TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans, where were you on September 23, 2001? If you're like most of us, you probably can't remember. But, that date marked the beginning of an incredible journey for a sixth-round draft pick who now leads the Bucs and is the greatest quarterback in NFL history.
September 23, 2001, was the first week of games after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and plenty of emotion filled the stadium. It was late in the fourth quarter of a tight game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
With a little more than five minutes to go in the game, Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who had taken the team to the Super Bowl a few years before, dropped back to pass.
As Bledsoe's offensive line began to collapse, he rolled out to his right and began to scramble. Bledsoe, who was not a running quarterback, escaped the initial pressure and was running for the first down marker. As Bledsoe ran, New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis was crossing the field to stop him.
Lewis and Bledsoe met just short of the first down marker. The linebacker used his shoulder to level Bledsoe who was hit just under his left, non-throwing shoulder. As Jets players celebrated the stop, Bledsoe laid on the ground as his teammates gathered around him.
After a minute or two on the ground, Bledsoe was able to get up and make it to the bench under his own power. With Bledsoe injured, the focus of the Patriots and their fan base turned to a sixth-round draft pick named Tom Brady.
Years later, Brady described the hit as, "the loudest hit I could ever remember hearing," in an interview with NFL.com. Brady said Bledsoe's facemask was smashed by the hit. Amazingly, Bledsoe came back into the game until head coach Bill Belichick pulled him with 2:16 left in the game.
Brady went into the game but wasn't able to pull out a victory that day. But the focus that day was on Bledsoe.
The team doctors noticed something was off and put him in an ambulance to a local hospital. It was a good thing too, Bledsoe had torn one of the blood vessels behind his rib and it was a life-threatening injury. Doctors saved Bledsoe and he would return to the team.
With Bledsoe on the shelf, Brady took over and led the Patriots to an 11-3 record that season and eventually to a Super Bowl victory over the Rams.
Brady has gone on to become the greatest quarterback in NFL history with countless Super Bowl wins with his first-team the New England Patriots and now with the Buccaneers. After the Super Bowl victory, Bledsoe left the Patriots and joined the Buffalo Bills where he played until 2005 when he joined the Dallas Cowboys. Lewis played just two more years after the hit, ending his career after the 2003 season.
And it all started with one hit that took place 20 years ago Thursday.