FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has carried a chip on his shoulder since being the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. He has something else, too: his shoulder pads from the University of Michigan.
“I’ve worn them for 25 years,” he said.
That revelation, first made on the “Quick Slants” podcast on NBC Sports Boston, means Brady was wearing those shoulder pads in his Michigan debut before five of his current teammates were born.
The shoulder pads were first issued to him during his freshman year in 1995, and Brady was well into his third season wearing the “Douglas 25Ls” when cornerback Joejuan Williams, the Patriots’ second-round pick out of Vanderbilt this year, was born in December 1997.
The reason for the long-term marriage is simple.
“Once you find something you like, you stick with it,” Brady said.
This doesn’t surprise former Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk, who grew close to Brady from 1995 to 1999 and remains in contact with him today.
“Douglas was out of Houston, Texas, and if a kid wanted something special on his pads, I’d call down to them and they would custom make them,” Falk recalled. “I remember Tom wanted lighter epaulets and caps. He wanted to cover down into the chest area. I knew we had a special pad cut for that type of protection.”
Epaulets are the plastic pieces on top of the cap of the shoulder pads. Falk described the “Douglas 25L” as a “light pad, but with good protection.” That’s always been the balance with shoulder pads for quarterbacks.
Brady said he has experimented with other shoulder pads, but has always come back to what he wore at Michigan, mainly because he has gotten used to the shape and feel.
“It becomes a personal thing and you never want to mess with that. So as long as they’re happy, I’m happy,” said Falk, who retired as equipment manager in 2013 but has returned to the school as a special assistant to coach Jim Harbaugh. “Quarterbacks always want to get their arms up, so we had to get special caps on their shoulder pads, and special epaulets. They were smaller, so you could raise your arm up and the flexibility was just unbelievable.”
Brady’s white shoulder pads, which also have his No. 12 on them, wouldn’t have lasted this long without constant care. So they basically get reconditioned every year, which means they are sanitized, the padding protection is checked, and the plastic is monitored for any cracks.
In a sense, it’s like driving a 1995 vehicle, but with plenty of new parts and accessories.
Rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was born one year after Brady first started wearing the shoulder pads, said he can relate to Brady’s search for the right fit.
“I’m actually in a different shoulder pads now than I was in college. I felt like the ones I wore in college were a little too bulky for me,” Stidham said. “As a quarterback, you want to have as much mobility as possible — whether it’s up top with your neck or shoulder, whatever it is. So the ones I have here are a little bit smaller.”
Brady, 42, said the models of shoulder pads have changed notably over his playing career. His original pads also represent a link to Michigan — the alma mater that holds a special place in his heart — and Falk, who always told players a story that still resonates with Brady.
Falk used to tell players that he had 17 Big Ten championship rings and that his favorite was the next one.
“Tom loved that. So every time I’d walk into the locker room after practice, he’d go, ‘Big Johnny, which one’s your best ring?’ And I’d say, ‘Hey, Tom, you know my favorite ring is my next ring. That’s what I’m looking for — my next ring.’
“He picked that up, and every time he wins a Super Bowl, he’ll text me back and say, ‘Big Johnny, you taught me that. That’s the way I live.'”
For the next ring. In the same old shoulder pads.
It has been a good fit for Brady for nearly 25 years.