FOXBORO, Mass. — What was it like to play with Tom Brady? That’s a question just a small portion of the Patriots’ current roster can answer.

Brady left New England before the 2020 season. In the three years since, the Patriots’ locker room underwent a near-total makeover.

Of the 53 players on Bill Belichick’s Week 1 roster, just eight overlapped with the legendary quarterback, who will be honored in a halftime ceremony during Sunday’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium:

ST Matthew Slater
LS Joe Cardona
OT Trent Brown
C David Andrews
CB Jonathan Jones
DL Lawrence Guy
DE Deatrich Wise
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley

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If you include the practice squad and injured players who could return this season, offensive lineman James Ferentz, linebacker Calvin Munson and defensive end Trey Flowers (currently on the physically unable to perform list) also make the cut.

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That’s a total of 11 players out of the more than 70 currently under contract with the Patriots.

Yes, they get asked the question at the top of this story. Quite frequently, in fact.

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“That question gets asked all the time,” said Guy, who won one Super Bowl with Brady and played in another. “First, they call you old.”

How does he respond?

“I tell them the truth,” the 33-year-old run-stuffer said Thursday. “The guy’s a great competitor. He competed on the field, at practice. He enjoyed games. He laughed. He made jokes. He did everything. He was very personable with every person in the locker room.

“That’s the biggest thing people are shocked about, how personable he is. He wanted to know your name, know your wife’s name. Interact with you. Break bread at a dinner table. … That’s the best thing about him as a person — that he took his time out to get to know everyone in the building.”

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Brady’s other ex-teammates shared similar memories. Slater, the longest-tenured current Patriot, remembered being shocked that Brady knew his name and even details about his college career when he arrived as a fifth-round rookie in 2008.

“The kindness he showed me that he really didn’t have to has stuck with me ever since then,” Slater said. “I remember calling my parents and saying, ‘Hey, Tom Brady knows my name.’ “

Andrews, Brady’s primary center for four of the QB’s final five seasons in Foxboro, struggled to find words to describe their relationship.

“His ceremony or whatever they’re going to draw up for him, he deserves whatever he gets,” Andrews said. “You can’t say enough great things about the guy, right? I can’t even put into words what he’s meant for me and done for me and how much I’ve learned from him, how he treated me. You could go on and on. I could sit up here all day and talk about it.”

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Quotes like these — from Brady-era holdovers and Patriots newcomers alike — drive home just how strong his influence still is inside Gillette Stadium.

Patriots players typically are instructed to “ignore the noise” and sidestep questions that aren’t directly related to that week’s game or opponent. That so many players and coaches — including Belichick himself — have been willing to share in-depth, emotional explanations of what Brady meant to them speaks volumes.

“When you try to put into words what he meant to this place, what he continues to mean to this place, it’s really hard,” Slater said. “I’m just thankful that we have an opportunity to celebrate him the right way.”

Featured image via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images