Three years after his departure, Tom Brady’s presence is still felt at Gillette Stadium among Patriots players

Patriots

“It started with him, his leadership, his mentality, the way he pushed people. It was contagious.”

Foxborough, MA: 9-30-18: The Patriots Tom Brady heads off the field and heads to the locker room following a New England victory. The New England Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins in a regular season NFL football game at Gillette Stadium.
Tom Brady last played with the Patriots during the 2019. But his presence is still felt in Foxborough. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH — It’s 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 labored in the unenviable task of forging a new chapter without Brady under center, going 25-25 with Cam Newton and Mac Jones at the helm of their offense.

Despite logging 20 seasons as a franchise fixture in Foxborough, Brady’s connection to the current Patriots roster becomes more untethered with each passing year.

There are only seven players on the Patriots’ 2023 active 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.

For most of the 2023 Patriots, Brady serves almost as a fable — a legendary figure whose accolades are easy to glean, but his impact is felt well beyond what is etched in the record books.

And try as they might to chart a new path forward, it’s evident that Brady’s presence still looms over this Patriots organization — and will for the foreseeable future.

“Every single day,” Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson said of how often he walks by a picture of Brady in the hallways of the team facility. “Just walking down here, I probably walked past him five times.”

Given the resume Brady compiled in New England, it should come as no surprise that the future Hall of Famer is regularly mentioned by coaches as a template to follow for other players.

Of course, it’s one thing to harp on Brady’s poise in the pocket and his trademark consistency with his off-field regimen — and another to execute the same game plan and reach the same lofty results.

But beyond his skills out on the field, those numerous photos across Gillette of Brady lifting the Lombardi Trophy serve as a constant reminder to veterans and newcomers alike of the glory that this franchise once reached — and what it is trying to build toward once again.

“Just the way he was a leader, the way he was exemplifying the Patriot Way,” Josh Uche said of Brady’s impact. “His execution, his calmness under pressure. Definitely referring to Tom a lot in certain situations. He’s definitely a pillar to what we’ve got going on here, so of course 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 during Wednesday’s interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Zolak & Bertrand“. “It was special. … He obviously set the standard right. And no one did it better than that. But you saw that standard trickled down to every single player. And I think that’s a huge thing. So, you know what it looks like. You know what that standard needs to be. And that’s what you strive for every day.”

Even though Uche never played alongside a fellow Michigan product in Brady, the Patriots pass rusher did get the opportunity to hear Brady address the Wolverines during his freshman season at Ann Arbor in 2016.

“Him being in the same seats I was in as a freshman, and him being one of the greatest players to play this game, it was just an honor to come and listen to him,” Uche, donning a Michigan hat during his presser on Wednesday, said of Brady’s address. “And to be in the same environment that he came through, it showed me that anything was possible, especially being at Michigan. It was one of the best speeches I ever heard.”

Brady’s primary message to Uche as a freshman revolved around “enduring” and not being deterred from his path to the NFL.

Now entering his fourth year with the Patriots, Uche follows yet another mantra that Brady carried out in New England: “Do Your Job.”

“At the end of the day, it comes down to execution and just being calm under pressure and just doing your job at the end of the day,” Uche said. “No matter the situation, just leaning back on your fundamentals and doing your job.”

Brady’s longest-tenured teammate still in Foxborough is Slater, who has anchored New England’s special-teams unit since first landing with the team back in 2008.

For Slater, one of Brady’s most impactful qualities had little to do with his success on the field, but rather his leadership and emphasis on communication within the locker room.

“I’ll never forget my first day in here,” Slater recalled. “[Brady] came up and introduced himself to me. He knew a little bit about my college career. There wasn’t much to know. But just the kindness that he showed me that he didn’t have to, that stuck with me ever since then. I remember calling my parents and being like, ‘Hey, Tom Brady knows my name. He introduced himself.’ And he was like that with everyone, that wasn’t just me.

“He did that — undrafted guys, guys that we just signed to the practice squad. He was just a genuine, humble human being, [and] continues to be that. And I think that’s kind of what gets missed and overlooked. You know, we don’t really celebrate character. We celebrate production on the field, big contracts and accolades. [When] all that fades away, who we are as people will last our lifetimes. That’s what I appreciate most about Tom.”

Brady’s return on Sunday will represent a journey that’s finally come full circle for both player and team. It should offer some much-needed closure for both parties, especially after Brady’s messy departure three years ago.

But for all of the pomp involving 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 champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Sounds like a fitting way to honor someone like Brady.

“It’ll be awesome,” Andrews said of Brady’s halftime ceremony. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is go out there and put our compete on. That’s what our focus is on.”


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