Summer is heating up and so is NFL football. FanHouse is at Patriots training camp to bring you all the latest news about Bill and Brady's Bunch.
The harder it rained, the louder Tom Brady barked, the sharper his eyes got and the more completely he seized the attention of everybody in the huddle. As soaking torrents overwhelmed the first practice of Patriots training camp, New England's all-galaxy quarterback and his surgically repaired left knee morphed into Two-Minute-Drill Tom, running the offense as if it were the final seconds of a crucial December game against Miami. It was like something out of a movie, which is to say it was like everything else in Brady's life.
"The monsoon really fired him up," receiver Greg Lewis said. "He was really intense, breaking the huddle, making sure we got out there and got this thing right. I like that. Makes me want to try that much harder to do my best so I'm not the one making mistakes and he's not getting on me."
This was the story of the day at Patriots training camp. Tom Brady is back, and all is right with the world. A crowd of about 1,500 fans (almost none of whom moved from their uncovered metal bleacher seats until a flash of lightning finally chased the players off the field) cheered every flinch of their hero's pinkie finger as the Patriots went through the first of two Day One practices. And Brady obliged them, moving without a noticeable limp, flinging the ball down the field and acting like the Brady they all spent 2008 missing. No Randy Moss or Joey Galloway, who sat out the morning session with unspecified injuries? No problem. Brady was the show, and he put one on.
"Anytime you have the best player on your team back," receiver Wes Welker said, "it's a great thing."
Fans were thrilled. Teammates were relieved and a bit amused. And the throng of media that showed up expecting an audience was instructed to eat cake. Brady was scheduled to talk on the field after morning practice, but once morning practice failed to reach a dry conclusion, it was announced that the quarterback would not speak until Friday. It's possible that the original wording of the announcement was, "I married a supermodel, so they can wait a day," and the Patriots' media relations staff softened it somewhere between locker room and press box.
No matter. There were plenty of other people around to talk about Brady. Five players and coach Bill Belichick came to the podium, and all were asked extensively about the day's hot topic.
"Tom's worked very hard to get back out on the field," Belichick said. "He's certainly a big presence on our team, and it's good to see him out there."
"He looked like Tom," Lewis said. "Nothing special, nothing extra, just one of the guys out there trying to get better every day like the other 79 guys out there."
"Same Tom Brady I know," running back Kevin Faulk said. "I mean, I got married a few years ago, too, but nobody talked about that."
No, because as nifty and solid a player as Faulk has been, he is not Brady. And as nice as I'm sure Latisha Faulk is, she is not internationally renowned supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Everything about Brady's life is outsized, and the attention that follows him goes right along with it.
Of course, there are also football reasons for all the fuss.
"Playing those guys a few times in the playoffs, you'd look over and you'd think, 'We can beat them. What do they do that's different from us? What makes them so good?'" said Fred Taylor, the longtime Jacksonville running back who's new around these parts. "But then you get here and you see his passion, his study, the work he does to make his teammates better. You look, and it's all there right in front of you, what makes him great."
And so they smile, and they take the simple-sounding questions about how Brady looks (great), whether they expect him to be rusty (no) and what the offense can accomplish now that he's back (world peace, universal health care, the colonization of Saturn). Because they remember last year, and the fact that Matt Cassel was 10 times better than anybody could have expected him to be and they still didn't make the playoffs.
Because they know -- as anybody who spends even five minutes around here knows -- there's only one Tom Brady.
And they couldn't be happier to have him back.