Tom Brady’s birthday, Aug. 3, seems on the verge of becoming a holiday in New England.
Bill Belichick treated it as a day of rest for the 41-year-old birthday boy, as Brady stood on the sidelines for nearly the entirety of 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 team drills on Friday as the occasional chorus of “happy birthday to you” rang in from fans watching practice at Gillette Stadium. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were also inactive for much of the sessions.
Was it the pseudo-day off that Bill Belichick was referring to when asked prior to practice if the team was doing anything to celebrate the big day?
“We’ll have a couple of things here,” the coach said.
In his place, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling each fumbled a snap under center during various sessions, prompting the entire offense to take a lap – starters and non-starters alike, Brady included.
But the day still belonged to Brady, who will set out to be the first quarterback in NFL history to start all 16 regular season games in his age 41 season.
A giant two-piece No. 12 cake was available for fans who turned out for practice, while fans visiting the Pro Shop at Patriot Place received a 12 percent discount off their purchases. Reportedly, avocados were not an ingredient in the cake.
“Obviously, he means a lot to this entire area and the fans,” Hoyer said of the fans packing into the practice facility adjacent to Gillette Stadium – even as temperatures soared into the 90s. “I think it’s a great way that they show their appreciation.”
The team began practice with Jay-Z’s “Public Service Announcement” blaring over the PA system, Brady’s traditional entrance song for home games in Foxboro. Other musical numbers included “Hall of Fame” by The Script and “Once in a Lifetime” by the Talking Heads, each song no doubt messages about Brady’s status in the game.
Brady’s wife, Gisele Bündchen, headed over to greet Brady after practice along with the couple’s two kids, Benjamin and Vivian.
Brady didn’t speak with the media on Friday – he’s been silent since last Saturday’s session ended abruptly – but he took the time to take pictures with a few fans as he jogged off. Alex Guerrero, who was the subject of a question which drew Brady’s ire on Saturday, was nowhere to be found on the practice fields.
Stephen Gostkowski has been Brady’s teammate longer than any player currently on New England’s roster, dating back to his rookie season in 2006. He’s witnessed the progression of the mood around training camp on Brady’s birthday through the years, and said he can always remember fans singing ‘Happy Birthday,’ even back then.
“A guy that’s been so good and such a good teammate deserves to be celebrated,” Gostkowski said. “Hopefully all his wishes come true on his birthday.”
What might Brady’s wishes be?
“The best gift we can give to Tom is to come out here and try hard in practice and give it our all and win some games,” Gostkowski said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
“It’s hard to shop for a guy that has everything,” quipped Julian Edelman, Brady’s teammate since 2009.
The last game before his 40th birthday, Tom Brady orchestrated the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, complete with a Super Bowl-record 466 passing yards.
As Brady takes to the field on Friday, his 41st birthday, he’s coming off yet another record-setting performance in the Super Bowl, with 505 yards through the air. Thing is, the Patriots lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, 41-33, in February.
Therein lies the difference a year has made. The Super Bowl loss is still clouded in mystery surrounding the benching of Malcolm Butler, Brady skipped all non-mandatory organized team activities (OTAs) this spring and the talent exodus from New England’s offense via free agency or trades can’t be overlooked. Put it all together and there’s every reason to be less enthused about Brady’s second year in his 40s as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Brady’s contract still hasn’t been extended through the end of the 2019 season. His first press conference at training camp last weekend was memorable for all of the wrong reasons. There’s virtually no quarterback succession plan in place for the Patriots, not with Jimmy Garoppolo across the continent with the San Francisco 49ers.
Brady has long touted that he’ll play until he’s 45, which means this exercise is sure to continue every Aug. 3 until then.
Unless the end comes sooner, which the “Tom vs. Time” Facebook docuseries didn’t rule out, either.
“What are we doing this for?” Brady wondered aloud in the finale. “Who are we doing this for? Why are we doing this?”
Despite the Super Bowl loss, Brady has nothing left to prove to anyone. There are some statistical milestones he can still hit – the career passing yards mark and passing touchdowns mark, to name a few – but he already has every record that’s ever mattered to him when it comes to winning: regular season wins (196), postseason wins (27) and of course, Super Bowl wins (five).
What Brady did in his MVP-winning age 40 season defied logic but wasn’t totally without precedent. His 4,577 passing yards, 32-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 66.3 completion percentage resembled countless other seasons for him personally, but really only one other player in NFL history had approached those numbers at age 40: Brett Favre in 2009 with the Minnesota Vikings.
If Brady is to keep up the MVP-caliber play we’ve grown used to year in and year out, age 41 is where he’ll truly stand alone. Favre fell off a cliff at 41 with the Vikings. Warren Moon and Vinny Testaverde were adequate as starters in their age 41 seasons, no more, no less.
Adequate has never fit Brady’s mold, and this year would be a terrible time to start. The receiving core in New England is in flux at the moment, with Julian Edelman suspended for the first four games of the season. Just Wednesday, free agent signing Jordan Matthews was released, ending his career in Foxboro before it ever really began.
The wild-card surrounding all of this uncertainty is that it’s Tom Brady we’re talking about. He isn’t just the greatest quarterback of all-time; he’s arguably the best quarterback in the league today, regardless of his age.
Set to be the oldest member of the Patriots for the seventh straight season, Brady is also once again the again the oldest non-specialist in the NFL; only Phil Dawson and former teammate Adam Vinatieri are older. He’s one of three players left from the 2000 NFL draft – Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski are also specialists – and he’s the only one who remains with the team that drafted him.
Brady deserves the benefit of the doubt on the field until proven otherwise, no matter how old he is.
Brady forced Bill Belichick’s hand in 2001 when Drew Bledsoe was ready to return from injury, cementing as the starter for the duration. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 2009, a year removed from a torn ACL, before going on to win his second regular season MVP award the following year.
After an ever-so-slight drop in his play preceded the selection of Garoppolo in 2014, Brady responded by leading the Patriots to two more Super Bowl titles and perhaps the best four-year stretch of his career statistically.
It’s also important to note that virtually no physical signs of slipping appear imminent for Brady, either. Until that day comes, his birthday should remain a cause for celebration rather than a cause for concern – complete with baby goats and avocado ice cream readily available at training camp.
Happy birthday, Tom.
One other note out of Foxboro today is the lack of an Eric Decker sighting. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday that New England had signed the 31-year-old wideout to a one-year deal, but he’s yet to be added to the active roster – nor has the team sent out an official release.
“Any announcements that we have on personnel will be when they’re completed, if they’re completed,” Belichick said.
Decker has been in the NFL since 2010, spending time with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. He was coached – briefly – by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in his rookie season before McDaniels was fired midway through the season.
He has three 1,000 yard receiving campaigns to his credit. Last year, his lone one in Nashville, he caught 54 passes for 563 yards and a touchdown.