The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

High school basketball players in Michigan tried to text their teammate. They ended up talking to Tom Brady.

Tom Brady on FaceTime (Courtesy of P. Jason Whalen)
4 min

After one of the first practices of the season, the head coach of the freshman basketball team at Notre Dame Preparatory in Pontiac, Mich., gave his 14 players a task — set up a group chat so they could communicate practice times and coordinate transportation to games.

The 14- and 15-year-olds got 13 phone numbers right. But with the 14th, one of the players messed up a digit.

So a “random guy” chimed in on what was supposed to be a Fighting Irish-only conversation.

“Y’all meant to add me to this?”

Yes, they told him, thinking it was their teammate.

“You know who I am?” the random guy replied.

They did — again, their teammate.

But it wasn’t their teammate. Turns out, the interloper was Sean Murphy-Bunting, cornerback for the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Murphy-Bunting, who’s in his third NFL season after playing at Central Michigan University, identified himself to his 13 new group chat friends. But the teenage basketball players still thought it was their fellow teammate trying to pull a fast one on them. So Murphy-Bunting sent them proof — a selfie of him throwing up a peace sign in front of his locker, bedecked with his Bucs helmet and shoulder pads.

Still, a few of the boys were skeptical.

Then, Murphy-Bunting FaceTimed the boys. Jason Whalen, an assistant coach whose 15-year-old son plays on the team, recounted the Nov. 24 conversation in an interview with The Washington Post. He didn’t participate in the call, but his son gave him the play-by-play.

What followed was a whirlwind tour of the Bucs’ locker room, including introductions to some of the team’s most famous members: tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Mike Evans, cornerback Richard Sherman and running back Leonard Fournette.

One of the boys had Fournette on his fantasy football team for the Bucs’ upcoming Sunday game, so he encouraged the running back to do well. (Four days later, Fournette ran for 100 yards and scored four touchdowns in a 38-31 win over the Indianapolis Colts.)

Then, Whalen said, the boys got “greedy.” They wanted to see quarterback Tom Brady. They wanted to talk to the seven-time Super Bowl champion, Whalen said — they wanted to meet the GOAT.

Is Tom Brady the GOAT? Bah, he says.

Fournette had bad news: Brady was in a meeting. But Fournette stayed on the phone and chatted for another 10 to 15 minutes. The boys were in awe, Whalen said.

Then, a familiar face popped into the frame.

“What’s up, fellas?” Brady asked them.

“They absolutely lost their minds at that point,” Whalen said.

Brady, one of the most famous athletes on the planet, once played for the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor, less than an hour from Pontiac. From 1996 to 1999, he played in 29 games, racking up 4,773 yards and scoring 30 touchdowns. Even though none of the Notre Dame Prep freshmen were alive when Brady played as a Wolverine, several have his jersey. One even grabbed his during the FaceTime call.

“He is pretty highly regarded in this area,” Whalen said. He added, “We consider him one of our own.”

Brady told ESPN he didn’t know who was on the other end of the line when Fournette handed him the phone. But after learning he’d been talking with high school boys and how they’d gotten connected, Brady described the encounter as “sweet.”

“It was nice,” Brady said. “It would have been nice for me when I had been in high school too.”

And the fact that the boys hailed from Michigan?

“Even better,” the five-time Super Bowl MVP said. “That was fun. That was really fun. It was really good to see all those young kids hyped up.”

Not everyone got to participate in the serendipitous meeting. Whalen said he was in his office when the group text mix-up started. Then he heard his son laughing and repeatedly saying something like, “I can’t believe this is happening.” When Whalen learned what was going on, he told his son to add him to the chat.

“He told me to leave him alone,” Whalen said.

The 44-year-old father isn’t mad, though. He said he felt compelled to tell the story because he was impressed by how Murphy-Bunting rolled with the wayward text and with his teammates for taking time to indulge some wide-eyed teenagers.

“They very easily could have just blown it off and said, 'Yeah, sorry, wrong number,’ but they made … their day, year. I mean, these young men will have a story forever.”