The thing many Giants remember most about their visit to Bryant College for joint practices with New England in August 2001 was how excited the Patriots’ fan base was about the team’s young quarterback. Every time he stepped on the field or threw a pass, the crowd that watched those preseason workouts roared with anticipation and approval.
Sure, they cheered for starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe when he ran the offense. But really, they were most thrilled about getting a glimpse of the franchise’s future, the young kid their team had acquired with a late-round pick but whose promise was palpable.
His name: Michael Bishop.
Hardly anyone there noticed the quarterback just ahead of Bishop on the depth chart, the third-stringer sandwiched in near-anonymity. Veterans Bledsoe and Damon Huard were above him and Bishop — the fleet-footed throw-on-the-move passer who came to the NFL about a decade too early for his electric style of play to catch on — was behind him.
It wouldn’t take long, however, for that afterthought player to begin his journey toward becoming the most decorated and recognizable player in NFL history.
By the time that 2001 season was over, Bishop was playing in Europe and Tom Brady had beaten out Huard for the Patriots’ backup job out of camp, replaced Bledsoe after he was knocked out of an early-season game against the Jets, and led New England past the Rams for its first Super Bowl victory.
Since then he has gone on to cement himself as the greatest quarterback of all time and, many would say, the greatest football player of all time. He etched a legacy of excellence in the granite of New England that will never be eroded and has lifted the Buccaneers to heights unimaginable before his arrival in Tampa Bay less than two years ago.
But his imprint on the history of franchises goes far beyond just those two organizations.
No player is more intertwined with the glories of Giants history without ever having worn the uniform of the team than Brady. Their two Super Bowl wins this century were both as underdogs against him and the Patriots, and he has been on the field for some of the most rousing and significant regular-season games as well.
Think of the fondest snapshot memories of Giants football in the past quarter-century, and it’s a good bet Brady is lurking somewhere in the background.
Certainly others have impacted the Giants without being Giants, from Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith to Sonny Jurgensen and Roger Staubach. They were annual foes — often twice or more annually, in fact — the Giants faced for a number of consecutive years.
So what has tied Brady to the Giants so tautly despite the relatively few eight head-to-head meetings he has had with them thus far?
Maybe it’s that he lives right here among us in New York, residing with his family in Manhattan. That was where he signed his contract to join the Bucs in the spring of 2020, right in his Tribeca kitchen. He’s more of a New Yorker than many of the players who play here.
Perhaps it’s the length of time he has tormented the Giants’ co-inhabitants of MetLife Stadium — and, before that, Giants Stadium — that has made him such a fixture in the local sports consciousness despite his limited direct contact with the Giants.
The real reason, though, is simple. Brady has been nearly invincible throughout most of his 22-year NFL career. The only team that has been able to consistently put dents in his already- cast bronze bust that one day will reside in Canton has been the Giants.
They beat Brady in two Super Bowls. The more his legacy grows, the greater those victories become.
They nearly had another postseason shot at him this past January. As the Giants were watching that fateful Week 17 game between Washington and Philadelphia, they knew that if they won the division and made the playoffs, they’d be hosting Brady and the Bucs. They had lost to them midway through the regular season, 25-23, and were anxious to get another crack at them.
"Everybody was glued to the TV for that one to see if we would get a chance," tight end Evan Engram said. "We were ready for another go."
Washington wound up winning the game and the NFC East title, with Nate Sudfeld playing a larger role in the Giants’ destiny than Brady for that one night, at least. Washington hosted the Bucs in the wild-card round the following week and lost to the eventual champs.
Brady is a part of the Giants’ fabric that stretches across multiple generations, and on Monday night in Tampa, he will have a chance to add to his substantial imprint on them in one way or another.
Consider that when Brady played his first regular-season game against the Giants on Oct. 12, 2003, Jason Garrett was the Giants’ third-string quarterback. Garrett has since retired as a player, become a coach, spent a decade running the Cowboys and now is in his second season as offensive coordinator for the Giants . . . and he’s still competing against Brady.
"What he’s done over the last 20 years has been remarkable," Garrett said. "To think he’s 44 years old and probably playing the best ball of his career, it’s really amazing. He’s an inspiration to everybody in and out of sports."
At the other end of the Brady experience spectrum is Giants rookie linebacker Azeez Ojulari. When Brady was chosen by the Patriots with the 199th selection in the 2000 draft, Ojulari wasn’t even born yet (he joined us in this world about three months later). On Monday, Ojulari will get a chance to register a sack against someone who has literally been playing in the NFL his entire life.
"It’s a great opportunity," Ojulari said.
And somewhere in the middle is Giants offensive lineman Nate Solder. He spent the first seven years of his career with the Patriots as Brady’s teammate and helped block for him in two Super Bowl wins (plus the loss to the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI). At 33, Solder is the oldest every-down player on the Giants’ roster.
Brady was a year older than Solder is now when Solder joined the Patriots as a rookie first-round pick in 2011.
"That’s amazing," Solder said. "It’s a testament to him, the way he takes care of his body and has a passion for the game to keep doing it. Can you imagine me in 10 years doing this?"
He said he could not. Which is what makes Brady so special. He is the NFL’s freak of nature you can’t help but stare at. Carnival barkers could retire on the nickel admissions they’d charge luring seekers of oddities into a boardwalk tent to see the bearded lady, the flea circus and the 44-year-old quarterback.
"I’ll be honest with you, I don’t see much of a difference in this guy in terms of how he’s playing from when I first saw him with my own eyes back in 2012," Giants coach Joe Judge said of his initial season as an assistant on the Patriots’ staff.
This could be the Giants’ last chance to face Brady. He’s certainly shown no signs of slowing down and has hinted at wanting to continue playing for many years to come, but if he remains on the Buccaneers, he won’t be scheduled to face the Giants again under the current regular-season rotation until 2024. He’ll be 47 by then.
"He’s probably gonna outplay me," scoffed 30-year-old safety Logan Ryan, a former New England teammate of Brady’s who, when playing for the Titans, intercepted Brady’s final pass as a member of the Patriots and returned it 9 yards for a postseason touchdown.
Ryan may wind up missing this game anyway. He’s been sidelined in COVID-19 protocols and is waiting to be cleared in time for the game. If he isn’t, it could mean he’ll never have another chance to face Brady, an experience he said ranks as one of his tops in the NFL.
Not that he’s been dwelling on anything close to the finality of their duels that began when he was a rookie cornerback covering Brady’s receivers in offseason workouts and training camp in 2013.
"A lot can happen," Ryan said of that potential 2024 matchup. "I don’t know where I’ll be. I don’t know where he’ll be."
Brady may be playing somewhere else then — or not at all — but he’ll always have a large presence in the history of the Giants and those who have faced him in the momentous battles he’s waged against the team.
"I consider myself lucky to have been around a guy like that," said Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, who also coached on staffs with Brady in New England.
"Whether it’s directly or not, you’re learning ball from him because you’re witnessing one of the best to ever do it. It’s a privilege to compete against him, to be honest with you. One day my grandkids, when he gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, I’ll be able to say: ‘Yeah, I coached against that guy. I coached with him.’
"It’s cool. It’s cool. It’s Tom Brady."
Brady vs. Giants
Date Result Comp. Att. Pct. Yds. TD Int. Rating
Oct. 12, 2003 Pats won, 17-6 8 21 56.1 112 0 0 38.1
Dec. 29, 2007 Pats won, 38-35 32 42 116.8 356 2 0 76.2
Nov. 6, 2011 Giants won, 17-6 28 49 75.4 342 2 2 57.1
Nov. 15, 2015 Pats won, 27-26 26 42 92.8 334 2 1 61.9
Oct. 10, 2019 Pats won, 35-14 31 41 88.9 334 0 1 75.6
Nov. 2, 2020 Bucs won, 25-23 28 40 106.1 279 2 0 70.0
Won 5, Lost 1 153 235 65.1 1,757 8 4 91.7
Oct. 12, 2003 Giants won, 17-4 29 48 82.5 266 1 0 60.4
Oct. 12, 2003 Giants won, 21-17 27 41 91.1 276 2 1 65.9
Won 0, Lost 2 56 59 62.9 542 3 1 62.9