Tom Brady will begin his 23rd NFL season when he suits up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this fall. The league has changed in a number of ways since the Patriots took Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 draft. To give you a sense of how so, here are five things you may have forgotten about the year leading up to him entering the NFL.
5. The NFL had 31 teams
For three seasons, the league operated with an odd number of teams. In 1999, the new Cleveland Browns franchise was launched to replace the original one that owner Art Modell moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens, giving the NFL 31 teams. The league added the Houston Texans in 2002, moved the Seattle Seahawks from the AFC West to the NFC West, and restructured each conference to have four divisions instead of three. This is the version of the NFL that we recognize.
4. The Houston Oilers had become the Tennessee Titans
Much discussion of late has centered around the Washington Redskins changing their name to the Washington Commanders, but an NFL franchise changed its name the year before Brady arrived in the league. After moving from Houston to Memphis in 1997 and then Nashville in 1998, the Tennessee Oilers changed their name to the Tennessee Titans in 1999. Unlike the Commanders, the name was not changed because of racism. It was because there is no oil in Tennessee. Then again, Tennesseans haven't historically referred to each other as Titans either.
3. The scariest thing facing the NFL had been Y2K
It is hard to believe after the past 20 years how stressed society was over computers managing the approaching millennium. That included the NFL, who moved its opening weekend to after Labor Day to avoid starting the playoffs on Jan. 1, 2000. In 2001, the league permanently moved the start of the season to the weekend after Labor Day. After 9/11, CTE, and COVID-19, the worry over Y2K now just seems kind of cute.
2. The two best quarterbacks were Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner
When Brady was drafted in 2000, the first-team All-Pro quarterback was Kurt Warner, who came from off the bench to have one of the best quarterback seasons in NFL history and lead the St. Louis Rams to a win Super Bowl XXXIV. The second-team QB was Peyton Manning, who had led the Indianapolis Colts from a 3-13 record to 13-3 in just his second season. Brady became a household name when he upset Warner and the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and he and Manning engaged in the greatest quarterback rivalry in NFL history.
1. Barry Sanders had retired in bizarre fashion
Brady’s retirement announcement was a little herky-jerky, but it was not anywhere near as strange as Barry Sanders. In July 1999, the Hall of Fame running back announced his decision to retire via a faxed letter to the Wichita Eagle, his hometown newspaper. Bizarreness aside, it also reflects how times have changed. In 1999, the fax machine was vital to functioning newsrooms. Today, players like Brady do not even bother with going through reporters and post-retirement announcements to their Instagram accounts or other social media.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.