On Sept. 23, 2001, the New England Patriots and New York Jets met in Foxboro Stadium as NFL action resumed for the first time since the 9/11 attacks.
In the fourth quarter, Jets linebacker Mo Lewis knocked Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe out for several games with a chest injury, and backup quarterback Tom Brady came in to take his place.
Here's a snapshot of the league on that day:
- Bledsoe was the highest-paid player in the NFL with a $10.3 million annual salary.
- Los Angeles did not have an NFL franchise. The Rams were in St. Louis.
- Drew Brees was a rookie with the San Diego Chargers.
- Jerry Rice was starting the 17th season of a 20-year career with a new team, the Oakland Raiders.
- Peyton Manning was 27-22 as a starter.
- Bill Belichick's record as a head coach was 41-56.
- New England had won only seven playoff games and no championships in the franchise's 40-year history.
- The Patriots were valued at less than a half a billion dollars.
- Jim Harbaugh was a backup quarterback for the Panthers.
- The salary cap was $67.4 million.
- The price of a 30-second Super Bowl television spot was around $2 million.
- After losing their franchise to Baltimore, the new Cleveland Browns had been an NFL team since only 1999.
- There were only 31 NFL franchises, and the divisions were structured differently, most notably with the Seattle Seahawks still being in the AFC West.
With the exception of 2008, when Brady missed almost the entire season with torn ligaments in his left knee, he had been the Patriots starting quarterback ever since — until his final game in red, white and Navy blue, a 20–13 playoff loss to the Titans on Jan. 4, 2020.
When he takes the field with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, it will mark the beginning of a new era. Here are some of the things that have happened in pro football since the fall of 2001:
- NFL teams have played 9,642 regular and postseason games.
- Brady has completed passes to more than 100 NFL players.
- The Patriots' value has grown to $4.1 billion.
- New England has won six Super Bowls and become the leader in total playoff wins with 37.
- Bill Belichick is now third all-time in wins by NFL head coaches with 273.
- Seven Patriots coaches have become head coaches.
- Jim Harbaugh has been the head coach of his and Brady's alma mater, Michigan, since 2015.
- The Cleveland Browns have had 27 starting quarterbacks.
- A total of 240 quarterbacks have been drafted by NFL teams.
- Brandon Marshall played for seven teams.
- The Seahawks moved to the NFC and have been to three Super Bowls.
- Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is the highest-paid player with a salary of $35 million.
- The NFL salary cap has grown to $198.2 million.
- The price of a Super Bowl television spot is now more than $5 million.
- A total of 132 songs have been performed during Super Bowl halftime shows.
- Fourteen new NFL stadiums have been built.
- Nine franchises have been sold.
- Jerry Rice caught 260 passes for 3,561 yards and 21 touchdowns — not bad for a guy who was almost 39 when Brady took the field.
- Adam Vinatieri has kicked 513 field goals and 767 extra points.
- Frank Gore has played for four teams and rushed for more than 15,000 yards. In 2020, he'll be playing for his fifth team.
- Drew Brees has started 290 games and thrown for more than 82,000 yards in the regular season and postseason.
- Peyton Manning played Brady 17 times (Brady leads the series 11–6) and became the only starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl with two different teams, the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
- Manning's younger brother, Eli, played a 16-season career with the New York Giants, won two Super Bowls (both against the Patriots) and retired.
- A total of 115 players, coaches and executives have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brady has played with or against 36 of them.
- Three new leagues — the UFL, AAF, and XFL — were launched, and all three failed.