The shouts of "oh no" soon melted into hushed panic across the practice field behind Gillette Stadium. New England quarterback Tom Brady was rolling on his back, clutching the same left knee that he blew out back in 2008.
This being the modern media world, cell phone cameras rolled and Twitter posts were made and soon everyone who cared could watch it and panic like they were there. Just a half dozen years ago, maybe it’s a news blurb or maybe no one sees it (or even hears about it) at all.
In the end, the prognosis was as good as it could be – the MRI came back negative. No new injury to Brady’s knee. No old damage to Brady’s knee, both the ACL and MCL were torn back in 2008.
By sunset, the Patriots listed the franchise quarterback as day-to-day. One report says he'll practice Thursday. Who knows, he might even be ready for Friday’s preseason game against Tampa Bay.
So no, this wasn't ’08, when Brady went down in a heap in the season opener against Kansas City. The Pats were coming off their 18-1 season, eyeing a return to the Super Bowl and seeing Brady hurt badly, in front of a full house at Gillette, was devastating. The mumbles and sounds were the same, just involving more people. It felt like the season was already lost. The fear was for good reason. New England finished 11-5 without Brady, but it failed to make the playoffs for the only time since the 2002 season.
Through those hours of uncertainty on Wednesday though, this kind of felt worse.
Brady is 36 now, not 31. The injury in 2008 was serious, but there was no doubt he was coming back. And given Brady’s relentless drive and competitive nature, while you never truly know if a player will return to pre-injury form, the chances were strong.
This time, you really never know. If it was a repeat of the same injury, then the dread grows deeper. And at this stage of Brady’s career, it’s not just whether he can return that becomes the question, but the fact a season could be lost when there simply can’t be that many remaining.
This isn’t the last run of the Brady-Bill Belichick era in New England but we’re approaching that day soon. And that’s a player-coach partnership that will go down in the history of the game, even if they never land that coveted fourth Super Bowl that still drives them.
Brady and Belichick have had 177 regular-season games together as starting QB and coach. It appears only Dan Marino and Don Shula (186) have combined for more, so the Patriots' duo could pass that as soon as Nov. 18 at Carolina. Their combined 136 victories together are the most since at least the 1970 merger (Shula-Marino had 116). These numbers don’t count 24 playoff games (17 of them victories) for Brady and Belichick.
There’s been nothing like this in NFL history. Not Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. Not Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. Not Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr.
When you’re deep into historical longevity comparisons like that, then every week has to be considered precious. New England, through this era, has been the most consistent force in the league. It's failed to win a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, but it’s reached two more title games and produced a double-digit win total every year.
Week in, week out, here they are. This is not just your present day constant, but an all-time one.
Despite a humble beginning, Brady gets plenty of heat from fans around the league – maybe it’s the seemingly too perfect life, maybe it’s the endless success, maybe it’s the lingering effects of Spygate. The league is better, however, with him – or any generational talent like him.
Here in a preseason with at least what seems like too many season-ending injuries to key performers, what football fan wants to start the 2013 campaign without one of the game’s signature stars? Brady and Belichick are fun to watch, even if it’s just to see them get occasionally beat.
In an NFL suddenly awash in young quarterbacking talent – Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, etc. – now is the time to fully appreciate the genius of the old guard, the Bradys and Peyton Mannings who are potentially one hit from never being the same.
That was whipping through so many minds as Brady, clad in a red No. 12 jersey, rolled around out there.
In the end, the hushed tone that enveloped that Foxborough practice field was mostly a false alarm, just one spread far and fast via social media. In the past, maybe Brady hobbling out of camp is nothing more than part of a notebook in the morning paper.
This is 2013 though, information and emotions flash quickly. For the Patriots, at least it wasn’t 2008.