FOXBORO -- Over the last three days, there has been a familiar scene playing out at the tail end of every Patriots-Bears joint practice session: Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer exchanging hugs and handshakes, and chatting not just about football, but family.
Those moments, those conversations, had Hoyer -- now backing up Jay Cutler in Chicago -- taking a trip down memory lane to his first day in Foxboro as an undrafted quarterback, hoping to survive the day.
“[On] Day One . . . he came to introduce himself: ‘Hey, I’m Tom.’ I knew that already, but that’s the way he is,” said Hoyer, thinking back to the spring of 2009. “He is so humble. A great guy, and (he's stayed) in touch. He’s always been one of the first guys to text me after a game, whether it was good, bad or ugly, or whatever it was. It’s a friendship I've really cherished over the years.”
In three seasons with the Patriots, Hoyer didn’t start a single game, throwing just 43 passes during repeated mop-up duty. Like any young player, he craved the opportunity, any opportunity. But Brady stood in his way, just as he has with every backup to come through these parts -- Damon Huard, Rohan Davey, Matt Cassel, Ryan Mallett and now Jimmy Garoppolo.
Instead of growing impatient, however, Hoyer tried to learn from the master, however he could.
“I think, for me, (it was best to) just sit there and watch,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. But [Brady's] also a guy who goes out of his way to help . . .
"I remember . . . just trying to sit back and watch and soak up everything, whether it was in the meeting room, on the field, training, whatever it might be. He’s an intense competitor. If you can just soak it all up, you just kind of gain it by being around him.”
That’s easier said than done, however. In Brady, we’re talking about one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- quarterbacks of his era and all-time. His brain functions on a different level. So do his muscles. That was a difficulty for Hoyer then, and for Garoppolo now.
“Sure, yeah, I mean at some point you gotta stop and say,‘Well, hold on, how are you seeing this?' Or 'How did you know that?’ " said Hoyer. "I remember that was the only question: 'How did you know this was going to be the coverage?' And he’d just go, ‘I’ve seen it years and years and years.’ So there’s definitely times you just have to stop and ask him, 'How were you even knowing to take the ball here, or check to this play?'
"But a lot of it was just seeing him operate: The intensity, demanding so much out of his teammates.”
Hoyer would eventually get his opportunity, starting 26 games over the last four seasons with Arizona, Cleveland and Houston. He was viewed as a leader in his last two stops and has wound up forging a perfectly acceptable career, especially when you consider where he came from.
Now Garoppolo, with a greater draft pedigree and potential, gets that chance, sooner than expected, and with Brady’s team. Garoppolo has a chance to put his stamp on this season and be a starting quarterback somewhere, be it with the Pats or, most likely, in some other NFL city . . . where he’ll have to prove he, like Hoyer, learned from Brady and can make at least some of those lessons translate on the football field.