Wondering “what if” is a unrewarding and futile process when it comes to reflecting on team’s drafting strategies.
But that still doesn’t negate the fact that the 49ers will come face-to-face with perhaps their biggest quarterback blunder in recent history on Sunday.
We all know the story of how the 49ers passed over the local kid from Cal in Aaron Rodgers, selecting Alex Smith with the first overall pick in 2005 instead.
But for as great as Rodgers has been in his career, that feat may pale in comparison to San Francisco glossing over a different Bay Area native, one who has been put in the conversation along the all-time greats of the game-Tom Brady.
To be fair to San Francisco, every team in the NFL passed over Brady at least five times before he was finally selected by the Patriots with the 199th overall pick in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. At the time, no one wanted to take a chance on the out-of-shape kid from Michigan, who had just two years of starting duties under his belt.
But the Patriots used a regularly unproductive sixth-rounder to select the quarterback, and Brady has since led his team to four Super Bowl wins while notching three Super Bowl MVP’s, two NFL MVP’s, 11 Pro Bowl selections and a place in the history book.
On Sunday, Brady comes home to the place where he was born into a family of 49er Faithful to make his first career start against San Francisco. And while Brady has to be counting his blessings that he’s been part of an organization like New England, far away from the dysfunction of Santa Clara, the quarterback was still nostalgic about returning to his roots.
“I may never get the opportunity again, so it’s nice to have all the support, and I’ve had a lot from the Bay Area over the years. My high school, my elementary school, and I still have so many friends from growing up and coaches, my family, my aunts and uncles, cousins. It will just be a lot of fun to be out there. “
“Out there” won’t be the same field that the New England quarterback grew up with however. A young Brady used to watch all-time greats like Joe Montana, Steve Young and Jerry Rice do battle at Candlestick Park.
Brady was even present at the game when receiver Dwight Clark caught the infamous pass from Montana now dubbed as “the catch.”
“It was just a great – I remember we were on the opposite side of the stadium, and I started crying when everyone jumped up and screamed at the end when Dwight [Clark] made the catch. I still have those memories.”
Now, Brady will try to create a new memory in front of his family and friends as he looks for his 177th career win against a depleted 49ers team that hardly resembles the 49ers’ dynasty of his youth.
When he steps onto the Santa Clara field, no amounts of “what ifs” will change the color of Brady’s uniform, nor will it likely give him any pause in wondering about the trajectory of his career after a wildly successful 16 years in the NFL.
“I’ll never forget I worked out for the 49ers when I was coming out in 2000. They obviously went in a different direction and I’m very happy where I ended up. I think I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the Patriots. I’ve played with so many great players over the years and I’ve played for, I feel, the best head coach ever, some great assistant coaches and teammates that have committed everything to help us win.”
Still, on Sunday you’ll likely be hard pressed not to wonder what the trajectory of the 49ers might have been had they taken a chance on the local kid back in 2000.
Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.