Jason Kapsner was excited on Tuesday. He was getting outdoors, finally, in the Minneapolis area to play golf with a buddy after courses opened in the state last Saturday.
Ironically, Kapsner, who is CEO of Bluebird Group, has someone to thank for his love affair with golf.
“We were working together during the summer at a golf course,” said Kapsner, a 1999 University of Michigan graduate. “In fact, we worked there so we could play free golf. He was pretty good and taught me how to golf. I started to love the game because of him.”
Twenty years ago, Kapsner’s golfing buddy was drafted 199th overall by the New England Patriots.
Considering what happened to Brady after that day -- six Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVPs, three MVP Awards -- it might be the biggest blunder in NFL Draft history.
And Kapsner had a front row seat to how and why it happened.
He saw Brady, the college player, develop, literally out of anonymity. He saw the unfair circumstances Brady had to maneuver through practice after practice. And he saw his former teammate take mental toughness to Michael Jordan-like levels.
“Tom got screwed at Michigan,” said Kapsner, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., who was a year behind Brady.
“But his ability to look past, what 99 percent of people couldn’t overlook, that even coaches didn’t want him to succeed, turned into a drive, an I-will-prove-you-wrong mentality,” said Kapsner. “He has a gift that is very unique, that few people have.”
While it has been noted that Brady’s first issue with getting passed over occurred during his red-shirt sophomore year while competing with Brian Griese for the job in 1997, and that his dad, Hall of Famer Bob Griese intervened, Kapsner disagreed.
“No. In that instance, Griese was the right guy for the job,” recalled Kapsner. “He was a great leader. He was a senior. And it ended up being a great year, going undefeated and winning the national title.”
Kapsner gives Brady lots of credit for being the backup that year, surpassing Scott Dreisbach, who was a starter in 1996.
“That was a big deal in and of itself,” said Kapsner, “that he was the guy behind Griese.” But 1998 was different, a perfect storm of events going against Brady you might want to say.
The best-for ever high school prospect in over a generation, Drew Henson, had committed to play football at Michigan while also receiving $17 million from the New York Yankees after the June 2018 MLB Draft.
Henson, who ranked No. 1 nationally in basketball and baseball at nearby Brighton (Mich.) High, grew up only 19 miles from the Ann Arbor campus.
There was a scene from the summer in which players were signing autographs for fans. Henson had several hundred people lined up his autograph. Brady, literally, had none.
“Tom had clearly won the job, outright, in the spring, ahead of myself, and Dreisbach” recalled Kapsner. “Then we open camp, Day 1 of two-a-days, and Drew is splitting reps with Tom. Normally, it’s a given at Michigan that a freshman has to earn his reps. This was a unique situation.”
The plan, says Kapsner, was for Henson to win the job. He was a superior athlete.
Henson’s first at-bat in high school, as a freshman, was a 400-foot home run. Those are the kinds of things Brady was dealing with.
There was one problem. Brady never wavered.
“Tom was the slowest, least athletic quarterback on team,” said Kapsner. “But he would get his one rep and it would be perfect. It was almost like the coaches said, ‘OK, we have to give him another one.’ That’s how it always was with Tom. He made plays.”
The next two football seasons, 1998 and 1999, were much of the same.
Brady was named the starter, both seasons, but Henson entered games in the second quarter. The hot hand stayed in. Most of the time, that was Brady.
“The thing is Tom had the team,” recalled Kapsner. “Tom beat him out every day at practice. Everyone knew what was going on.”
Brady and Kapsner talked a lot about the situation those last two years. Kapsner admits under the same circumstances he would have transferred or had been defeated emotionally.
“It wasn’t easy for him,” said Kapsner. “He talked about some tough times, really tough. But when he was on the field, he wasn’t going to lose. It was special, that ability to fight through adversity.”
Kapsner noted that Brady amped up his commitment, physically, improving his diet, heading into his senior season. He knew the scouts would be watching.
“We’d go to a Subway and he wouldn’t eat any carbs,” recalled Kapsner. “He wouldn’t eat the sub roll. He took out the meat and vegetables and that’s all he would eat ... He wanted to cut weight and try and get a little quicker on his feet.”
In 1999, Michigan finished 10-2 and in second place in the Big 10 at 6-2.
Overall Brady’s record as a starter was 20-5. Pretty good. But Brady never got All-Big 10 honors, losing out to Drew Brees of Purdue and Antwaan Randle El of Indiana at quarterback.
As for Kapsner, who had another year of eligibility in 2000, as the official backup quarterback, he opted to call it a career and pursue a career in finance. He didn’t want to sit behind Henson.
To this day, Kapsner and Brady still stay in contact. Brady was in Kapsner’s wedding back in 1998.
Kapsner has a funny memory when they were working as summer interns at Merrill Lynch.
“We each started the summer off with a mock stock portfolio, with each of us starting with one million dollars and we’d each buy stocks and see what it was worth at the end of the summer,” said Kapsner, who runs a retail service company with Best Buy and Target among his customers.
He didn’t remember who won the competition, but he did remember Brady saying something that makes him laugh today.
“When we first started, Tom said ‘Can you imagine if this was real?’” said Kapsner with a laugh. “Well, it’s more than real now.”