Tom Brady’s NFL journey began in earnest on September 23, 2001.
In the fourth quarter of a regular season game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe scrambled downfield with the team trailing New York 10-3. As Bledsoe reached the sideline he was blasted by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. The hit knocked Bledsoe out of the game, causing internal bleeding that required a trip to the hospital.
The QB who was drafted first overall, and had led the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXI, was out.
Brady was tasked with filling his shoes.
Of course, you know how that story ends. Brady would go on to lead the Patriots to Super Bowl XXXVI that season, albeit with a Bledsoe cameo against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. That sparked two different dynasties in New England, and when all was said and done Brady had more than filled those shoes, leading the Patriots to six different Super Bowl titles.
Now for the second time, Brady has big shoes to fill. Only they are not the cleats of Bledsoe, but rather the loafers of Greg Olsen, high above the stadium.
Back in 2022 Brady signed a massive 10-year, $375 million deal with FOX Sports to step into the broadcast booth once his playing days were done. That deal was put on hold twice, first as Brady wound down his career in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers, and again ahead of last season as the now-retired quarterback indicated he would start calling games in the fall of 2024.
In the meantime, the games go on, and so too do the broadcasts. As his own playing days wound down Greg Olsen, the tight end who was drafted by the Chicago Bears but spent the bulk of his career with the Carolina Panthers before joining the Seattle Seahawks, would appear on FOX broadcasts during bye weeks. He joined the network full time as an analyst for the 2021 season, and when Joe Buck and Troy Aikman left the network to take over Monday Night Football for the 2022 season FOX promoted Olsen and Kevin Burkhardt to the top spot.
Over the past two seasons the pair has done a tremendous job, and Olsen’s insight as an analyst was on full display in the NFC Championship Game. If that was indeed his last game as part of the top duo at FOX, it was a masterful performance.
Early in the game Olsen highlighted how the San Francisco 49ers defense had been susceptible to the run all season long, a fact that was playing out at the start of the contest as the Detroit Lions put together an impressive scoring drive to open the game, that leaned heavily on the run.
As the Lions tried desperately to claw back at the end of the game, Olsen did a tremendous job at highlighting how Detroit needed to manage the clock. His insight was critical when the Lions made a curious decision to try and run the football on a third down near the goal line, and were forced to use their first time out when that play was stuffed.
On a consequential fourth-down play from Detroit, Olsen pointed out in real time how the 49ers baited Jared Goff into thinking they were in man coverage. Goff, as Olsen outlined, checked into a mesh concept, a route combination designed to attack man coverage. But when the 49ers dropped into zone, Goff had few options.
In addition, Olsen has been one of a handful of analysts who not only discusses the role of analytics in decision-making, but leans into the importance of coaches having additional data points when making decisions during a game. Both during broadcasts, and then during the week on social media, Olsen has talked about how analytics have a role in the sport.
This is just further proof how vital it is that announcers continue to educate the viewers on the current approach to NFL football.
It isn’t announcers being “lazy”. It’s the way the game is being played and is here to stay. The game evolves. Not sure why people push back? https://t.co/X174e5wA6W
— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) January 23, 2024
Olsen has been, at least in one person’s opinion, fantastic in the booth. It is an opinion that has been shared by many in the wake of Sunday’s game. And while FOX has not yet announced their plans for the 2024 season, given the huge contract given to Brady, there is every expectation that he will slide into the seat next to Burkhardt, leaving Olsen looking at the number-two spot.
Something that Olsen has discussed in the past.
“I knew very well what I was signing up for,” Olsen told The Athletic earlier this year. “I’ve always said I’m a big boy. I understand the rules of engagement. … All I can do is try to be as good as humanly possible and make it very difficult [for FOX Sports management]. I’ve said to [FOX Sports executive producer] Brad Zager and [FOX Sports chairman] Eric Shanks kind of in jest and in humor over a beer — ‘I’m going to make it really hard on you guys.’ I’d be doing those guys a disservice and I’m doing myself and my team a disservice if I went into it half-assed that I’m just a placeholder until [Tom] Brady comes in and takes my spot. That’s not in anyone’s best interest.”
Olsen even seemed to indicate as much on social media after the huge ratings for the NFC Championship Game were released:
If indeed that was his last game in the top spot at FOX, it was another masterful performance for Olsen.
Meaning that yet again, Brady has huge shoes to fill.
Will he be up to the task? If past is prologue, he just might.