ANN ARBOR, Mich. — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady landed in Michigan last night to see his alma mater play a football game for the first time since he left school as a sixth-round draft pick almost two decades ago.
Brady made a pit stop at the Big House on Friday night to play a quick game of catch with his son before heading to the Campus Inn to speak to the current Michigan team ahead of their Saturday matchup with Colorado.
Wolverines have been treated to a list of guest speakers this season that would make the fanciest corporate retreat organizers cringe with envy. Brady follows Rich Eisen, Derek Jeter and Michael Jordan as guests of honor on the Michigan Stadium sideline through the first three weeks of the season.
“I try to surround myself with the most evolved human beings I can,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said earlier this summer.
Harbaugh has a track record of cultivating friendships with leaders in a wide variety of fields — from Larry the Cable Guy to his visit last summer with some justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. Before Brady was the athletic headliner this week, billionaire video game developer Bobby Kotick was scheduled to be the team’s honorary captain for this weekend’s game. A long string of Harbaugh’s contacts has visited Ann Arbor since he arrived to coach his alma mater less than two years ago.
Players say the chance to tap into the minds of famous athletes and incredibly successful professionals has been a unique experience that they don’t take for granted. Jordan, who helped make Michigan the first football program to wear his Jumpman brand apparel, answered questions from players for nearly an hour on the night before their season-opening win against Hawaii.
Freshman Chris Evans got a chance to ask Jordan about his performance in the “flu game” during the 1997 NBA Finals. The next day, Evans made his college debut by rushing for a pair of touchdowns and a game-high 112 yards.
“He told me the love for the game (was more important) than the sickness and everything else. He did it for his teammates,” Evans said.
Harbaugh said he has periodically kept in touch with Jordan since the two struck up a relationship while working on Michigan’s new apparel deal.
“I look at Michael Jordan as one of humanity’s most evolved human beings of all time,” he said in August. “The chance to be on a team with Michael Jordan, to share a sideline … that was something that was going to be a win all the way.”
He feels the same way about this week’s honorary captain. Brady first connected with Harbaugh this past winter when he invited the four-time Super Bowl champ to be part of “Signing of the Stars” a two-hour extravaganza to welcome Michigan’s new recruiting class that was streamed live on Derek Jeter’s website. Brady joined a guest list that day that included Ric Flair, the rap duo Migos and Lou Holtz, among many others.
His day job has kept Brady from visiting campus during the last 16 seasons with the Patriots, but a four-week suspension to start the season opened up his calendar this September. Harbaugh reached out to his fellow quarterback this summer after Brady dropped his appeal of the suspension. The two had a phone call and Brady told Harbaugh he’d be happy to attend if it would help Michigan.
The complete list of this season’s special guests hasn’t been finalized, or at least not publicly. Brady and Jordan will be tough to top, but a visit from Hank Aaron on Oct. 22 will keep all eyes on Harbaugh’s Michigan for the foreseeable future.