That Tom Brady wasn’t chosen until the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft is very common knowledge. Hut dwellers on the Mongolian edge of the Gobi Desert likely know about how 198 players were taken before a future Pro Hall of Fame quarterback from the University of Michigan.
But NFL scouts weren’t the first ones to underestimate Brady. Seattle Seahawks tight ends coach Pat McPherson was doing that in 1994.
Then a first-year assistant football coach at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, McPherson was vaguely familiar with Brady, a senior whose Serra High team was a West Coast Athletic League rival of Bellarmine’s.
“He was a good player, but known more as a baseball guy,” McPherson said of Brady, a catcher who’d go on to be selected by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round of the 1995 MLB draft.
A week before the Bellarmine-Serra game, McPherson watched Brady struggle to connect with his receivers in sloppy conditions.
“It was pouring rain, and he didn’t play very well,” McPherson said. “He just didn’t look very athletic, which I’m sure is not a surprise to a lot of people. I told myself, ‘We’ve got this guy. They’ve got two tall receivers we can cover man-to-man on and we’ll blitz the heck out of him.’ ”
McPherson’s scouting report, apparently, failed to account for the inclement weather.
“They came down on a beautiful night at San Jose Community College,” he said, “and they didn’t beat us by much, but they beat us because Brady was near-perfect: 23 for 26, something like that. He was throwing the ball all over the place and we couldn’t stop him.”
The comically mistaken perception of Brady as a nothing-special quarterback vulnerable to the blitz did not discourage McPherson from following the footsteps of his father, longtime San Francisco 49ers defensive coach Bill McPherson.
“It would become a really busy time for me because not only was I coaching at Bellarmine, I was teaching there, too,” he said. “Two nights a week, I was working on finishing my MBA at Santa Clara, and two other nights a week I was volunteer assistant for the 49ers, helping breaking down film with Bo Pelini.”
Pelini, the ex-Nebraska head coach now relocated at Youngstown State, had joined the 49ers as a quality control assistant for Pete Carroll, their new defensive coordinator. Carroll was between head coaching jobs himself — the New York Jets had fired him in 1994, and the New England Patriots hired him in 1997 — but acquired some loyal friends during his two years with San Francisco.
“My dad thinks the world of Pete,” McPherson said of his 83-year old father, a coach and scout over six decades. “Dad always has said, still to this day, that the most fun he’s ever had coaching with a guy was with Pete.
“He makes your qualify of life at work better. He’s always got a ton of energy, always generating new ideas and thoughts.”
McPherson learned how to break down film on both sides of the ball, and turned his voluntary role with the 49ers into the job of a full-time assistant for the Broncos. During the relaxed phase of pregame warmups before a Denver-New England game, McPherson approached Brady.
“He didn’t know me from Adam,” McPherson said, “but I mentioned I’d coached at Bellarmine and had followed his career and was proud that he’s an alum of our high school conference. It was pretty cool.”
There won’t be any similarly casual conversations Sunday, when Brady will tie a Super Bowl record — held by Mike Lodish, a former Bills and Broncos defensive tackle — for most Super Bowl appearances by a player, with six.
In five previous Super Bowls, Brady has won three games and been honored as the MVP of two of them. He’s an all-time great who proved, 20 years ago, that initial impressions taken from a poor performance on a muddy field require a second opinion.
It’s a difficult gig, scouting.
Fred Astaire’s first screen test was graded with a terse evaluation suggesting he should go home to Nebraska.
“Can’t act,” it read, “can dance a little.”