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Tom Brady, facing first Ohio State QB in NFL, sneaks in subtle shot at Buckeyes

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They say the great athletes can find motivation in the smallest, least significant of places — Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, LeBron James and so on.

Tom Brady definitely fits that category. And when his rival college is mentioned, it's as easy a lob as a screen pass is for the future Hall of Fame quarterback.

This week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face the Chicago Bears. Brady has gone against them six times in his career, including last season. But this will be the first time that the Michigan grad will face an Ohio State quarterback as the opposing team's starter in his 22-year NFL career when he faces the Bears' Justin Fields on Sunday.

Asked about this fact, Brady took a measured response at first.

"I don't want to say anything too inflammatory about Ohio State," Brady said. "When it's Michigan State week, those are the guys I can kind of go after."

(Michigan plays Michigan State in two weeks. The Wolverines first host Northwestern on Saturday, and Brady clearly wasn't in a punching-down mood.)

But with Ohio State, Brady couldn't resist for too long. Instead, he threw a question back at the questioner.

"That's interesting," Brady mused, with a sly smile. "Why aren't there a lot of Ohio State quarterbacks in the pros? Lot of Michigan guys over the years but not a lot of Ohio State guys."

And that's all he needed to say. Rhetorically or not, Brady got his point across loudly and clearly.

Since Brady entered the NFL in 2000, six different former Buckeyes QBs have started a total of 45 games. (One of them, Terrelle Pryor, started 10 games at QB and 20 more at wide receiver.) 

In that same time period, a total of seven non-Brady Wolverines quarterbacks alone have started 164 NFL games. 

Fields, the Buckeyes' QB in 2019 and 2020 and the 11th pick in the 2021 NFL draft, will be making his fifth NFL start with the Bears. For Brady, it will be his 306th career start with the Patriots and Bucs. (And when Fields was born, Brady was in spring practice his senior season for the Wolverines. When Brady won his first Super Bowl, Fields was 30 days shy of his third birthday.)

So the NFL starts tracker since 2000 currently reads as such: Michigan QBs 469, Buckeyes QBs 45. That's dominance.

Tom Brady and Michigan beat Ohio State in this 1998 game, but the Buckeyes have dominated the series the past two decades. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Tom Brady and Michigan beat Ohio State in this 1998 game, but the Buckeyes have dominated the series the past two decades. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

But notice Brady didn't mention the actual schools going head to head in, you know, college football. This clearly would be any self-respecting Buckeye fan's retort to Brady's comments.

Brady can claim all-time bragging rights if he wanted to — Michigan leads the series, 58-51-6. He also can rightly boast of his team's 4-1 record against OSU during Brady's five years in Ann Arbor. 

Yet the recent results have been beyond the pale for any Wolverines supporter. The Buckeyes have won eight straight games in the rivalry dating back to 2012, with the Buckeyes outscoring Michigan by a cumulative count of 331-216, and 15 of the past 16 meetings.

Even so, it's clear that Brady hasn't lost his edge when it comes to using his enemies as motivation. Even if his context is a bit flimsy.