Tom Brady was nearly a USC Trojan and Charger, but left his mark on L.A. from afar

Tom Brady passes during the New England Patriots' win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3, 2019.
(Scott Cunningham / Getty Images)

Tom Brady is a Northern California Guy who spent his nonpareil career playing for teams in the Eastern time zone. Like he did with most regions, Brady left his mark on Los Angeles and its teams, dating to as early as the 1990s, when he was a low-profile high school recruit. Here’s the story, nearly 30 years in the telling, of the many times Brady and L.A. crossed paths:


USC’s Brady recruitment

Southern California head coach John Robinson encourages his Rose Bowl-bound team during a workout, Dec. 26, 1995
“We don’t have room for Brady,” USC coach John Robinson said during the future GOAT’s senior year in high school.
(Chris Martinez / Associated Press)

Fall 1994
Senior year of high school


Brady was the quarterback of a 5-5 Junipero Serra High School team in San Mateo who, despite the middling record, had attracted the notice of Division I colleges. Midway through his senior year, he had whittled his top choices to USC, UCLA, Cal, Illinois and Michigan, according to author Seth Wickersham in his bestselling book “It’s Better to Be Feared.” Trojans offensive coordinator Mike Riley was especially enamored of Brady and had developed a strong relationship with the player and his family during a year and a half courtship. That fall, Brady would reduce his list to USC and Michigan.

Tom Brady announced his retirement Tuesday at age 44. The quarterback was the embodiment of success and amazement during his 22 seasons in the NFL.

Feb. 1, 2022

That winter, however, USC ended up making the choice for Brady. “Riley flew north to see the Bradys and arrived at their house,” Wickersham writes, “a place he had been many times before, including just a few weeks earlier. Riley was friendly, but looked ashen. He had bad news. A few days earlier, head coach John Robinson had told Riley that the Trojans had landed a commitment from a quarterback out of the Chicago suburbs named Quincy Woods. “We don’t have room for Brady,” Robinson said.


Rose Bowl

Michigan quarterback Tom Brady passes against Ohio State in November 1998.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Jan. 1, 1998
Michigan vs. Washington State

In his sophomore year at Michigan, Brady threw 15 passes, completing 12, and worked his way up to second on the depth chart behind Brian Griese, who would lead the Wolverines to a 12-0 finish punctuated by a 21-16 Rose Bowl win over Ryan Leaf (a name that would resurface soon) and Washington State. Brady did not play in Pasadena but he did acquire the least-feted of his championship rings (Michigan shared the national title with Nebraska).


Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowls with the Patriots and one with the Buccaneers, announced his retirement on social media Tuesday.

Feb. 1, 2022


The Chargers’ decision

San Diego Chargers rookie quarterback Ryan Leaf looks confused as he tries to figure out what play is being called.
The Chargers were in the market for a quarterback in 2000 after the spectacular failure of 1998 No. 2 overall pick Ryan Leaf.
(Kent Horner / Associated Press)

Spring 2000
Senior year of college

Riley would be offered a second bite of the apple when he became head coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1999. He had not forgotten the recruit who had gotten away five years earlier. In the market for a quarterback after the spectacular failure of Leaf, the second overall pick in the ’98 draft, Riley, according to Wickersham, had gotten Brady buy-in from his assistants, only to fall short again, this time at the desk of Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, who had made the Leaf pick. Brady the Charger makes it difficult to imagine the franchise’s move from San Diego to the Southland 16 years later.


Super Bowl XXXVII

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with coach Bill Belichick.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with coach Bill Belichick after beating the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI on Feb. 3, 2002.
(Jeff Haynes / AFP via Getty Images)

Feb. 3, 2002
St. Louis Rams vs. New England Patriots


The Rams were still 14 years from returning to Los Angeles, but the franchise has a central place in the Tom Brady Story as a result of its stunning 20-17 loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the first of Brady’s seven NFL rings. Stewarding a mostly ball-control offense in a matchup dominated by the Patriots’ defense, Brady (16 for 27, 145 passing yards) was unshackled for the final drive, moving New England 54 yards in nine plays to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning 48-yard field goal that effectively launched Brady’s legend.


The first L.A.-Brady showdown

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Chargers during a playoff game in January 2019.
(Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Jan. 13, 2019
Chargers at Patriots

A week after they had upset the Lamar Jackson-led Baltimore Ravens on wild-card weekend, the Chargers ran into a Patriots buzz saw that took a 38-7 lead late into the third quarter before the Chargers rallied to close the final margin to 41-28. Brady’s arm (34 of 44, 343 yards) and Sony Michel’s legs (129 rushing yards, three touchdowns) were the big difference. Three weeks later, Brady (and Michel) would take care of L.A.’s other team.


Super Bowl LIII

Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown play.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates after fourth-quarter touchdown against the Rams during Super Bowl LIII.
(Al Bello / Getty Images)


Feb. 3, 2019
Rams vs. Patriots

Brady’s ninth Super Bowl will go down as one of his least impressive statistical performances. He completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards and did not throw for a touchdown in history’s lowest-scoring Super Bowl. That does not mean the game wasn’t bereft of Brady’s fourth-quarter legerdemain. Tied 3-3 midway through the fourth, Brady led the Patriots on a 69-yard drive capped by Michel‘s two-yard touchdown run. On New England’s subsequent drive, which started from its five-yard line, Brady drove 72 yards to set up the game-clinching field goal.


The last game in L.A.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady signals during the second half of an NFL football game against the Rams
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Rams on Sept. 26 at SoFi Stadium.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Sept. 26, 2021
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Rams

There are two current NFL buildings in which Brady never won a game. Five-year-old U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota is one, SoFi Stadium is the other. Of course, Brady played in the two-year-old L.A. stadium only once in his career. In a dominant 34-24 Rams victory, Brady completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and two touchdowns, one running. That Brady threw 55 passes was a result of playing catchup most of the afternoon; the Rams twice led by as many as 17 points in the second half behind the arm of Matthew Stafford, who threw four touchdown passes and outplayed his counterpart in the first of two 2021-22 meetings.


The final game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady hugs Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady hugs Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after an NFC playoff game Jan. 23 at Raymond James Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Jan. 23, 2022
Rams at Buccaneers

In what we now know was the last of his 365 games, Brady nearly went out in ignominious fashion. The Rams — winners of their two previous meetings against a Brady-led Bucs team — took a 27-6 lead late into the third quarter of this NFC divisional playoff game, applying ruthless pressure and holding the quarterback to under 50% passing. Over the final 15:12, however, Brady did his Brady Thing, leading the Bucs on three touchdown drives to tie the score 27-27 with under a minute remaining before Stafford conjured a little Brady Magic himself and led the Rams on a game-winning drive in the final 42 seconds. Brady completed 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown and an interception in what nine days later would be entered into the historical record as the final game in a career like no other.