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What’s a 42-year-old Tom Brady’s Secret Weapon? His Resiliency.

As six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady enters his 20th season, there are hardly any accolades and achievements left for Brady to win, any praise left for him to hear. Yet many people fail to understand why Brady has been so great for so long. It doesn’t have to do with his athleticism — he’s very limited in that department. It also doesn’t stem from being surrounded by elite talent — just look at the ragtag receiving corps that fills out the Patriots depth chart each year.

No, Brady’s incredible run over the past two decades can (largely) be attributed to one thing: resiliency.

And to understand where this resiliency and mettle was forged, you need to understand his collegiate experience at the University of Michigan.

The University of Michigan

What many people remember about Tom Brady’s time at Michigan was the thrilling, come-from-behind 2000 Orange Bowl victory over Alabama. But becoming a starter and team captain wasn’t always in the cards.

-In 1995, Brady, sixth on the Michigan depth chart, redshirted when two-thirds of the coaches that recruited him to Ann Arbor left the program.

-His first collegiate pass went for a pick-six.

-He threw just 20 passes in his first two seasons at Michigan.

-As a junior, Brady was named the starter but still needed to beat out freshman sensation and Michigan local Drew Henson.

But Brady remained poised and confident.

“The hype ends today when the doors close and everyone leaves,” Brady told Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News prior to the 1998 season. “To be the best, you have to beat out the best. I’ve fought long and hard to be in this position, and I don’t plan to give it up.”

Tom Bradly and Jason Kapner of the Michigan Wolverines celebrate after winning the Orange Bowl Game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. The Wolverines defeated the Crimson Tide 35-34

Image by Eliot J. Schechter/Allspor

As a senior, Brady once again had to beat out Henson. Despite winning the job and being named captain, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr opted to platoon Henson and Brady. Each time Brady was removed for Henson, Michigan Stadium would erupt with cheers.

This comical rotation lasted until midseason when Brady was named the permanent starter. As the established starter, Brady led Michigan to multiple stunning wins and capped off his senior year with a victory over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

But his body of work was limited and his combine was laughable.  Thus, Brady plummeted to the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft.

The New England Patriots

When meeting Patriots owner Robert Kraft for the first time, Brady confidently said, “I’m the best decision this organization has ever made.”

As a sixth-round pick, there was a lot of work to be done.

By the 2001 season, Brady clawed his way to second on the depth chart. In the second game of the 2001 season, incumbent starter Drew Bledsoe suffered internal bleeding following a big hit and was sidelined indefinitely. Second-year quarterback Tom Brady, who had one NFL completion to his name, was thrust into the starting role. You know how the rest of this story goes, at least on the surface.

Because without his resiliency, Brady’s NFL résumé would look wildly different.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight

Now, let’s find out why.

-2007: Brady leads the Patriots to the NFL’s only 16-0 regular season and wins the MVP award. In the Super Bowl, the Patriots, the overwhelming favorites, succumbed to the Giants 17-14 thanks to a ridiculous David Tyree catch and a few other fluke plays. Their perfect season ends in shocking fashion.

-2008: Time to bounce back from a devastating defeat, right? Wrong. In the first game of the 2008 season, Brady tears his ACL and MCL. Moving on from the nightmare loss in Super Bowl 42 will have to wait another year.

-2011: The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl playing the New York Giants. The perfect opportunity to avenge their imperfect 2007 defeat presents itself, but much like their first matchup, New York’s defense stifles Tom Brady and Co. The Pats lose Super Bowl 46 21-17. 

tom brady super bowl

Image by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Now Brady has lost two Super Bowls to a below-average quarterback. Questions loom as to whether or not Brady can win the big game again.

-2012: Brady leads the Patriots back to the AFC championship game only to lose 28-13 to the Baltimore Ravens.

-2013: Once again, Tom Brady and the Patriots find themselves in the AFC championship game. And once again, they lose, this time to Denver by a final score of 26-16.

Back on top

So how does Brady bounce back from a Super Bowl loss and consecutive AFC championship game defeats? By leading the Patriots to Super Bowl 49, executing a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback, and capturing his third Super Bowl MVP award, all over the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks.

But Brady wouldn’t remain on top for long.

Deflategate, crushing defeat

-2015: Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, Brady’s name gets dragged through the mud with the Deflategate controversy. That doesn’t stop the Pats from reaching the AFC championship game, where they lose to Denver by just two points.

-2016: Tom Brady shakes off the prior season’s AFC championship game loss and leads the Patriots to Super Bowl 51. In that game, things look bleak as New England find themselves in a 28-3 hole midway through the third quarter. Brady, the resilient star that he is, brushes off the deficit and leads the Patriots to 25 unanswered points. In overtime, the Pats win the coin toss and subsequently the game, with Brady collecting his fifth ring and fourth Super Bowl MVP award.

-2017: Back in the Super Bowl, Brady puts on the greatest Super Bowl performance in history by throwing for a record 505 yards. However, the Eagles would ultimately hang on to win 41-33. The crushing defeat is punctuated by Brady’s loss to a backup (Nick Foles), his dropped pass on a trick play and a late strip-sack. The loss also put Brady on a dubious list of starting quarterbacks to lose three Super Bowls.

The sixth ring

-2018: How does an aging quarterback follow up another crushing Super Bowl defeat? By rallying the troops in the AFC championship against league-MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, scoring clutch points when it mattered most, and guiding the team to another Super Bowl appearance and victory, this time against the Rams. In the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, Brady connected on a few clutch throws late in the game to give the Pats a 13-3 win. The victory, Brady’s sixth, is an NFL record.

tom brady super bowl

Image by Al Bello/Getty Images

On the surface, Brady’s illustrious career can be defined by his rings, trophies, and status as the GOAT. But beneath the shine and luster of Lombardi trophies is an unquenchable thirst to win and a resilient attitude that can’t be pinned down. Say what you want about Brady, but his ability to bounce back and shake off defeat is second to none.