FOXBOROUGH — It has been 1,341 days since Tom Brady last donned a Patriots jersey at Gillette Stadium.
Two months after New England’s exit in the wild card round against the Titans on Jan. 4, 2020, Brady was gone — ending his career with three seasons in Tampa.
The Patriots have mastered the unenviable task of writing a new chapter without Brady at center and are 25-25 with Cam Newton and Mac Jones leading their offense.
Although Brady has been an integral part of the Foxborough franchise for 20 seasons, his connection with the current Patriots roster grows stronger every year.
There are only seven players on the Patriots’ active 2023 roster who have shared a locker room with Brady: Matthew Slater, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jonathan Jones, Joe Cardona, David Andrews, Deatrich Wise and Lawrence Guy.
To most Patriots of 2023, Brady is almost a fable—a legendary figure whose accolades are easy to snag but whose impact far exceeds what’s recorded in the record books.
And as much as they try to chart a new path forward, it’s evident that Brady’s presence is still inherent in this Patriots organization — and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
“Every single day,” Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson said of the number of times he walks past a picture of Brady in the hallways of the team’s facility. “Going down here, I probably passed him five times.”
Given the resume Brady put together in New England, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the future Hall of Famer is regularly cited by coaches as a template for other players.
Of course, it’s one thing to build on Brady’s poise in the bag and his characteristic consistency in his off-field program — and another to execute the same game plan and produce the same high results.
But beyond his skills on the field, Gillette’s numerous photos of Brady accepting the Lombardi Trophy serve as a constant reminder to veterans and newcomers alike of the glory this franchise once achieved – and what it is building on again tried.
“Just the way he was a leader, the way he embodied the Patriot Way,” Josh Uche said of Brady’s impact. “His execution, his calm under pressure. In any case, I often refer to Tom in certain situations. He’s definitely a pillar of what we’re doing here, so obviously we see a lot of references to him.”
“It started with him, his leadership, his mentality, the way he pushed people. It was contagious.” David Andrews added “Zolak & Bertrand” from The Sports Hub during Wednesday’s interview on 98.5“. “It was something special. … He obviously set the right standard. And nobody did it better. But you saw that standard spread to every single player. And I think that’s a big deal. So you know what it looks like. You know what this standard must look like. And for that you strive every day.”
Though Uche never played alongside a Michigan colleague at Brady, the Patriots pass rusher had a chance to hear Brady address the Wolverines during his first season at Ann Arbor in 2016.
“Because he was in the same seats I was in as a freshman and he was one of the greatest players of that game, it was just an honor to come up and listen to him,” said Uche, who presented a Michigan during his press conference -Hat on Wednesday, said Brady’s speech. “And being in the same environment that he experienced showed me that anything is possible, especially in Michigan. It was one of the best speeches I’ve ever heard.”
Brady’s main message to Uche as a freshman was to “hang in there” and not let anything get in the way of his path to the NFL.
Now entering his fourth year with the Patriots, Uche is following another mantra Brady recited in New England: “Do your job.”
“Ultimately it comes down to execution and staying calm under pressure and at the end of the day just doing your job,” said Uche. “Whatever the situation, just sit back on your basics and do your job.”
Brady’s teammate with the longest tenure at Foxborough is Slater, who has been the anchor of New England’s special teams unit since his first stint on the team in 2008.
For Slater, one of Brady’s most influential traits had less to do with his success on the field and more to do with his leadership and emphasis on communication in the locker room.
“I’ll never forget my first day here,” Slater recalls. “[Brady] came and introduced himself to me. He knew a little bit about my college career. There wasn’t much to know. But just the kindness he showed me that he didn’t have to is something that has stayed with me ever since. I remember calling my parents and saying, ‘Hey, Tom Brady knows my name.’ He introduced himself.’ And it was like that with everyone, not just me.
“He did that – uncovered guys, guys we just got into the training squad. He was just a real, humble person [and] is that still the case? And I think that’s what gets overlooked and overlooked. You know, we don’t really celebrate character. We celebrate production in the field, big orders and awards. [When] Anything that fades from who we are as human beings will remain throughout our lives. That’s what I appreciate most about Tom.”
Brady’s return on Sunday will mark a journey that is finally closing for the player and team. It should bring much-needed closure for both sides, especially after Brady’s messy departure three years ago.
But for all the pomp surrounding Brady’s return, Andrews and the rest of the 2023 Patriots are trying to focus more on the task at hand — toppling the reigning NFC champions Philadelphia Eagles.
Sounds like a fitting way to honor someone like Brady.
“It’s going to be great,” Andrews said of Brady’s halftime ceremony. “The biggest thing we have to do is go out there and get our competition going. That is our focus.”
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