With Tom Brady and Peyton Manning set to meet for the 17th time Sunday, it's a perfect time to look back on their first meeting, which almost didn't happen.

Brady-Manning I wasn't just the first game between Manning and Brady -- it was the first start of Brady's career. However, that start almost didn't happen because Brady almost wasn't the backup quarterback in 2001.

According to Charlie Weis, who was the Patriots' offensive coordinator that season, Brady almost went into the year as the team's No. 3 quarterback, which means he wouldn't have taken over as the starter after Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury against the Jets in Week 2.

There's long been a rumor that Bill Belichick liked Brady so much that he wanted to start the sixth-round pick over Bledsoe, but Weis says that's not true.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Weis said there was no chance Brady was going to start over a healthy Bledsoe. Weis also added that Brady barely hung on to the No. 2 spot.

"Oh no, no, no, no, [Brady] wasn't better than Bledsoe," Weis said. "In fact he wasn't much better than [Huard]. Bledsoe was clearly the starter. The No. 2 spot, that's where the competition was. We really could have flipped a coin to pick the second guy. We ended up picking Tommy -- but it was really close."

The Patriots were so unsure about starting Brady in Week 3 that they actually contacted several veteran quarterbacks who they were hoping to sign. According to the Washington Post, the Patriots were hoping to lure Jim Harbaugh out of retirement, and if that couldn't happen, the team was hoping to add Eric Zeier or Billy Joe Tolliver.

Think about that: Instead of Brady-Manning I, we almost got Zeier-Manning or Huard-Manning or HARBAUGH-Manning.

In the end, the Patriots went with Brady, who led New England to a 44-13 win over the Colts. The victory might not go down as the most shocking of the Manning-Brady series, but it was definitely the most surprising. The Patriots were 11.5-point underdogs.

By the way, Huard's not bitter about any of this. The way he remembers it, Brady won the job fair and square. Huard signed with the Patriots before the 2001 season after spending three years with the Dolphins.

"Tom had clearly outplayed me," Huard told WEEI.com in Boston. "[Brady] did have the extra year in the system, and it was fair to say that he had a better feel for the offense at that point than I did, even though I had a couple of years under my belt in the league when I had come over from Miami."

The decision to go with Brady paid off for the Patriots: They won four Super Bowls and are two games away from winning a fifth.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost went a slightly less successful route. (USATSI)
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick almost went a slightly less successful route. (USATSI)