Kevin Doherty can still see it in his mind.
Tom Brady, in Serra High School white and blue, is dropping back to pass in the fourth quarter with the Padres leading Sacred Heart Cathedral 18-12 and looking to put the game on ice. Brady would finish with 331 yards and three touchdowns on the day, but on this attempt, sophomore cornerback Jamar Shepard cut in, picked the ball off in the end zone and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown, delivering the Irish a 20-18 victory.
Doherty wasa defensive back for Sacred Heart in that 1994 game and his recollection serves as a reminder that things haven’t always come easy for the freshly minted NFL MVP. But now, as the strength and defensive backs coach at Lincoln High School, Doherty snatches up the New England Patriots’ star up each year in his fantasy football draft.
“He was a good high school quarterback with a great arm, but we always thought baseball was going to be his sport — he was a stud catcher,” Doherty said. “Now I always make sure to get him on my fantasy team, even though it seems like you have to draft him earlier each year.”
Brady’s story, of course, has long been cemented as legend. Drafted in the sixth round out of Michigan (where he once backed up Drew Henson) by New England in 2000, the San Mateo native came off the bench after starter Drew Bledsoe was hurt during the 2001 season and led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl championship. He has since won two more titles with the team, earned two Super Bowl MVPs and been named to the Pro Bowl four times.
This season, he broke the NFL single-season record for touchdown passes with 50 and led the Patriots to the first undefeated regular season since the Miami Dolphins did it in 1972 and a berth in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Not bad for a kid who backed up Kevin Krystofiak and couldn’t get off the bench at Serra as a freshman on an 0-8 frosh-soph team that scored two touchdowns all year.
“It’s a pretty funny story all around,” said Krystofiak, who quit football the next year to concentrate on basketball. “He’s never started out as the No. 1 anywhere he’s been. He’s had to earn his keep.”
That includes his first year as the varsity starter as a junior in 1993. Brady had worked hard to improve on his agility as a sophomore and always had the big arm, but it was his precocious pocket presence that struck his teammates.
“We were doing a lot of audibles at the line and he was always getting us into the perfect play,” said Chris McLaughlin, a receiver who caught 33 passes and five touchdowns from Brady as a senior that season. “You could see he had mastered the game plan.”
Tom MacKenzie, the coach at Serra during Brady’s time at the school, recalled the future star was just a “name in the crowd” as a freshman who put himself through torturous workouts to become the player he is today. And as he thinks back about his famous pupil, a statement Brady once made about the pressure-packed moments late in close games still resonates.
“He said ‘Why be cautious when things look bad?’” MacKenzie said. “‘Why not take the risk and make something special happen?’”
A perfect response.
The many faces of Tom Brady
The Patriots’ quarterback is admired (and envied) for many aspects of his professional and personal life