SANTA CLARA – Tom Brady marked this game against the 49ers on his calendar before the start of the 2008 season.
But the New England Patriots quarterback and San Mateo native never played in the Bay Area against the team for which he grew up rooting. He sustained a knee injury in the first game of the season.
Now, in his 17th NFL season, Brady will finally play against the 49ers in their home stadium. He has twice played against the 49ers in Foxboro, Mass.
And how many tickets is he arranging for family and friends Sunday at Levi’s Stadium?
“A lot -- more than ever,” Brady said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “I’m happy to do it. I may never get the opportunity again. It’s nice to have all the support and I’ve had a lot from the Bay Area over the years.”
Brady was in the south end zone, on the opposite end of Candlestick Park, when Dwight Clark made “The Catch” of Joe Montana’s pass against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game to propel the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in January 1982. He was 4 years old.
But his allegiance to the 49ers ended in April of 2000, when the organization selected Giovanni Carmazzi in the third round of the draft. The Patriots selected Brady in the sixth round.
“I have different things that have motivated me at different times," Brady said. "Yeah, I’ll never forget I worked out for the 49er when I was coming out in 2000. They obviously went in a different direction. I’m very happy where I ended up. I think I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time with the Patriots.
“I played with so many great players over the years. I played for, I feel, the best head coach ever and some great assistant coaches, teammates that have committed everything to help us win. I’ve just been blessed to play quarterback for this team, and I love doing it. Hopefully, I can do it for a long. It’s been a lot of fun, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Brady, 39, a four-time Super Bowl champion, still does not appear comfortable with the comparison to Montana when the subject turns to the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
“I don’t ever see myself like him. He was so spectacular. I think he’s in a league of his own,” Brady said. “I’m going to try to keep finding ways to help my team and be the best I can be every week.
“And I feel like I’ve learned a lot over the last few years with my style of play and I love being here and competing and hopefully winning, and that’s what Joe did. He was a winner. Every time he took the field, it felt like the 49ers were going to win. I remember rooting for that team when Joe was playing quarterback. You always felt like they were going to win no matter who they were playing, where they were playing at, and same when Steve (Young) took over. It was great to be a 49er fan at that time.”