When Tom Brady's name was called out in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft, few could have predicted one Super Bowl ring, let alone six.
Six quarterbacks were taken ahead of Brady 19 years ago – the Michigan draftee selected with the 199th pick. Many teams appeared to pass on Brady, who to them looked very unathletic as he showed up to the NFL Draft combine.
The Patriots were a mess at the time. Head coach Pete Carroll had just been sacked after New England lost six of their final eight games in 1999. His replacement? Bill Belichick.
Fast forward a year and a team filled with castoffs from other franchises, including Antowain Smith, who joined from the Buffalo Bills and played an integral role as Brady learned the ropes in his first year as a starter, set the foundations for a dynasty that transcended the NFL and the American sporting landscape.
"When I first got there in 2001, my first year and Brady's second year, he was fourth on the depth chart for quarterbacks," two-time Super Bowl champion Smith said in an interview with Omnisport. "When [Drew] Bledsoe went down, Brady came on and led us to the Super Bowl, but you could see what he was going to be.
"His worth ethic, the way that he studies film, it was always after practice, he had the receivers in the back running routes, catching plays. He is that type of player – a consummate worker."
Brady and the Patriots have not looked back. With six Super Bowl championships, the veteran quarterback is now the most successful player in NFL history following New England's 13-3 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
Brady's status in the NFL is unrivalled after another monumental day in Atlanta. Dubbed the 'GOAT' by many – including Los Angeles Lakers and NBA superstar LeBron James – the question now turns to his legacy across all sports.
Is Brady – a four-time Super Bowl MVP, three-time NFL MVP and 14-time Pro Bowler – the greatest athlete we have ever seen?
"It's hard in the NFL to win Super Bowls because when you get to the playoffs, if you lose one you're out," former Patriots running back Smith said. "In basketball, you have seven-game series and in baseball the World Series you have seven-game series. In football, it's that one game. So all the pressure is on you to perform in that one game.
"The greatest athlete of all time? That's debatable. But to me, he is my guy, I'm gonna ride with him. We started that dynasty thing in New England and he has continued to carry on. To me, he is the GOAT in all sports."
Despite conquering the NFL on six occasions, the 41-year-old Brady has no plans to retire. When the new season gets underway in September, the California-born sensation will be 42.
"They always told me father time is undefeated. But as long as he is playing at a high level and he is still enjoying the game, play as long as you want. Because when it's over, it's over," Smith added. "Then he can look back over his career with his kids and say 'daddy was pretty good', he can brag and boast about that."
Key to Brady's remarkable success has been Belichick – the pair winning more Super Bowls than any another QB-coach duo in history, while they are the oldest QB-coach duo in the history of NFL's showpiece at a combined 107 years old.
Belichick has won 73.8 per cent of his career playoff games, the second-best rate among coaches with at least 10 games coached. Smith knows the 66-year-old well, having been lured to Foxborough as a free agent 18 years ago.
"Belichick is one of the smartest coaches I've ever had. A lot of people only give him credit on defense, but he knows what every player does on the offensive side of the ball, on special teams too," said the 42-year-old.
"He holds everyone accountable when you're not playing well. A lot of people say he's an a*******. He has loosened up in the years. He was tough early on but that's his way. He found out what works for him. You can't argue with his production. It's his way."
The Patriots silenced their doubters this year but can they win a fourth Super Bowl in six?
"I do not doubt them," Smith continued. "Every year they say this is the year the dynasty ends. You heard the talk this year. 'Patriots don't look like the Patriots of old', 'Brady is looking old'.
"But when it came playoff time, which is the time that matters, they went on that roll and won the Super Bowl. I'll never count them out until they're done."
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