FOXBORO — When Matthew Slater was drafted by the Patriots in 2008, he didn’t think too fondly of Tom Brady.
“I didn’t like him when I got here,” Slater cracked on Wednesday.
It was in good nature. Slater grew up a Rams fan because his father Jackie played all 20 seasons of his career for them, and he certainly didn’t forget Brady beating them for his first Super Bowl victory.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know about this Brady guy,’ ” Slater joked.
But it didn’t take long for Slater’s view of Brady to change.
“I’ll never forget my first day in here, he came up and introduced himself to me,” Slater said. “He knew a little bit about my college career, there wasn’t much to know, but he knew it. The kindness that he showed me, that he didn’t have to really has stuck with me ever since then. I remember calling my parents, I’m like, ‘Hey, Tom Brady knows my name. He introduced himself.’ And he was like that with everyone. It wasn’t just me. … He was just a genuine, humble human being.”
More than the legendary football career, his seven Super Bowl victories, including six with the Patriots, and being regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time, it’s Brady’s character that stands out the most to Slater – who was teammates with Brady for more than a decade – as the Patriots prepare to honor Brady during a halftime ceremony at this Sunday’s season opener against the Eagles.
Sunday will mark Brady’s first return to Foxboro and Gillette Stadium since he and the Buccaneers visited in 2021, and the first since he officially retired after last season. It was difficult for Slater to describe how special it will be.
“It’s really hard to articulate,” Slater said. “I think I’ve had quite a few people ask me about this and what does it mean to celebrate Tom, and I think when you try to put it into words, what he has meant for this place, what he continues to mean for this place, it’s really hard. I’m just thankful that we have an opportunity to celebrate him the right way and our fanbase can celebrate him the right way. …
“I know Mr. (Robert) Kraft’s going to do a great job of honoring him,” added Slater, who said he still keeps in touch with Brady regularly as a close friend. “How fortunate for all of us, to be able to … whether you were covering him, whether you were playing with him, whether you were watching him, to be able to witness something like that. Twenty years of an unparalleled run. Greatness that we’ve never seen before.”
Slater is one of just eight remaining Patriots on the 53-man roster who played with Brady in New England, but his impact and presence is still felt with this group.
It’s felt inside Gillette Stadium, where pictures of the quarterback are plastered all over the walls.
“Just walking down here, I probably walked by him five times,” said Rhamondre Stevenson, who noted that many of his football memories growing up included watching Brady.
“He’s the GOAT. I watched him growing up all the time. So many different games, so many different Super Bowls, it’s a bunch. I could stand up here talking about it forever. …
“I think everyone’s excited for him coming back and being in Gillette Stadium. It’s pretty exciting for not only us, but the fans and everybody in the New England area, so we’re all excited but we’re kind of focused on the Eagles right now. But yeah, we’re excited for Tom coming back.”
Mac Jones said earlier this week during an interview on WEEI that Brady acts as a “mentor” to him, and has mentioned in the past about pursuing the greatness he left behind. The former quarterback’s influence is certainly felt during meetings led by Bill Belichick, too.
“Just the way he was a leader, the way he was exemplifying the ‘Patriot Way,’ his execution, his calmness under pressure, definitely referring to Tom a lot in certain situations,” said Josh Uche. “He’s definitely a pillar to what we got going on here.”
Uche, like Brady, played college football at Michigan, and in a nod to the former quarterback, wore a Michigan hat to his press conference on Wednesday. As he stepped to the podium, the linebacker said, “Shoutout Tom Brady.”
Long before he was drafted by the Patriots, Uche was a freshman at Michigan in 2016 when Brady visited the Wolverines in Ann Arbor as he served his four-game suspension. Brady addressed the team and left Uche with one of the most memorable speeches he’s ever heard.
“It was an honor,” Uche said. “The passion he spoke with and him being in the same seats I was in as a freshman and him being one of the greatest players to ever play this game, it was just an honor to listen to him and to be in the same environment that he came from. It’s showed me that anything is possible, especially being at Michigan. It was one of the best speeches I ever heard.”
David Andrews said the Patriots’ biggest focus on Sunday is preparing to face the Eagles. But the center – who snapped to Brady during his first five seasons and won two Super Bowls with the quarterback – understands more than most on the team what he means to the Patriots and what his return represents.
“You can’t say enough great things about the guy,” Andrews said. “Like I can’t even put it into words what he’s meant to me, done for me and how much I learned from him, how he treated me. I mean, we can go on and on and we can sit up here all day and talk about it. Excited to see him, and excited just for the atmosphere. It will be a great atmosphere, it’s two good football teams and a lot of people will be happy to see him.”
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