When guard Steve Hutchinson was a senior at the University of Michigan, he was one of the team’s three captains — sharing that position with a nose tackle you probably haven’t heard of and a quarterback you probably have.
Hutchinson, a 2018 candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a four-year starter at Michigan and four-time All-Big Ten choice. But Brady … well, as Hutchinson put it, he “kind of flew under the radar” at Michigan, not winning a starting job until his junior season.
Then he went 20-5.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t considered extraordinary by NFL scouts, lasting until the sixth round of the 2000 draft before the Patriots came to his rescue. The rest, of course, we hope you know.
Brady is one of the greatest surprises in NFL history, but Hutchinson insists that his success in the pros is no surprise to him or Brady’s Michigan teammates. In fact, he said, he had a feeling while at Ann Arbor that Brady might amount to something special — and it wasn’t because of his play during a Michigan win; it was because of his play in defeat.
Worse, it was a 1998 defeat to arch-rival Ohio State, Hutchinson’s only loss to the Buckeyes in his four years at Michigan.
“I’m telling you guys,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “if you dig it up … I can’t remember when or where … but I was asked in an interview on camera a long time ago about Brady and will he make it in the NFL. Obviously, this was before he became what he is today.
“Actually, it might have been during the time he was getting ready to get drafted or during his rookie year, and I said, ‘Man, this guy is tough. He’s a leader. He’s a natural leader. He’s going to go far.’
“Did I think he was going to be probably the best quarterback to ever play the game? I don’t know that I would roll the dice on that deal, but we knew it all along at Michigan.”
And that’s where the Ohio State game comes in. The Buckeyes won their first eight games of 1998 and were ranked No. 1 in the country before dropping a 28-24 decision in Columbus to Michigan State. Michigan was their next home opponent, and the Wolverines not only were the defending national champions– sharing that honor in 1997 with Notre Dame — but they’d beaten the Buckeyes the year before, ending a five-game winning streak.
So this was payback time.
“I got to brag when I can,” said Hutchinson, “especially in the last decade or so, but I was 3-1 against Ohio State, my record in my time at Michigan, and the one time we did lose Brady was the quarterback, and we played down in Columbus.
“We had a horrible first quarter. We dug a hole that we couldn’t get out of. I think we had a punt returned for a touchdown by them. There was a pick-6, maybe, or a fumble. It might’ve been two special teams touchdowns returned by them. So they were up big early.”
Well, not exactly, but close.
With Ohio State up 7-0 early, Michigan punter Jason Vinson fumbled a snap before getting off a wobbly kick that failed to cross the line of scrimmage. That put Ohio State in business, first-and-10 at the Michigan 16, and it wasn’t long before the Buckeyes ran their lead to 14-0.
That jumped to 21-3 on another special teams gaffe, this time with Ohio State blocking a Vinson punt and recovering at the Wolverines’ 20 — and no need to draw a picture for you. It was an uphill battle all afternoon for Michigan, with Brady forced to throw 56 times in a 31-16 defeat.
“That stadium was rocking,” said Hutchinson, “and they were not going to let up. They were blitzing more than we could block every down, making us throw the ball. They were going to make us come back and win with the ball in the air, and they were hitting Brady so hard that he was bleeding.
“And I remember one time in the third or fourth quarter, we got in the huddle and there was blood running down Tom’s face from his nose … I don’t know if he got hit in the lip or what. I just remember staring at him and (thinking), ‘This guy … it’s not even fazing him. He’s calling plays, (and) he’s out there like we’re ahead by two scores.’
“I knew then and there that this guy’s got whatever that ‘It Factor’ is (that) people talk about. So it was no surprise to me or anybody else in that huddle that he is what he is today.”