“You don’t remember me, do you? I almost had you come to Cal, when I was there with Steve Marriuci.”
“I was ready!”
“You was too ready, but you didn’t come!”
That was a pre-game exchange between then Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady prior to their regular season matchup in 2008, but the conversation had its roots in 1995.
By now we all know Brady’s story, how the San Mateo, California native committed to Michigan to play his college ball and spent a chunk of time on the bench before finally nabbing the starting job as a junior. What tends to be forgotten, though, is how close Brady’s college story came to having a west coast flavor.
The University of California was charging hard after Brady in ’95, as Jackson, who would become Cal’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 1996, and Steve Mariucci, who would become Cal’s head coach in 1996, did everything they could to keep Brady in his home state and transform the Golden Bears. And man, how different things would have been if they had succeeded.
Keith Gilbertson, who coached the Golden Bears from 1992 to 1995, said Brady would have immediately started as a redshirt freshman. Instead, he had to sit for two years at Michigan before it was his turn to be the man under center. He would have played in Marriuci’s west coast offense, a system that would have allowed him to throw the ball much more than he did while guiding Michigan’s run-first offense. In 1996, Pat Barnes attempted 420 passes as Cal’s quarterback. During the 1999 season, his second as a starter, Brady attempted only 295 passes. In that same year, Michigan running back Anthony Thomas compiled 283 carries, 12 shy of Brady’s pass attempts.
Reports at the time placed Cal as the frontrunner to land Brady, and Brady’s father, Tom Sr., pushed hard for his son to stay home.
“Much to my dismay, he went to Michigan,” the elder Brady told the Contra Costa Times in 2008. “I went to a psychologist for three months afterward.”
Cal had the advantage of thoroughly scouting Brady throughout his career at Serra High School in San Mateo. Cal scouts could be found at almost all of his games. Cal was so confident they would sign Brady as the big-time quarterback who would change their program forever that, according to the Times, they had to scramble at the last minute to bring in a recruit when Brady chose Michigan. That recruit was Mike Murphy, and he would never play a down for Cal.
After Cal missed out on Brady, their quarterback history got depressing. After Barnes came Justin Vedder and Kyle Boller. Aaron Rodgers broke the string of sadness in 2003, but then it was back to no names, from Joe Ayoob to Brock Manson.
Perhaps Jared Goff has done for the Cal program what Brady could have done in the mid-90s, but we’ll have to wait and see. And who knows how Brady would have performed at Cal, getting thrown right into the fire instead of sitting and learning for a couple of years like he did at Michigan. Brady Sr. seems to think time on the bench did his son some good.
“He had to grow in Michigan, being buried on the depth chart there,” he told the Times. “He had to grow away from home, cut tether and mature.”
Ah, what might have been.