No sign of Pats’ Brady — or the boot

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For once, not even the paparazzi could find Tom Brady.

Or his boot.

They staked out the locker of the Patriots quarterback for 45 minutes before the media access period ended on Thursday. Then they focused for the 15 minutes they were allowed into practice and found two quarterbacks, Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez.

That was quite a change from early in the week when Brady walked through a bunch of videographers and photographers near the New York home of his girlfriend, supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

On Monday, they took pictures of him wearing a protective boot on his right foot. Later in the day, he walked without the boot into a nightspot with Bundchen. Video on Tuesday also captured him without the boot as he headed for and entered a cab.

“I’m going to put on a boot and see if you all follow me around,” New England fullback Heath Evans joked before practice.

Brady, the NFL MVP, reportedly has a minor ankle sprain that shouldn’t keep him out of the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 against the New York Giants.

Coach Bill Belichick and several players treated the Brady-boot saga with a mixture of stonewalling and smiles.

“I don’t have any comment on it,” Belichick said in a news conference before the Patriots held their first practice for the Super Bowl. “The injury report will be out next Wednesday and we’re excited to give that to you. That form will be filled out completely and I can’t wait to give that to everybody.

“I know you’re anxious for it, so when it’s due on Wednesday, we’ll have it for you. Don’t worry about that.”

While Patriots’ fans were concerned about the boot on Brady’s foot, defensive end Richard Seymour was more taken with the bouquet in Brady’s hand.

“Every channel I turned to, there it was, magnifying in on the boot,” he said. “To me, the good part was the flowers. I wasn’t in on the boot.”

Other players commented, or declined to, in more typical Patriots fashion: Stay away from anything controversial and never discuss injuries.

“I didn’t see the video and I don’t know anything about it,” safety Rodney Harrison declared.

Cornerback Ellis Hobbs was no more forthcoming.

“That has nothing to do with me, man,” he said. “Next question.”

Running back Kevin Faulk said he “changed the channel” when news of Brady’s strolls came on.

And wide receiver Wes Welker directed reporters to the person who may know more than anyone about why Brady put on and then removed the boot.

“You’ll have to ask Tom about anything pertaining to him and his ankle,” Welker said.

None of the players expressed any concern that Brady wouldn’t play in the Super Bowl, still more than a week away. He may even have practiced after reporters and photographers were ushered out, but the team provided no information.

The first practice participation report is due out after next Wednesday’s workout in Arizona.

Brady has started 126 consecutive games, the third longest current streak among quarterbacks behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

In the 2001 season, he was knocked out of the AFC championship game with an ankle injury in the second quarter, then returned a week later to lead the underdog Patriots to the first of their three Super Bowl titles, 20-17 over St. Louis.

“I don’t think he would have the success that he has if he wasn’t mentally and physically tough,” Harrison said. “He’s one of those guys that’s in here busting his butt. You see him every day, not missing practices, not missing weight room sessions, and being out there in the game.

“He’s a constant so, as a leader of our team and as a guy that really respects the game of football, you really appreciate that about him because he’s no prima donna. He’s one of those guys that lays it on the line each day.”

Brady is not even afraid to walk through a mass of photographers who could be as intimidating as any defensive line.

Faulk may have had the best take on the mania in Manhattan when he was asked why he received little attention when he once wore a protective boot.

“Because I’m not Tom Brady, I guess,” Faulk said. “I don’t know. It’s just crazy. That’s all.”

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