FOXBOROUGH — If Patriots coach Bill Belichick lowered his wall in talking about former tight end Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday, then Tom Brady raised his Thursday discussing the ex-teammate who is now clad in prison garb instead of Patriots gear.
Brady displayed what the British call a stiff upper lip.
He did not express the personal disappointment and hurt that his coach had a day earlier, or say he felt “duped” as owner Robert Kraft conveyed earlier this month. The Patriots quarterback acknowledged “it’s a terrible thing that happened.” He called it “very sad” and “a real-life situation that everyone has to deal with.” But Brady deflected questions about his feelings or emotions regarding the tragedy.
It’s odd to say that Brady needed to be more Belichickian in his delivery. The quarterback is usually the epitome of suave and engaging, while his coach has perfected the football facade of a stolid, unkempt, uncaring football automaton. But Brady needed to be more like Belichick on this matter.
Of the Holy Trinity of owner, coach, and quarterback, Brady was the least revealing and expressive. He tried to shift the focus to the field with his first response, an answer to a question about his visceral reaction to Hernandez being charged with first-degree murder.
“I think everyone had a certain range of emotions, whatever they might have been. But those were really personal, and I dealt with them,” said Brady, one of four captains from last year who addressed the Hernandez subject. “At some point you have to move forward, and I think we as a team are doing that. The best part is really coming out to start the football season and talk about the challenges we have ahead of us. Certainly, it’s been a challenging offseason, but we’re going to try to move forward as best we know how.”
That same answer could have been applied to a query about Wes Welker signing with the Denver Broncos.
Hernandez is not a player who signed with another team, was released, or suffered an injury. He is not with the Patriots because he is accused of taking another man’s life.
This was not the Brady we’ve become accustomed to — cool, comfortable, and in complete command of his surroundings.
He was cautious, guarded, and a little ill at ease in his first extended comments on Hernandez, who was arrested June 26 and charged with the execution-style murder of Odin Lloyd in an industrial park near Hernandez’s North Attleborough home.
You can’t blame Brady. Addressing a murder charge against one of the men who used to catch your passes is not really in the franchise quarterback handbook.
Standing on one of the Patriots’ practice fields behind Gillette Stadium, Brady looked and sounded as if he rather would have been dining with antagonists Richard Sherman and Terrell Suggs than sharing his thoughts on the most unsettling and upsetting episode in team history.
That’s totally understandable, given the situation.
What wasn’t as understandable was Brady claiming he couldn’t remember the exact emotions he felt when he learned that Hernandez had been arrested for murder because it happened six weeks ago.
It’s pretty hard to forget how you felt when you learn a teammate has been accused of taking another human being’s life.
Obviously, there was only so much Brady could divulge due to the sensitive legal situation in which the Patriots find themselves.
When asked if he had had any contact with Hernandez since news of the murder investigation broke, Brady said he’d been advised not to comment on that.
The Hernandez discussion was a challenging start to what is shaping up as one of the most challenging seasons of Brady’s storied 14-year career.
With tight end Rob Gronkowski (back surgery) and wide receiver Julian Edelman (foot) starting camp on the physically unable to perform list, none of Brady’s top six pass-catchers from last season will be present when camp kicks off in earnest on Friday.
Edelman and Matthew Slater are the only wide receivers on the roster who have even caught a pass from Brady in a regular-season game.
The older Brady gets — he’ll be 36 next month — the less tolerance he appears to have for issues that could distract or detract from the team’s quest for a fourth Super Bowl title, including this one.
Just as the University of Florida jackhammered away the All-American brick that bore Hernandez’s name outside Ben Hill Griffith Stadium, Brady has excised Hernandez from his existence.
“I know the last six weeks have been distracting for a lot of people, but I’d say for this team we’re trying to focus on our job and what we have to do to come out and win football games,” said Brady. “Certainly, it’s a very tragic thing that happened; someone loses their life. But all those things were out of the players’ control here. We’re not really a part of that situation, so I don’t think it does a lot for us to get too much involved.”
However, Brady and the Patriots have to understand that this is no ordinary distraction. Winning football games will have an eliding effect in the sports world, but not in the real world.
This was a time to be a real person, first, and a Patriots player, second.
“It’s a terrible thing that happened,” said Brady. “Look at the city of Boston this year, what happened in the Marathon. Look, these are very terrible things that you wish never happened to anybody. There’s a very human, compassionate element that we all have, and when it’s someone you know [that] has been on our team it’s a very sad thing.
“I think that we as a team have tried to move forward with better awareness and understanding of these types of things. Hopefully, nothing like this ever happens again.”
No Patriots player should be forced to discuss a situation like this ever.