FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (WPRI) – Tom Brady sat before his supervisor at Merrill Lynch. It was 1999 and his summer internship was coming to a close. Oliver Owens was then a vice president at the financial giant, and he saw a star in the fifth-year senior.
“I brought him into the office and said, ‘Tom, I think you could be really successful in finance,’” Owens recalled. “He was smart, he worked hard, he had a good head for numbers, so I said, ‘Whatever you want to do in finance, let me know, I’ll write you a letter of recommendation. I just want to help you out.’”
Owens remembers Brady – then a quarterback at the University of Michigan – looking down, rubbing his hands together.
“I really think I want to give this football thing a try,” Brady said.
“I go ‘Tom, Tom, no, you can really do it in finance – man, football … who knows?’” Owens said, adding with a laugh, “I think that’s why I haven’t heard from him in 20 years.”
Owens wasn’t alone in his desire to employ Tom Brady full-time. Interviews with Brady’s former bosses reveal the star quarterback had potential in the financial world, customer service and construction.
Tom Brady snuck up on greatness.
A feat that is almost as improbable as winning Super Bowls or marrying a supermodel. Arguably no athlete in the history of American sports has been both greater in their field and more overlooked as an amateur than Tom Brady. That includes Joe Montana (3rd round NFL Draft pick) who won one less Super Bowl and one less Super Bowl MVP than Brady and counting.
Michael Jordan was a McDonald’s All-American in high school, a two-time first team All-American in college and was the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
Peyton Manning had 60 scholarship offers, was a four-year starter in college and the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft.
St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School, which LeBron James attended, had to move their basketball games to the University of Akron’s Rhodes Arena during James’ sophomore year to accommodate ticket demand for fans, college and NBA scouts.
Sydney Crosby was so skilled at age 13 his parents sued Nova Scotia’s Minor Hockey Council for not letting their son play midget, a level of minor hockey designated for 15-17 year olds.
Dick Groch was the scout who convinced the Yankees to use a top 10 draft pick on a high school infielder from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He told the club “the only place Derek Jeter is going is Cooperstown.”
Tiger Woods was such a phenom he was invited on “The Mike Douglas Show” when he was two years old.
Kobe Bryant generated so much buzz in high school, he took R&B singer Brandy to his senior prom.
Tom Brady, meanwhile, had to market himself by mailing out a college recruiting video before Michigan finally offered him a chance to be buried on their quarterback depth chart.
So what would Brady have done had he never got a shot with the Patriots in 2000?
He probably would have signed with a team as an undrafted free agent, and eventually emerged as a top-flight NFL quarterback. However, guys picked in the later rounds or guys that are undrafted signings are not given every opportunity to succeed. In other words: one injury or one ignoramus of a head coach could have put Brady out of the league for good.
So unlike the aforementioned icons of sport, Thomas E. Brady Jr., who earned a bachelor of general studies from the University of Michigan’s College of Literature Science and the Arts in December 1999, needed to keep his college resume – which outlined his internship and work experience – handy.
Oliver Owens supervised Tom Brady’s internship during the summers of 1998 and 1999. He remembers assigning the future Hall of Fame quarterback to various long-term projects.
“For instance, he had his own portfolio; he could add to it, subtract from it, tell me why he did what he did,” said Owens, who is now a vice president at UBS Financial. “He would put together presentations, graphs, or performance numbers so they were ready for me when I met with clients.”
“In fact, if he couldn’t find work he would come to me and say, ‘Come on – give me something,’” Owens added.
Charlie Green was the clubhouse manager who oversaw Brady when he worked at the University of Michigan Golf Course during the summer of 1999.
“He worked in the pro shop as a cashier,” Green said. “He handled the customers and would take their money for when they paid for tee times or merchandise.”
Gunnar Dudlar served as the vice president of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Dudlar and Sons Custom Home Building, and was Brady’s boss when he worked for the company during the summer of 1997.
“There were days we were cleaning up a job site, or we were scrubbing bathrooms getting it ready for turnover to the owner,” Dudlar said. “Sometimes I had to leave Tom on the job site to superintend 60 to 100 guys when I had to go somewhere else and he could do it, no problem.”
Maybe Brady’s NFL stock would have been higher had Owens, Dudlar and Green been interviewed by scouts, coaches and front office executives prior to the 2000 NFL Draft.
“He was a real gentleman, very dependable and I could count on him for anything,” Green said. “When you work in the pro shop like Tommy did you’re kind of the face of the golf course. You need someone that is pleasant and outgoing and can deal with people.”
“He had all of those traits,” he said.
Dudlar said Brady could have been an MVP in construction had he gone in that direction.
“The work ethic he had and the quality of the job that he did was extremely helpful to me and our company,” Dudlar said. “A lot of times when you have new people start and you explain to them their task I would usually come back [to the job site] to about 75% of it done the right way. But with Tom, the job was always at least 95% or 100% done.”
“His attention to detail and quality is what I remember most about him,” Dudlar added.
Brady’s resume also includes experience as a park security manager at a summer festival in Ann Arbor during the summer of 1996, and as a sales representative and assistant clubhouse manager at another local golf course near the University of Michigan in 1998. But his longest stint of summer work – outside of football – was the internship he did for Merrill Lynch, the largest U.S. brokerage house at that time.
When asked about Brady, his old Merrill Lynch boss gushed like he was Bill Belichick talking about the historical significance of a Pro Bowl left-footed punter out of the Naval Academy.
“Everybody loved him,” Owens said. “He was personable, he respected people, the other interns were friends of his, and he was polite. You could tell he was from a good family.”
“I could talk about him all day,” Owens added. Then he told some more stories.
Honey, you were right
“Michigan was having a media day and Tom had been working for me for a couple of months by that point, so I took my wife and my three kids. Tom was taking pictures, so my wife says, ‘You should go get a picture with Tom,’ and I say, ‘No, that’s all right. We’ll get it later. It’s not a big deal.’ I ended up never going over for a picture and never got one, and my wife still gives me grief about that every time she sees him on television.”
Above and beyond
“My mom died in October of 1998 and Tom had only been with me a couple of months and I get this really nice note from him. He’s this 20-year-old kid writing, ‘I’m really sorry about your mom dying – I feel terrible. I’ve been kind of busy with football and I should have reached back out to you sooner.’ I don’t know any 20-year-old who would have been thinking like that. He was just so compassionate.”
Executives on the golf course
“I do remember playing golf with him a couple of times. Once he and I teamed up to play another broker and his intern, and we lost the match and Tom took all the blame. I remember he was really bummed out about it. I mean overly so. I was like, ‘It’s not that big of deal,’ but he took losing really hard.”
Before avocado ice cream
“A group of us would go down to lunch in the cafeteria and he would get like a chicken pita something and he would prepare it with a little pepper, a little salt, a little lemon. It was like by the time he was done preparing the thing we were done eating. His pregame preparation was unbelievable even then when he was just making a sandwich.”
At his press conference last week, Brady reflected back on those summer jobs before the Patriots left for Michigan to play the Lions in a preseason game.
“Those were good experiences when I was in Michigan in the summer. We were all just trying to afford our college experience. It was hard work,” he said. “I’ve said for a long time: working out and training really doesn’t feel like work to me. But I was pretty tired at the end of some of those days [working in Michigan].”
When you look back on his career, it is shocking that a guy who has won five Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVPs, two NFL MVPs, and led his team to an undefeated regular season record in the National Football League, was so overlooked as an NFL prospect.
What is not shocking is that Tom Brady was meticulously prepared for a scenario where football did not work out.
“I saved his job in the golf shop in case things ever fell through with the Patriots,” Charlie Green said before hanging up the phone.
Don’t worry, Mr. Green, Tom should be fine. His wife makes a lot of money.