The best quarterback to ever play also has one of the most recognizable jerseys in sports.
Over the course of his career, TB12 has made his mark on the game through poised passing in crunch time and an unmatched intensity all the time. The ultimate competitor, Tom took his winning ways and made them into a brand, best seen through his accomplishments and often honored through apparel.
From his arrival in Ann Arbor as a college freshman to his last touchdown in Tampa, the Tom Brady jersey has been a fixture of fan gear and a cash cow on the market. As Brady hangs up his cleats, we take a look back at the history of his most identifiable item, how it’s transformed over time, and what it might look like in the future.
Big Man in the Big House
Over the course of Tom Brady’s four years in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were deep in the trenches of their school-wide Nike deal sparked by the popularity of the Fab Five. Beginning in 1994, the school signed a then-massive six-year, $8 million deal. This contract lasted the course of Brady’s playing days in the Big House, though his first two seasons were spent as a backup.
While Brady on the bench seems funny now, competition was thick at quarterback under coach Lloyd Carr. At that time, Michigan football was a national powerhouse, and this boded well for Nike in the booming licensed apparel game. While Brady was in Ann Arbor, the Swoosh released replica and authentic jerseys in maize and blue, devoid of a last name due to legalities but tied in number to future first-rounders like Charles Woodson and David Terrell.
By Brady’s last two seasons — mostly as a starter but often splitting time with blue chip recruit Drew Henson — his No. 10 jersey began popping up at the campus bookstore. Even so, you’d be more likely to catch kids on campus in an Anthony Thomas authentic or a top tied to Tai Streets.
Conversely, maize and blue Tom Brady jerseys were more likely to be seen on his sisters or in LFO’s music video for “Girl on TV.”
After an unparalleled pro career and unprecedented deal with Jordan Brand, the University of Michigan began selling No. 10 jerseys with Brady on the back long after he graduated from the prestigious Big Ten school. The teaming of two GOATs at one school across many items gave campus cash registers a workout long after they began selling his jersey number.
“Michigan was a perfect match for what they represent and what we brought to the table,” Jordan Brand President Larry Miller told Boardroom. “The first weekend that we launched, MJ and all of us were out there. On that weekend, they sold more products at the bookstore than they had the whole year before.”
While it would take the maize and blue decades to cash in on Tom’s likeness, it would only take a few years for his new home in the Northeast to make the big bucks off his new number.
When Brady arrived in New England there was no expectation of playing time, let alone his jersey being sold around the world or even in the stadium store.
Upon his arrival, Brady was the fourth-string quarterback for the Patriots, only throwing three passes in his first season. The 199th pick in the 2000 NFL Draft couldn’t even get his college No. 10 as Pats punter Lee Johnson wore it at the time. Instead, Brady’s high school No. 12 was assigned at his locker, leaving no leverage to buy No. 10 or challenge the special teams player to a push-up contest for the rights.
In Brady’s first two seasons, the Patriots put out products by Adidas. With Brady on the bench for much of that time, there was no reason to produce No. 12 jerseys until his luck changed.
That happened via a huge hit by New York Jets linebacker Mo Lewis on starter Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe’s injury allowed the overlooked quarterback to take over the reins in 2001. This proved a pivotal chapter in Tom’s Cinderella story as in a matter of months, he’d become the MVP of Super Bowl XXXVI.
Over the course of this run, Adidas began producing Tom Brady jerseys and selling them at retail before the Patriots switched to Reebok the next season. All the way until 2011, Tom Brady’s No. 12 would include Reebok’s vector logo on its arm and tagging, getting serious shine and sales over a run rampant with Super Bowls, MVPs, and All-Pro selections.
By 2004, Brady broke through with the seventh-highest-selling jersey in the NFL, coming behind quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb, while beating out Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
Much like Stephen Curry in basketball, the Brady jersey became bankable for years based off his winning pedigree and all-over appeal.
While the home-and-away Patriots jerseys remained relatively unchanged, Brady continued to move units as the NFL moved from Reebok to Nike in 2012. Over the course of his time as a Patriot, Brady also wore an array of alternates and throwbacks, which of course the brands used to cash in.
In 2020, Brady left a legacy behind in New England to build a new one in Tampa Bay.
Over the course of his two seasons in Florida, Brady continued to flourish both on the field and in the sales category. Benefitting from a new narrative and new uniforms, the famous No. 12 took well to red, white and pewter, tussling with Patrick Mahomes for top of the charts in his debut year down south.
For his final season in Tampa and the NFL, Brady finished the year with the league’s highest-selling jersey, topping Pats rookie Mac Jones who came in fifth. For both years as a Buccaneer, Nike was the sponsor of the NFL at large.
Retro & Retirement Life
Even though Tom Brady is done playing, his jerseys are not done selling.
At the time of typing, Brady’s Buccaneers jersey is sold online at Nike.com in red, white, and pewter fashion at price points ranging from $120 to $150 in both men’s and women’s sizes. The same styles are available at NFL Shop, as is an authentic Nike jersey retailing for $325 with a youth option coming in at $80.
Even a 2022 Tom Brady Pro Bowl jersey is available for $170, already selling out in sizes medium and triple-extra large despite him not planning to play in the exhibition.
Still, the sentiment for his first home of New England strikes the greatest cord for fans of the recently retired legend.
When considering Tom’s college career, the University of Michigan is sponsored by Jordan Brand. Right now at the M Den, Jumpman-branded Brady jerseys in navy and maize are listed in youth sizes though sold out, with potential to create a custom variation with the same lettering, nameplate and branding that the Wolverines wear today.
At this moment, throwback purveyor Mitchell & Ness has no Tom Brady jerseys for sale on their website, despite selling styles also released and made famous over the course of the 2000s. For reference, his former teammate Randy Moss has already seen his ’07 Pats throwback sell out while peers like Peyton Manning currently have dozens of apparel items up for sale through M&N’s webstore, ranging from his Tennessee college kit to tops tied to his time in both Indianapolis and Denver.
In the past, Mitchell & Ness has structured special deals with fellow greats such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in regard to the rights to sell their former threads. Though Brady has broken ground on his new apparel line, its design direction leans more toward modern performance pieces than that of traditional fan gear.
While Tom Brady is only hours into retirement, the fanfare around his storied history of jerseys roars as strong as ever with potential for partnerships likely looming in the near future.