By Eric Wilbur
Boston.com Columnist | 07.30.15 | 4:28 PM
File this one as the least unexpected development of the day: Patriot fans are firm in their support of Tom Brady.
The public gates to training camp officially opened on Thursday morning, letting in a swarm of New England fans who welcomed their persecuted quarterback with raucous cheers and chants of “Bra-dy! Bra-dy!”
Only two days after news came down from the NFL that commissioner Roger Goodell had decided to uphold Brady’s four-game suspension stemming from the Deflategate scandal, the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium indeed turned into one, giant show of solidarity.
“You’ve got to support Tom Brady,” Patriots fan Dwayne Frederick, from Woodstock, Conn., said. “The whole thing, in my opinion, got way out of control. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but to hurt a franchise for a quarter of a season seems a little ridiculous.”
As the NFLPA takes Brady’s case to court, the quarterback took the field for the first time with his teammates since OTAs last month. Thousands of fans watched his every move, braving temperatures pushing 90 degrees.
“Free Brady” T-shirts were about as prevalent as No. 12, 87, and 11 jerseys. A young brother and sister posed for a picture, prompted by their mother to “Say Brady” with a smile. “Fire Goodell” and “In Brady We Trust” read some of the signs the patrons brought with them to the metal bleachers lining New England’s first official practice in preparation for the season only a little more than a month away.
With no idea who will be quarterbacking the team against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I have a good feeling it will all get erased,” said Nolan Hermanson, from Cumberland, R.I. “He won’t be suspended, but his reputation, that’s the thing that gets damaged the most right now. His view in the public eye is that he’s a cheater, it will always be like that. People don’t like winners. They don’t. And Tom Brady is a winner, so people won’t like him.
“I understand what Goodell is doing and why he’s doing it. Do I think it’s right though? Absolutely not, but I understand it…It’s either one owner or 31 other owners. You have to pick your battles. You have to side with the majority when it matters.”
The defending Super Bowl champions are a team in flux, uncertain if Brady will be available for Sept. 10 with injunction becoming the key term to plague the Patriots preseason. That leaves the door open for second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to start the first four games of the season — should Brady’s suspension be upheld by the courts — making him a secondary center of attention on Day One.
“He’s not a rookie,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He’s certainly a second-year player now. There were a lot of mistakes today by a lot of guys, and we’re going to go in there and correct as many of them as we can, but I think every player comes into his second training camp feeling a little more comfortable about playing in the National Football League than playing as a rookie.”
Following the order of Robert Kraft, the Patriots were mum about the Brady suspension, referring only to the remarks of the Patriots owner on Wednesday morning, when he made a surprise appearance at head coach Bill Belichick’s press conference.
That led to some entertaining uncomfortable moments in Belichick’s presser on Thursday morning, when pressed by a reporter to answer questions about Brady’s plight:
Q: Clearly at this point you’re not making a lot of comments on the Brady situation. At what point do you think it will be appropriate for you to address those questions again?
BB: I think Robert addressed that yesterday.
Q: Is there a point in the future where you think you’ll want to talk about this ever again?
BB: I think Robert addressed that yesterday. You can go back and read the transcript. I think you can read what he said and that’s what we’re going to do.
Q: Do you agree with everything he said?
BB: You can go back and read what he said.
Q: But that doesn’t tell me whether you agree with everything he said.
BB: You go back and read the transcript of what Robert said, he advised everybody in the organization not to talk about it, and so we’re not talking about it. You can go back and read that yourself. It’s in the transcript.
“It’s in the transcript.” The $14 yearbooks that workers peddled in the crowds on Thursday aren’t the Patriots preseason Bible. It’s the transcript.
About an hour into practice, a plane flew overhead at Gillette Stadium with a banner in tow that read, “Cheaters look up, ” the brainchild of a group of Jets fans. It caused a minor stir within the throng of Patriots fans.
“I think a lot of people were really upset about it, but I take it as, I think it’s pretty funny and it adds to the rivalry,” said Stephanie Crayton, from Cambridge, who was tossing a football with her six-year-old son just outside the Fan Zone, which featured a host of inflatable attractions and Patriots cheerleaders giving autographs, a line rivaled by those waiting to have their picture snapped with mascot Pat Patriot.
“It is what it is,” Hermanson said, invoking the mantra of Belichick. “I’m sure NESN and SportsCenter and all them will get a kick out of it. But if that’s the best the Jets can do, I’m not worried about it.”
Members of the media tried to get players to comment on Brady’s situation following practice, but none would bite. “It’s just like any other day, go out there and do my job,” said the normally-quotable Rob Gronkowski, reduced to a monotone puppet.
“It’s a part of the year where you know you’re going to go out and grind and have fans cheering for you out here, it makes it fun for us,” said first-year Patriot tight end Scott Chandler.
“Today is very similar to the first day of training camp last year,” McDaniels said.
Maybe. Then again, the Patriots have uncertainty at the quarterback position, something they didn’t have last year, not to mention a depleted secondary with the departures of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and, oh, yeah, that small matter of the team owner going to war with the commissioner of the NFL.
Pretty similar, right?
“I think the commissioner decided he was going to do this, and when you’re judge, jury and executioner, you can do whatever you want,” Fredrick said. “I think he just got strong-minded about it, that he wanted to set an example to one of the No. 1 players in the league. And I think he went after the Patriots because we are the No. 1 team in the league. I think it’s a bit of a slap down, but that’s the way it is.”
It is what it is on Day One in Foxborough. What else did you expect?
Contact Eric Wilbur at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @GlobeEricWilbur