Damn, bro!' ... He had a bloody face." Brady responded, "DT, just do your job." Brady did his, leading the Wolverines to a 31--27 win. He told reporters afterward, in his high-pitched voice, "I knew we weren't going to lose this game."
At the team banquet in December, Brady cracked that his parents had graduated from "the University of Northwest Airlines" after traveling to almost every game for five years. But Tom Sr. and his wife, Galynn, had a policy: "We shut our mouths." They had never attended practice or called Carr. Their son had chosen Michigan twice—once as a high school senior, and again when he thought about transferring before his junior season. Tom Sr. says, "He had to own it."
After leading the Wolverines to a 9--2 record, Brady finished his college career against Southeastern Conference champion Alabama in the Orange Bowl. As the team gathered for Christmas Eve dinner in Miami, Brady announced, "I'm gonna have dinner with the young pups tonight." He sat with the freshmen, who were away from their families for the holidays for the first time. A week later Brady completed 34 of 46 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns to beat Alabama 35--34. The next morning, as Carr met with reporters at the team hotel, Brady walked into the room, grabbed something off a breakfast buffet, waved and walked out without saying a word. He was 22 years old and sure of where he was headed.
A few years ago Tom Brady Sr. walked into his son's Boston condo and was shocked. "His foot's been hanging from the ceiling, and he's got a [soft] cast on his leg," he recalls. When his son removed the cast, Tom Sr. saw "blood from groin to his ankle." Brady had never told his parents he was hurt. He never does. Tom Sr. figured the injury meant they could not go out to dinner that night. But of course they went, and of course Brady played that week.