“Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Which tells me that occasionally, if not often, people assessing your future potential based on past performance don’t know @#$! about anything.”
—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Super Bowl Sunday, February 7, 2021
As a multi-generational Massachusetts native, I was raised with the following truths, among others:
- “Peabody” is pronounced without an “o,” just like “Worcester” is pronounced without a “rce.”
- Clam chowder (yes, pronounced with an “a” instead of “er”) does not have herbs or corn in it. Corollary: Fish chowder does not have shrimp in it. It has fish. Tangent: And no self-respecting North Shore (pronounced “Nowrth Showre”) resident would be caught dead eating a clam strip.
- It’s all about the Sox.
As for the Pats … that history is a bit more complicated. For one, the New England Patriots aren’t a Boston team (an issue for some. Why the NFL required us to have a regional team in 1971 is another story. Really, Rhode Island???). So, it’s taken a while for some of us to warm up. And, not to bring up brackish water under the bridge, but in 1985 they lost the Super Bowl to the Bears in the most lopsided game in history at that time. In the late ’80s in my town, saying you were a Pats fan was like saying you liked New Coke (kids, ask your parents). BC and Doug Flutie? Yes. Pats? No.
Like many from the Boston area, I could write a book on the role that professional sports have played in my family, although — Genuine Admission — my own fair-weather-fandom has been more by familial association than true passion. But this post is not about sports. It’s about selection. Because everyone likes a Cinderella story, and one cannot deny that the Patriots saw something in Tom Brady in 2000 that no other team saw. And that’s what our job in admissions is about as well: evaluating potential.
When I saw astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweet the night of the Super Bowl, I was amused. My first thought was, “Yep, that’s right. Sometimes we ‘assessors’ don’t know #$@! about anything.” And my second thought was, “But someone did. Someone knew something.” What did Coach Belichick and the Patriots organization see in Tom Brady that so many others passed by? Whatever “it” was, it obviously wasn’t readily recognized or valued by the Jets, 49ers, Ravens, Steelers, Saints, or Browns — all of whom selected QBs before Brady was selected in the sixth round in 2000. I needed to know. Was it really a case of dumb luck, or stupidity, or something else entirely?
What I’ve learned about the 2000 “acceptance” of Tom Brady to the Patriots is that, unlike Dr. Tyson’s pithy assessment, Belichick and his colleagues actually knew exactly what they were getting and designed their “admission process” in a way that eventually led to the change of the entire future of the franchise. They couldn’t have known in 2000 that Brady would unarguably become football’s greatest quarterback of all time. But according to current Bucs general manager and then-member of the Patriots personnel staff Jason Licht, "It's not that we said we wanted to draft a tall, lanky quarterback that ran a 5.3 [time in the] 40 [yard dash]. Those weren't the traits we were looking for… we were looking for the mental makeup ... Belichick did a lot of homework on him, along with our staff, on his mental makeup."
Of course, there were other factors involved in what is widely regarded as the greatest steal in NFL draft history: the Pats were awarded compensatory picks in that draft due to free agency defections; Brady had a vocal advocate in his “admissions officer” Dick Rehbein, the Pats’ new quarterback coach in the Pats’ whiteboard “admissions committee” prior to the draft; and, of course, six other teams passed on Tom Brady first — so luck played a role, as well. But it was actually a combination of both past performance and future potential that convinced Belichick and the front office that Brady was the one that best fit the Patriots’ system for the long haul. It’s not as though Brady hadn’t been a successful quarterback — he led the Michigan Wolverines to an overtime victory in the Orange Bowl that year, for goodness sake — so performance got him to an important crossroads. But it wasn’t that past performance — or his lackluster 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, for that matter — that got him the final nod from the Pats. It was his future potential. Licht succinctly summarized what would come to be recognized as one of Tom Brady’s greatest strengths: his leadership. “Watching the tape, he was the guy that would go in and lead [the University of Michigan] back to victory.” Quarterbacks — leaders — need flexibility. Adaptability. Mental toughness. Positive mindset. Ability to motivate others. And of course, it helps to have a legendary work ethic and self-discipline. These are all traits that some overlooked when evaluating potential quarterbacks for their programs, focusing more on their 40-yard dash outcome. Not the Patriots.
And someone with those traits isn’t going to rely on past performance to assure future success, as Brady proved with the Bucs this year. Flexibility. Adaptability. Mental toughness. Positive mindset. Ability to motivate others. It doesn’t matter what job you have or what team you play for — or, in our world of admissions, what school you go to. If you’re willing to embrace your inner Tom Brady, whether you’re selected in the first round or the sixth, or whether you play for the Pats or the Bucs doesn’t predict anything about your future success.
And in that respect, I fully agree with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Sometimes people assessing future potential do miss things if they only base that assessment on past performance. Big things. But what is happening now in Sellers Hall as we review applications for admission to Loomis Chaffee is reflective of the Patriots’ assessment of Tom Brady in 2000. We won’t be able to admit all the future QBs we find, but we will work hard to ensure that we are looking beyond past performance to assess future potential.