FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady was already the oldest player on the Patriots roster before he stepped out on the practice field for training camp Thursday.
He spent the abbreviated workout being constantly reminded he’s now a 40-year-old quarterback.
From a sculpture spelling out “G.O.A.T.” that was erected near the entrance of the practice field gate to multiple chants of his name to sporadic “Happy Birthday” serenades from spectators — everything revolved around No. 12 and his 40th birthday.
“It’s fun. It reminds you that Tom’s old. Very old,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “But I think he has a lot of fun with it. A lot of guys sung ‘Happy Birthday’ in the locker room. But it’s also a reminder of how good he’s been. Forty years old and still our best player.”
With his first start of 2017 Brady will become the 20th quarterback in NFL history to appear in a game at 40 or older.
McCourty has been a member of the Patriots since 2010, and is familiar with the fanfare that trails Brady every Aug. 3. So even with the elevated displays, he said he never expected Brady to make a big deal about turning 40.
“He’s not into birthday parties. So we just do whatever he allows us to do,” McCourty said.
Brady did manage to work up a sweat in front of all the birthday displays.
Notably, he and the rest of the projected first-team offense spent a large portion of the session working on an adjacent field out of view from fans and partially obscured from the media.
They were joined by the starting secondary, though it was unclear exactly what they were doing.
Brady and the others rejoined the rest of the team after about 45 minutes and coach Bill Belichick called the squad to the middle of the field. After a brief huddle, they formed a horseshoe around Brady and led one final rendition of “Happy Birthday” as fans joined in.
When practice ended, Brady ran over to the bleachers and spent about 10 minutes signing autographs and taking pictures before jogging off the field.
“There’s nowhere else he wants to spend it besides the football field,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “But it’s just unbelievable how he’s turning 40 and just where he’s at right now is just unreal.”
Asked Wednesday what he planned to get his quarterback for his birthday, Gronk said he could only think of one thing.
“I get him touchdowns,” he said. “You’ve got to catch the ball. That’s all he wants — his receivers, tight ends, running backs to catch the ball.”
Brady has yet to address the media since camp began, but Belichick was deadpan when asked before practice if the team planned anything special for him for his birthday.
“Like the parade?” Belichick said.
But even as Brady has gotten older, his coach said nothing has changed about his approach.
“I mean, he’s had a great career, he works hard, comes to work every day. It’s been like that for a long time,” Belichick said. “I don’t want to say you take it for granted, but I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s like a big shock that he’s going to walk in here today and be prepared and go out and perform and give us his best.”
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower