SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)Tom Brady grew up in the Bay Area going to Candlestick Park with his family watching Joe Montana, Steve Young and other greats from the San Francisco 49ers dynasty.
Brady has had few chances to go back home in his 23-year career, so he relishes the opportunity on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers (6-6) take on the 49ers (8-4) in a matchup of first-place teams.
”That’s where I fell in love with football,” Brady said. ”We’d sit up there in the nose-bleed (section). … It was just a great time. There were so many great players, a great era of football. I loved the 49ers. I loved them in college, and then they skipped over me six times (in the draft) and I started hating the 49ers. That’s just the way it went down.”
Brady will play a road game against the Niners for just the second time in his career, with the other coming in a four-TD performance in 2016.
He missed his only chance to play at Candlestick Park, where he watched ”The Catch” as a 4-year-old in 1982, when he blew out his knee in 2008. He’s played twice across the Bay in Oakland against the Raiders.
He’s excited to have family and friends at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.
”It’ll be great to go home and see a lot of people I probably haven’t seen in a long time … and try to win a football game,” he said.
Brady almost got an opportunity to play here more often. When he was set to leave New England following the 2019 season, the Niners kicked the tires on whether to bring him in to replace Jimmy Garoppolo following a run to the Super Bowl.
With Brady set to turn 43 and coming off a down season, the 49ers opted to stick with Garoppolo in part because they didn’t know how many years Brady had left.
Three seasons later, Brady comes to San Francisco with one more Super Bowl title and fresh off his latest late-game comeback.
”I’d like to say of course not,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said when asked if he was surprised by Brady’s continued success.
”But I think everyone’s since then, you’re wondering when is the (age) number too high, but now like when you watch him that first week in Tampa, you’re like, what the hell was anyone ever thinking? The dude looks the exact same.”
Instead of going up against Garoppolo, his former backup in New England, Brady will be facing rookie Brock Purdy, who will be San Francisco’s fifth starting QB since opting against signing Brady. Garoppolo is out with a broken foot.
The contrast in QBs will be stark with Purdy making his first start and Brady making his 378th in the regular season or playoffs.
Purdy, who was 5 days old when Brady played his final college game at Michigan, is replacing Garoppolo and has the fortunes of a top NFC contender resting on his arm. Purdy fared well in his first extensive action last week, throwing for 210 yards and two TDs. He knows what he’s up against on Sunday.
”I think it’s really cool,” he said. ”Dude’s been playing football longer than I’ve been alive, so yeah, to have a first start against the GOAT, it’s going to be pretty cool.”
The Bucs may not know a lot about Purdy, but coach Todd Bowles recalls part of a game he saw Purdy play at Iowa State and was also impressed with the way the rookie performed after taking over for Garoppolo last week.
”Just watching film on him, he’s got a lot of moxie and knows where to go with the football. He’s a dangerous guy because he can run and he can throw the ball,” Bowles said.
Brady threw a pair of late TD passes to rally back from a 13-point deficit last week and beat New Orleans 17-16. That prompted questions about whether the Bucs might consider expanded use of a hurry-up package to jumpstart an offense scoring just 18.1 points per game.
”Obviously, we can’t do that the whole game. The defense and special teams would be worn out,” Bowles said. ”But we can try to take advantage of some things that way.”
The Niners defense got beat for a couple of big-play touchdowns last week against Miami but has been mostly dominant all season. San Francisco has held five straight opponents to 17 points or fewer for the first time in a season in 30 years.
Tampa Bay ranks 27th in the league in scoring, but the 49ers know Brady can always be dangerous, as evidenced by his two late TD drives to beat New Orleans this past week.
”He has the seven rings, but you really watch him play the position, it’s unlike anybody’s ever played it,” linebacker Fred Warner said. ”He’s so exact with where he’s going with the ball. You wonder how do you stop it.”
AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.
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