The Brady everybody sees today grew from the Brady nobody believed in at Michigan. In Ann Arbor he developed his steel faith in his ability, and a capacity to ignore detractors. He learned that fan adulation was too elusive to chase; he focused instead on winning over his teammates.
The San Mateo, Calif., kid became one of the best cold-weather quarterbacks ever. Many college stars must adjust to the harsh NFL ecosystem, but after fighting for his job for two years at Michigan, Brady was ready. The battle with Henson no longer defines Brady's career, but it helped define who he is.
"He always believes there is someone behind him that is going to take his job," Loeffler says. "He is 34 years old and approaches the game like he just got drafted in the sixth round."
When Brady's parents express alarm about anything, as parents do, Tom Jr. always tells them, "Everything is going to be fine."
Tom Sr. still harbors hard feelings about how his son was treated at Michigan, but that anger has limits. He had wanted his son to go to Cal, 35 miles from the family's home, but says if that had happened, "he would not have accomplished near what he has accomplished." He is glad his son went to Michigan. "He became a man there," Tom Sr. says. "When you become a man, that means you get slapped around a little bit."
When Carr retired, in 2007, the younger Brady sent him a handwritten note thanking him for his help. Tom Sr. was surprised when an SI reporter told him about that. But then he said of his only son, "I have never heard him say anything other than glowing comments about his Michigan experience. I've never heard Tommy ever once criticize Lloyd."
Every underdog story needs an overdog, and that is Drew Henson's role, now and forever: the much-hyped prospect who stood in the way of the great Tom Brady, then faded out of sight. Henson left Michigan after his junior year to play full time for the Yankees. He got one major league hit, a single, before returning to football in 2004. In his one NFL start, for the Cowboys, he threw 18 passes, then was released in '06; he threw two passes with the Lions in '08, before being cut the following season. But those are just the bones of his story.
Henson led Michigan to a share of the Big Ten title as a junior, and he finished his career with a higher college passer rating (135.5) than Brady's (134.9). He surely would have been a top 10 NFL pick the next spring. But Henson chose baseball.
The Yankees promoted him to Triple A before he was ready—they assumed that he was gifted enough to make up for lost time. Before the 2002 season, Baseball America ranked him as the No. 9 prospect, but Henson pressed in the minor leagues because he wanted to justify his decision to leave school.
NFL scouts never forgot about him, and when Henson kept striking out, he gave up baseball to play for another iconic American team. Dallas saw him as a potential franchise quarterback. But Henson hadn't been a football player in four years, and he had never been a full-time football player. He said it took him more than a year to get some of his football skills back.