It was Dick Rehbein’s first year as the Patriots quarterbacks coach. Going into the 2000 draft, Bill Belichick, also in his first year, told Rehbein to find a project. He flew to Michigan with Patriots linebackers coach Rob Ryan who was there to scout linebackers. Coach Rehbein had his sights set on a senior quarterback that had platooned with Drew Henson for the Wolverines that season. After meeting Tom Brady, his enthusiasm for the young quarterback bordered on love at first sight.
“Dick had an unbelievable vision for him. I remember flying on the way back home. Dick was talking. This is my guy. I love this guy”, Ryan said. Rehbein raved about Brady to his wife Pam and spent parts of the next several months advocating for him to Belichick and the rest of the front office.
The Life of a Football Coach
The life of a football coach is very demanding. Communicating with their family can be an exercise in creativity. With days that start long before most, meetings that go deep into the night, weekends spent scouting, installing game plans, and putting out so many little fires. The family of an NFL coach makes quite a sacrifice for the game.
So families make routines to keep the home fire burning. A note placed into lunch, or a game day signal to convey that coach is thinking about their family. For coach Dick Rehbein, his wife Pam and daughters Betsy and Sarabeth, it was a simple three-digit page. 1-4-3(I Love You). With schedules bordering on mayhem, that 1-4-3 page was always a way dad could convey to the family he loved and that he was thinking about them.
He’s “The Guy”
The Rehbein family remembers that Tom Brady was dad’s “guy”. How excited he was about the boy from Michigan. A good, All American kid that was so smart. Rehbein raved about Brady to his wife Pam and spent parts of the next several months advocating for him to Belichick and the rest of the front office. In the 2000 draft, there were six quarterbacks off the board when the Patriots got to their sixth-round selection. Coach Rehbein was calling home after each round. After the pick at #199 of the sixth round, he called home to say that dad had got his guy.
Let the Development Begin
Tom Brady being a project was no secret. He had the heart of a lion and absolutely no quit in him. There was footwork to develop and a passing motion that needed change. What needed no change was his leadership. From the start, he commanded a respect from the Patriots rookie class in 2000.
With Drew Bledsoe entrenched as the starter, coach Rehbein would have the 2000 season to work with Brady. For Rehbein, it was a fun process teaching a student who wanted to learn. The coach and pupil grew continuously closer. He confided in his wife Pam that he believed his protege would be more than even he had originally expected.
Rehbein never got to see how prophetic he was. Tragically, Rehbein had cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart, and went to his doctor for a stress test during training camp before the 2001 season. But he suffered a heart attack during the test and then passed away suddenly.
Drew Bledsoe would take a devastating hit in a week two game against their division rivals, the New York Jets. His second year in the league, and less than two months after coach had passed, Tom Brady would get the chance to prove what Dick Rehbein had known all along. This kid had the “IT” factor.
I’m Still Here
For the Rehbein family, wife Pam and daughters Betsy and Sarabeth, the success Tom Brady had was an affirmation to how strongly their dad had felt about the quarterback. They would attend that AFC Divisional round playoff game that season against the Oakland Raiders. The “tuck rule” game. With a rowdy Foxboro Stadium crowd, late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, a tackle by Raiders Charles Woodson appeared to secure a victory for the Raiders.
While the entire world waited for the ruling on the play, Betsy and Sarabeth Rehbein looked up at the clock. The time remaining in the game was 1:43. The 1-4-3 that dad used to convey to the family his love and thoughts for them. Dad was surely watching over them and must have been enjoying the game Tom Brady was having.
The family would travel a few weeks later to see the Patriots play in Super Bowl XXXVI. Opening the sealed envelope with the tickets and immediately seeing that their tickets were in the Mercedes Benz Dome in New Orleans in, you guessed it, section 143. You could chalk that up to coincidence, but the family saw it as a reaffirmation that dad was still there.
A Legacy of Love
“I want Tom to play as long as he can and break as many records as he can,” said Sarabeth, now an occupational therapist in Fort Myers, Florida. “When my son grows up playing the sport we all grew up loving, I want him to look at Tom as a role model.”
Watching Brady play and succeed is not only a reminder of Dick Rehbein’s talent evaluation prowess and development skills, but it’s a way for Betsy and Sarabeth to tell their children about their Papa Angel.
The family now lives here in central Florida and Tom Brady is now a Buccaneer. Each time Brady has stepped out onto the field it was a testament to what the first-year Patriots quarterback coach saw that nobody else did. It is also a chance for the Rehbein family to remember how much love their dad had for them and continues to watch over them.
When Chris Godwin gave the #12 to Brady, he changed his number to #14. That puts the quarterback and his two top receivers at #12, #14, #13. That’s a “1” for all three. A number “4” for Godwin, and a “3” for Mike Evans. 1-4-3. Sounds like coach Rehbein is still watching from on high, the kid out of Michigan that nobody else saw. It also feels like Dick Rehbein is still reminding his girls just how much he loves them.