On Sunday, Drew Brees and Tom Brady pursue Super Bowl berths for the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, respectively.
Something new, that isn’t. Brady has quarterbacked the Patriots to five Super Bowl wins and eight AFC titles. Brees QB’d the Saints to the championship nine seasons ago. Brees is second to Peyton Manning’s 538 on the all-time NFL touchdown passes list with 520. Brady is third with 517.
Oh, both beat Iowa in 1998. When many players on the current Hawkeyes team were yet to be born. Everyone else who appeared in those two games is done playing. Many were done by the turn of the century. But 41-year-old Brady and 40-year-old Brees keep adding to their lengthy football resumes.
“It’s a testament to how they take care of their bodies,” said Eric Thigpen, a territory business manager for Bristol-Myers Squibb in Iowa City.
“I think it’s just amazing they’ve done it so well for so long,” said Tarig Holman, the head football coach at Neptune (N.J.) High School on the Jersey Shore. “Drew Brees is a future Hall of Famer. I used to say no one was better than Joe Montana, but Tom Brady is the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time).”
Iowa cornerback Holman intercepted then-junior Brady twice in the first quarter of Michigan’s 12-9 win over the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 3, 1998. Iowa safety Thigpen picked off a pass by then-sophomore Brees in Purdue’s 36-14 victory over the Hawkeyes at Purdue four weeks later, and also returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Michigan went on to a 10-3 season, and Purdue went 9-4. The Boilermakers upset No. 4 Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl. Iowa went 3-8 in the final year of Hayden Fry’s 20-year Iowa career. But at least the team had two brushes with future greatness.
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The Michigan game was a defensive battle on a rainy day. The Wolverines fumbled away a punt early in the game. Brady threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets, but then got intercepted twice by Holman before the quarter was over.
The first went through the hands of receiver Marcus Knight and into Holman’s with 3:55 left in the period.
“This definitely was not Brady’s fault,” ABC play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger insisted.
The second was. Brady overthrew a long sideline pass for Streets. Holman grabbed it with 14 seconds left in the quarter.
“Tom Brady’s from San Mateo, California, and this is his first taste of Big Ten fall weather and he’s thrown a couple ducks out there,” said ABC analyst Dan Fouts. “This ball is poorly thrown and it’s probably a little bit wet.
“Perfect coverage by Holman.”
However, Iowa mustered just nine yards of offense in the quarter and 159 in the game, and Brady’s first-quarter TD pass was the only touchdown of the game.
“Brady was one of those guys that there was nothing special about him,” Thigpen said, “but he just did what he was supposed to do and he managed the game as a quarterback.
Brady completed 14 of 24 passes for 146 yards that day. His season totals were 14 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions. As a senior who didn’t play against Iowa, he had 16 TD passes, 6 INTs. Then he was a sixth-round draft pick of New England in the 2000 NFL draft. You know the rest.
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The Hawkeyes didn’t play Purdue in 1999 or 2000, so their only game against Brees was when he was a sophomore in Joe Tiller’s spread offense. What a soph he was, with 39 TD passes and 3,983 passing yards on the way to 90 and 11,792 in his college career.
Brees threw three scoring passes in the first half to stake Purdue to a 19-0 halftime lead over Iowa, and the Boilermakers cruised. Brees had 31 completions in 44 attempts for 362 yards and four TDs. He was picked off twice, by Jeff Kramer and Thigpen.
“It was me just doing my job,” Thigpen said. “At the time, I didn’t think much into intercepting Drew Brees. I was doing what I was taught.”
Each year, some people learn Holman and Thigpen intercepted Brady and Brees in college and ask them about it. Holman doesn’t bring it up, but his Neptune Scarlet Fliers players know.
“This time of year I’ll get calls about it,” Holman said. “Every year, someone kind of figures it out. My daughter is 10 and my son is 8. They understand a little bit now. They see Daddy’s old films on YouTube. They laugh and say ‘Look, you used to play.’”
Thigpen has a 13-year-old son who once gave him a hard time about football.
“He’d say ‘There’s no way you were that good.’ ” Thigpen said, laughing. “But he came across a couple of DVDs of me playing and he pulled out that particular game (against Purdue). He was so excited.
“‘Is that the Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints? You picked off Drew Brees?’
“But I would trade an interception of Drew Brees for a victory any day.”
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