FOXBORO -- This sounds absurd, I understand. But Tom Brady isn’t taking for granted that teammates will regard him as the team’s unquestioned leader in this tumultuous 2016.
If he did, he wouldn’t have stated on FOUR different occasions Monday how crushing it was to miss last Thursday’s game because it prevented him from fulfilling what he sees as his duty.
His irritation wasn’t simply about missing out on reps and getting in rhythm. It circled back to leadership, responsibility, the sand draining from his NFL hourglasss and his teammates counting on him.
“I feel like that’s what my job is and responsibility is to go out there and be with my team, so it was tough not to be out there.”
“I’ve always felt like the team is counting on me to be out there, and I’m going to do everything I can to be out there playing. I wanted to go the other night, but I think Coach [Bill Belichick] made a great decision.”
“I’d like to be out there every time I get a chance to play, so you only get so many opportunities a year. I’m getting so many opportunities left in my life, so I’d like to take advantage of any opportunity, any and all of them if possible. When you see your teammates out there in their uniforms and ready to go, you want to be out there with them.”
“I was just, like I said, bummed that I couldn’t be out there with my teammates and taking the practice field, I love practicing, so to have the chance to go out there, you like, as a guy who’s been here for a long time, to show your leadership through example and be out there whenever you can be out there because that’s what the team is counting on.”
Is he crazy? Is he being insecure? How could he be perceived as anything but the alpha dog for the Patriots? They don’t need to see him out there to feel led by him. His resume doesn’t just speak for itself, just run the film from the AFC Championship Game and see possibly the most courageous performance of Brady’s career in Denver.
Why the urgency to pee on his territory?
Maybe it’s because Brady got the quarterback job in the first place because his predecessor treated the position like his birthright.
Brady knows the threatening, would-be replacement won’t come right out and say, “I’m the captain now.”
No, the would-be replacement shows up early with sharpened pencils and open ears and does everything he’s asked until -- one day -- the guy who owns the job isn’t there. And then, slowly, life with would-be replacement gets to feeling . . . almost normal. Livable even.
Jimmy G. may not know “Art of War” from arts and crafts, but Brady will presume he does and that the passage “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy” is tattooed inside Jimmy’s lower lip.
And Brady, knowing another Sun Tzu trope states: “A leader leads by example, not force,” has immediate concerns about how he can lead by example when he’s down until October, for God’s sake.
I asked Garoppolo on Wednesday if he has to step gently in taking control of a team temporarily that is/has been and will be Brady’s.
"It’s a tough situation at times,” admitted Garoppolo, who doesn’t seem to have a mutinous cell in his body. “It’s one of those thing where, if you start worrying about that then you can’t worry about whatever it is you’re supposed to be focused on. Your reads, your checks, whatever it may be. You just have to go about your business the same way you always have. I’m not trying to do something crazy that I’ve never done before. I’m just trying to be myself and do what I do.”
I asked Garoppolo if Brady has flat-out said to him that Garoppolo should just do his thing and take control.
In replay, Garoppolo said, “We have a ton of conversations on a day-in, day-out basis. We’re together 24-7. But he’s been helpful this whole way. Whether it’s encouragement, helping me with little things, he’s been nothing but help and I thank him for that.”
Brady is 10 days away from being sent out into the NFL desert to wander for a month. This is uncharted territory for him. He’s 39 and has -- for 16 years -- seen older teammates taken out behind the stables and not come back.
Ludicrous as it is on the face of it -- especially since Brady is signed through 2019 and Jimmy is up in 19 months -- adjusting to the reality of someone else squatting down in his huddle may be the hardest part of it all.