New England Patriots

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons 34-28 in overtime during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

By Bob Socci, 98.5 The Sports Hub

After devoting a decade of his life with his back turned to two of the best present-day throwers of the football, T.J. Lang sat facing the greatest quarterback his sport has ever seen.

The Lions were hosting the Patriots on the second day of last summer’s joint practices. Lang, who once blocked for Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and later Matthew Stafford in nearby Detroit, filled up his chair as he filled the air with commentary.

Now a part of the WJR broadcast team, Lang was sitting in on a radio interview with the Lions’ longtime play-by-play voice Dan Miller and their guest from New England. The subject on this sunny afternoon in Allen Park was the 42-year old whose pre-Patriot playing days were spent 40 miles away in Ann Arbor.

Lang had listened to Miller ask his visiting counterpart about Tom Brady: “When you watch him every day, what stands out the most?”

The response was one that might have caught others off guard. But not the ex-lineman.

How he plays catch, replied the guest, who continued by describing a simply redundant act that Tom had turned into art.

Enthusiastically bounding from a prior practice station into an almost painstaking warm-up before the next drill. Every ball delivered with precision, even before emerging from his hand. Each follow-through repeating itself. Ending with a bend of his wrist out front of his waist. And the slight skip of his feet upon release.

One after another.

Jul 25, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady drops back to find a receiver during the 2019 season opening Training Camp at Gillette Stadium. (Ed Wolfstein-USA TODAY Sports)

Jul 25, 2019; Foxborough, MA: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady drops back to find a receiver during the 2019 season opening Training Camp at Gillette Stadium. (Ed Wolfstein-USA TODAY Sports)

After listening, Lang went further. He too noticed the same, adding the way Brady bobbed and weaved, as if mimicking pocket movements to avoid imaginary pass rushers, between each rep.

Seven months later, that guest of Detroit radio — since hunkered down in a suburb of Boston — returned to that conversation and the vision of Brady going through the motions.

As if an invisible Von Miller were closing from his right. While J.J. Watt bore in from the blindside. And Aaron Donald blasted through the middle.

Brady sliding left, then shuffling right. Eyes ahead and shoulders squared to his target. Buying time and completing his next pass. Usually to equipment manager Brendan Murphy, or one of his assistants.

Again and again.

It turns out, as we learned with Tuesday’s early morning announcement by Brady and his reported agreement to join the Buccaneers — Tampa Bay, really? — Lang’s observation occurred during one of Brady’s final practices as a Patriot open for public viewing.

Two decades of memories — including many forged in 41 playoff starts, 30 of those a winner — are too long to list in this space. Not even the 29 1/2 pages dedicated to Brady’s bio and stats in the Pats’ 2019 media guide are ample enough.

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

HOUSTON, TX – FEBRUARY 05: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriots defeated the Falcons 34-28. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

So as the book on Brady’s tenure in New England closes, it’s a brief exchange between broadcasters, beside a pair of practice fields outside Detroit, that comes to mind.

And reminds one of them — this one — of words written in a magazine as a farewell to another of our region’s sporting gods 60 years ago.

In his classic New Yorker essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”, John Updike wrote of Ted Williams: “He radiated, from afar, the hard blue glow of high purpose…[as] the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

Brady was at his best in a full house on cold January and February weekends when the world outside of Boston was watching too. Because in large part, like Williams, he’s always radiated a higher purpose on August weekdays.

Those are about to get a lot steamier, as Brady rides out his football autumn in a place where August humidity averages around 91 percent. Don’t expect him to cool his intensity.

He’ll be taking his ball and resistance bands to work on bouncing back from a sub-Brady-like season in 2019. And taking aim at his seventh title, while trying to deliver the Bucs to their second in what would be an unforgettable first and lasting impression.

The same way he had in New England for so many seasons. One meticulous and mechanically precise throw at a time.

You can hear Bob Socci on the call of the game on every game day for the New England Patriots, right here on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can also hear him on his own The Gridiron And Beyond podcast at 985TheSportsHub.com.