Brady vs. Brees: A look back at their B1G 'rivalry'
Tom Brady and Drew Brees. “Tampa Tom” and “Breesus.” A six-time Super Bowl champion and the author of the NFL’s record book.
Sunday, Brady and Brees begin the latest chapter of their novel-like NFL careers, both writing the final pages on what has been a pair of Hall of Fame careers. They’ll be the talk of Week 1 in the league, as the two new division rivals go head to head to open the 2020 season with Tampa Bay traveling to New Orleans.
It’s a showdown between two of most successful quarterbacks the league has ever seen. And, in a way, it’s fitting that they could be ending their professional careers in the same division.
After all, they both came out of the same conference 20 years ago — Brady playing at Michigan while Brees spent his career at Purdue. Little did we know two decades ago an NFL season would be highlighted by a pair of the greatest passers in history.
Before Brady and Brees transformed the NFL, they shared the B1G together. At the time, they couldn’t have been more different. Two different approaches, two different experiences and two completely different players.
Both yielded successful results.
Over 20 years ago, Brady and Brees were getting their first taste of major college football. So before the two meet on the field to start the 2020 season on Sunday afternoon, let’s hop in the time machine and take a look back at the college “rivalry” the two quarterbacks developed in their B1G days.
The B1G background on Brady and Brees
That’s the year the story begins for two of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of football. It was that season that Brady and Brees won the starting jobs at Michigan and Purdue, respectively. Brady was replacing Brian Griese, who had just led the Wolverines to a perfect season and a shared national championship. Meanwhile, Brees was the prodigy in an exciting, out-of-the-ordinary, pass-heavy offense that head coach Joe Tiller was hoping would put the Boilermakers on the map.
Neither Brady nor Brees started their college careers the way they had hoped. Both Michigan and Purdue lost their season openers that year, the Wolverines falling to rival Notre Dame and the Boilermakers dropping a game to USC.
It didn’t stop there, either. Michigan lost the first two games of the year before finally rattling off eight-straight wins between Sept. 19 and Nov. 14 and proving it hadn’t lost all the magic from that championship season in 1997. Purdue opened the year with a 3-4 record in its first seven games, but ended the year with six-straight victories.
Michigan finished the season 10-3 and Purdue was 9-4. While the records from the 1998 season were similar, the numbers posted by Brady and Brees couldn’t have been more different.
Brady’s first season under center in Ann Arbor could be labeled as modest. He threw for 2,427 yards and 14 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Brady was credited with 323 passes on the year, completing those at a a 61.9 percent clip.
That year, Michigan’s success primarily came on the defensive end. The Wolverines only hit the 30-point barrier three times in the 13-game season. Brady hadn’t done much to separate himself from the rest of the quarterbacks in the B1G.
Brees’ story in West Lafayette was much different. The sophomore threw an eye-popping 569 passes and still hit his targets with better than 63 percent accuracy. He piled up 3,983 yards and 39 touchdowns through the air, though he did struggle with turnovers, tossing 20 picks.
Even with the blunders, allowing Brees to throw until he couldn’t lift his arm any longer was the method that worked at Purdue. The Boilermakers were a perfect 7-0 when they scored at least 35 points in 1998 and averaged over 41 points per game during that six-game winning streak to close the year.
Brees was the B1G Offensive Player of the Year after a big year and catapulting Purdue into college football’s national spotlight. Brady, after a run-of-the-mill season, wasn’t receiving much attention outside the city limits of Ann Arbor.
October 2, 1999: A Top 10 showdown
As different as Brady and Brees were in terms of style, the team success the two enjoyed was incredibly similar through their first 17 starts. Purdue was off to a 4-0 start in the 1999 season, putting the Boilermakers’ win streak at 10 games (dating back to 1998) and bringing Brees’ record to 13-4 as a starting quarterback in the B1G. Brady also guided Michigan to wins in each of the first four games that season, giving him a 14-3 mark under center.
The early-season success of both Purdue and Michigan set up a Top 10 clash in Ann Arbor. The Boilers were ranked No. 10 nationally, while the Wolverines were six spots ahead at No. 4.
Game No. 18, for both Brady and Brees came against each other.
A soggy October afternoon in Ann Arbor was the backdrop for the 1999 showdown between Brady and Brees, the only head-to-head matchup between the two quarterbacks in college. It was an opportunity for both Michigan and Purdue to get an early advantage in the race for a B1G title.
Though Purdue struck first, forcing a fumble on Michigan’s first offensive possession and opening the game with a 3-0 lead on the leg of Travis Dorsch, it was the Wolverines’ afternoon.
Michigan scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, both were strikes from Brady. First, he hit David Terrell for an 18-yard strike and followed it with a 17-yard completion to Marcus Knight to take a 14-3 advantage.
Trailing 21-6 at halftime, Brees gave the Boilermakers some life early in the second half, finding Vinny Sutherland for a 66-yard touchdown pass to make the score 21-12. But it was Brees’ only touchdown passes of the game as Michigan would find paydirt twice more and would coast to a 38-12 victory.
Brady got the best of Brees on that Saturday afternoon. Brady ended the game completing 15-of-25 passes for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns as Michigan improved 5-0. Brees completed just 20-of-49 attempts for 293 yards, a touchdowns and 2 interceptions with Purdue suffering its first loss of the season.
As fate would have it, Purdue’s 26-point loss to Michigan was the worst defeat it suffered with Brees as the starting quarterback.
Michigan went on to finish the season with a 10-2 record and make an appearance in the Orange Bowl, where it defeated Alabama 35-34 in an overtime thriller. Purdue ended the year with a 7-5 record and lost to Georgia in overtime 28-25.
Two QBs, two stories of college success
The 1999 season was Brady’s final at the college level and it ended in remarkable fashion. He threw for 369 yards and 4 touchdowns in the Orange Bowl, including the game-winning score in overtime, overcoming a 28-14 deficit to Alabama in the second half.
Brady would be selected in the sixth-round of the 2000 NFL Draft, going No. 199 overall to New England.
Brees still had one year ahead of him at Purdue, and his career also ended on a high note. While he didn’t have that triumphant final performance to close out his time with the Boilers, Brees did lead Purdue to a Rose Bowl berth following the 2000 campaign after winning the B1G. It was the program’s first trip to Pasadena since 1967.
In the 2001 NFL Draft, Brees was selected in the second round with the No. 32 pick by the San Diego Chargers.
Success can be measured in a number of ways on the field, and the college careers of Brady and Brees are prime examples.
Brady never earned All-B1G honors, wasn’t a B1G record-breaking quarterback and never received the postseason recognition that many expect from the premier players at the college level. Instead, Brady posted a 20-5 record as Michigan’s starter, throwing for 4,773 yards and 30 touchdowns during his two seasons under center.
Nowadays, we’d probably refer to Brady as the ultimate “game manager.”
That was far from the case for Brees. The Purdue quarterback was a three-time All-B1G selection, earning first-team honors in 1999 and 2000. He was a two-time winner of the B1G Offensive Player of the Year Award, the Maxwell Award recipient (2000), a Heisman Trophy finalist and rewrote the conference’s record book in the passing categories.
Brees ended his career with the Boilers with 13 B1G passing records, piling up 11,792 passing yards, 90 passing touchdowns and a 61.1 career passing percentage. Purdue was 24-13 with Brees under center.
During their college careers, Brady was the trusty family car that got Michigan from Point A to Point B without any mechanical issues. No flash, no frills, he just got the job done. Brees was the flashy Corvette that caught the attention of everyone driving on the highway.
Both styles worked in the B1G. And since leaving the college game, both have enjoyed NFL careers that have spanned across two decades. When their professional careers come to an end, Brady and Brees will have just one more stop to make in their football journey.
The Hall of Fame.