The first time Tom Brady took a regular-season snap in the NFL he was inside the since-demolished Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit. Then a rookie – and, famously, a sixth-round pick – Brady relieved Drew Bledsoe late in a 34-9 Thanksgiving beating by the Lions in 2000 and completed one of three passes for six yards. He wouldn't play again until the 2001 season after winning the back-up job behind Bledsoe and eventually replacing him when the veteran quarterback got hurt. The rest, obviously, is history.
On Saturday, Brady will once again step onto the field in a Detroit dome, albeit Ford Field this time, and will be, incredibly, the 300th game of his career. Not only has Brady outlasted the Silverdome, which was torn down three years ago, but he's gone deeper into an NFL career than almost every non-kicker in the league's 101-year history.
Counting the playoffs, Brady is about to play in his 341st game, but it's that nice, round regular-season number that is so eye-catching. He will become just the 12th player ever to hit that mark, and just the third who was not at least partially a kicker. Assuming he plays again next season at the age of 44, which seems wonderfully inevitable at this point, he will soon have more games played than any other non-kicker ever. Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice played in 303 games and Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre played in 303. If he finishes out this season, Brady will be at 302 heading into 2021.
Brady called his NFL debut back in 2000 "kind of an insignificant start" to his career as it was the only action he saw that season and he doubts anyone watching the game expected him to have the kind of career he did. He admits that this return to Detroit 20 years later is different, and not just because the game is significant to his new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in their hunt for the playoffs. Brady actually pumped his right fist when the topic of his 300th game came up in his Zoom interview on Wednesday.
"Yeah, I think it's pretty cool," said Brady. "I don't get caught up too much in statistics and those types of things, but football has just been a very important part of my life for a long time, 30 years. I love the ability to go out there and compete with my teammates, compete for our fans and I love the game. I love the nuances of the game, I love the relationships I've built, all the memories I've had."
Brady didn't really need anymore accomplishments, milestones or accolades to join Rice and Favre in the Hall the moment he's eligible. Overall, his NFL-record six Super Bowl championships and all-time record of 573 touchdown passes would probably be listed higher on any run-down of his professional accomplishments. But there's a reason this particular milestone means something to him: It's a reminder of how much of his life he has willingly and happily poured into the game of football.
"I'm very blessed to be 43 years old and still doing it," he said. "It's definitely a challenge for me still. There's physical challenges, there's mental challenges, there's emotional challenges. I just love doing it. It's pretty cool that I'm still able to do it and still have a team that's supportive of me being out there, and I want to go out there and do the best I can for them."
That these two bookend games to 300 both were or will be in Detroit is also significant in that Brady played his college football at Michigan and is still considered something of a native son by the state's residents.
"I treated everything like it was very important," said Brady of the beginning of his NFL career. "Year-around it was very important to me to compete against myself to see how good I could be. And I learned a lot of those lessons at Michigan. Michigan was a great training ground for me because nothing was gifted. You had to go out there and earn it. You had to earn the respect of your teammates and your coaches. For me, that's what I had to do in order to play in college. I didn't expect much difference when I went to the pros and got my opportunity. I always felt like if I got my opportunity I was never going to look back. I still haven't really looked back that much, even 20-plus years later."
Brady will soon be able to look back at his 300th regular-season NFL game, if he so chooses. The amazing thing about this return to Detroit two decades later is that it is not the end. It might not even be particularly close to the end of Brady's unparalleled career. The 300th game comes on Saturday, but what will the final total be?
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 16 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.