What if Wally Pipp hadn't come out of that game, and the kid Lou Gehrig hadn't stepped in at first? What if the Red Sox hadn't taken a chance on the major league managing bust that was Terry Francona? What if the referees in Foxboro on that snowy night hadn't reinterpreted their definition of "tuck"?
For Tom Brady, who was just barely snagged by the Patriots in the sixth round with the 199th pick of the 2000 draft, there have been plenty of times to ask the question. If Bill Belichick hadn't gone ahead with what he saw in the Michigan quarterback, NFL history would be far different. Even if Brady had been scooped up by, say, the Carolina Panthers, there's little chance he would have become the great player he is today.
Brady knows as much, and he always sounds grateful when speaking of his draft day fortune. But he may be unique in asking the "What if?" question.
Derek Jeter, who is similarly iconic for the New York Yankees, has often said that he doesn't want — and has never wanted — to play for any other team besides the Yankees. Even when his latest contract negotiations became contentious, there was no way this guy was pulling on another team's jersey (although Red Sox fans certainly had fun with Photoshop during that stretch).
Jeter was lucky to be picked — and retained — by the team he admired all his life, but that doesn't mean he views his good fortune the same way Brady (tearfully) does.
When presented with Brady's situation and asked whether he ever thought about what it would be like to not be with the Yankees, Jeter just shook his head and said, "No. I didn't."
Jeter gave a chuckle when imagining Brady in a Panthers uniform, but he said he didn't entertain thoughts of his own path turning out differently, even in the moments when things seemed worst.
"I tried not to," he said. "Fortunately, I haven't had to live that out differently."
Still, the man who was once a kid growing up rooting for the Yankees knows he's had some luck.
"It's a crapshoot," he said. "When you think about the draft, you never know where you're going to be drafted. And obviously, to stay here, there's a lot of good fortune that comes along with that. I'm pretty fortunate."
Not enough to move him to tears, though.