Tom Brady insists he’ll be in no mood for a stroll down memory lane on Sunday when he faces the New England Patriots for the first time since leaving as a free agent after 20 seasons with the team.
The 44-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback is poised for an emotional return to Foxborough, Massachusetts, the scene of so many career highlights during two decades of Patriots dominance and six Super Bowl titles.
Patriots fans have clamored for tickets to Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium, splurging up to $13,000 for the chance to pay tribute to a favorite son who never had the chance to say his goodbyes.
But despite the growing anticipation in New England, Brady has spent the week quietly attempting to strip the emotion out of the occasion, insisting he remains focused only on helping the Buccaneers bounce back after a 34-24 defeat against the Los Angeles Rams last weekend.
“I’m not going to necessarily reminisce,” Brady said this week.
“I don’t think this is the moment for that. I’ll have plenty opportunities to reminisce about my football career — none of which I really care to do right now.
“I’m just excited to go up there and try and beat a really great football team. That’s ultimately what this week’s about. It’s not about the quarterback or the fans, or the home crowd, or 20-year relationships.
“It’s about two good football teams going at it. We’ve got to do a great job. Last week was a huge test and we didn’t quite meet it. We’ve got to meet the test this week after a really tough loss.”
That is the sort of single-minded approach that has defined every aspect of Brady’s career — both on and off the field — and one of the reasons why the Patriots, under the guidance of head coach Bill Belichick, were able to build a dynasty.
The hype has been given another layer of intrigue by revelations in an upcoming book about the inner workings of the Patriots during the Brady-Belichick era, including a suggestion Brady left the club after it refused to commit to his plan of playing until 45 and beyond.
Brady fielded questions about Belichick with customary diplomacy on Thursday, insisting his departure from New England last year was “handled as gracefully as we could.”
“Obviously a great coach,” Brady said of Belichick. “Has everyone prepared and does a great job with that. He taught me a lot and was a great mentor for a long time. And I really enjoyed my time in New England.
“But at the same time, I’m super excited about what we’ve done here (in Tampa Bay). I’ve got a great group of coaches here. An amazing group of guys that still motivate me and inspire me to be the best I can be.”
Belichick pushed back against suggestions his relationship with Brady deteriorated prior to his departure.
Instead, Belichick lavished praise on his former quarterback, and suggested Brady’s recent remarks about playing until his 50th birthday were not as fanciful as they sound.
“Nothing Tom does surprises me,” Belichick said. “He’s a great player. Works hard, takes care of himself. He talks about playing until 50. I mean, if anybody can do it, he probably can … he’s as tough as any quarterback there is or ever has been. Enough said.”
Brady enters Sunday’s game needing just 68 yards to surpass Drew Brees as the NFL’s all-time passing leader. Brady currently has 80,291 yards to Brees’ 80,358.
“His numbers are incredible,” Belichick said. “He’s about to pass the all-time passing record. He’s done more than any other player at that position in whatever measurement you want to take, whether it’s yards, completions, touchdowns, championships.”
“Tom’s had an unbelievable career,” Belichick added. “There’s not enough superlatives and adjectives to compliment him on everything that he’s achieved and continues to achieve so it’s unbelievably impressive.”
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