Tom Brady cheered from the sideline as his undrafted teammate sped by for a 52-yard gain.
Coach Bill Belichick and several players stood nearby, expressionless. After all, it was just an exhibition game. But the two-time Super Bowl MVP shouted, "Go! Go! Go!," raising his fist high on the final "Go!"
Four days later, Brady stopped by the sideline at the New England Patriots practice. He kissed his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen. He held 8-month-old Benjamin Rein Brady behind metal bleachers and planted several kisses on his forehead. Then he played catch with his other son, 3-year-old Jack.
One day the 33-year-old quarterback with the enthusiasm of a kid is rooting for Darnell Jenkins, whose catch and run led to the winning field goal in a 27-24 win over the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 13.
Then he's a loving husband and father.
It's a balancing act: intense competitor and devoted family man. Brady seems to be pulling it off, even as some critics say that, in his 11th season and with more responsibility than just winning games, his intensity and dedication to football has waned.
"He's still one of the first ones here, last ones to leave," said center Dan Koppen, one of Brady's close friends and also the father of a young son. "He's really the leader on this team, regardless of how many kids or whatever the situation is at home."
Home, for much of the past offseason, was California.
That's where his Jack lives with his mom, actress Bridget Moynahan. It's where Brady is building a 22,000-square foot house with a six-car garage — and cardio and weight room, of course — near the home of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And it's where Benjamin was baptized in June.
It's also where Brady and Wes Welker worked out together in the offseason, at UCLA, while the wide receiver recovered from surgery for a knee injury similar to the one that ended Brady's 2008 season in the first game. Brady trained in California more than in previous years and lost his prized parking spot with the shortest walk into Gillette Stadium that goes to the most dedicated players at voluntary workouts there.
But he reported to training camp on time and in shape and was impressive during exhibition games.
"One thing I know about Brady is there's an edge to him ... that nothing can take away," said Saints fullback Heath Evans, Brady's teammate from 2005-08, "I do believe that Tommy's perspectives have changed.
"I think he's going to fall into one of those guys who will never be willing to sacrifice a wife or a child for a game," Evans said, but "the motivation that that guy has to be the best (is outstanding). ... Guys are born that way. They're born with that tenacity and a child or wife doesn't change that."
At work, it's clear that the sixth-round draft pick of 2000, a guy who worked hard just to make the team, hasn't lost his passion.
After his teammates left practice on a blazing hot day, Brady stayed to throw short passes to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. At another practice, he jumped to bump bodies with Rob Gronkowski, also a promising first-year tight end, after a touchdown pass.
Brady insists on working hard on every play in team drills.
"If the quarterback won't do it, then who will do it?" he said. "I think that's how I always think about it. If it's like, 'Hey guys, that's all right. It was a (bad) play, but we'll get the next one.' That's not the way it works.
"The first rep of a drill is always the most important because you never get it back. It always sets the tempo and the timing. ... We're coming out here and competing. We came a long way for these practices. May as well come out and play our best."
And if he sees a player doing something wrong?
"He is our leader," running back Kevin Faulk said. "He will bring it to our attention in any kind of way that he feels the team has to be addressed."
On Feb. 3, 2008, the Patriots lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants 17-14 on a last-minute touchdown. Twenty-three days later, Brady and Bundchen were married. Since then, life has been a whirlwind of public appearances and paparazzi.
The couple attended the wedding of Bundchen's sister in Brazil in March and vacationed in Paris with Benjamin in April. Brady wore a tuxedo when he and his wife attended the Costume Institute Gala Benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May. Brady even chatted with Barry Bonds at the Kentucky Derby.
Now the quarterback who has sported a number of hairstyles — slick-backed, short, long — has a new one, a 'do like Bon Jovi, Belichick's good friend and musical favorite. Brady has been ribbed by teammates, just as when he posed with a goat for GQ magazine in 2005 and his offensive linemen taped the photo to their backs in practice.
Even now, despite all the magazine covers, Brady tries hard to remain one of the guys. He recently took part in a tradition of giving rookies strange haircuts.
"It was Tom," newly shorn quarterback Zac Robinson said. "He just started hacking away."
Despite his wealth and status, Brady is the Patriots' alternate player representative at a critical time — the collective bargaining agreement expires after this season and there is the possibility of a lockout in 2011.
Brady is making $6.5 million this year, but his contract is up after this season and negotiations have been going on for some time. Like his domestic life, that's one potential distraction he won't let affect his play.
"We all deal with different stuff in our life — some more challenging than others — but I'm a leader on this team and I've been a captain for a long time," he said. "You just put those things off the field behind you and come here with a good attitude and show good leadership."
Belichick sees the same old Brady in the huddle and the locker room.
"I think Tom's been Tom," Belichick said. "He's always been a strong leader. He's always been vocal, but not overbearing. He helps the younger players. He talks to the veteran players. There's a good competitive spirit between him and some of the defensive players. I've seen that before, we see it now."
Brady missed the last 15 games in 2008 after tearing knee ligaments. In his first season as a married man in 2009, he started all 16 games and prepared diligently. He's said he'd like to play 10 more years.
"I owe it to the guys in the locker room to really focus on what I need to do for this team," Brady said then, "and put all these emotions aside and kind of come in here with a great sense of determination on what we have to do as a team."
Brady played the final five games last season, including a 33-14 first-round playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, with finger and rib injuries. His numbers in four of those games were subpar, but he completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns in the other.
"I don't look at it as him getting soft, by no means," said New York Jets tackle Damien Woody, who played center for Brady from 2001-03. "I think he's just maturing. When you're young and single, you come into the league and it's all about ball. When you're older, you get a wife, a family, kids, and you have other things going on besides football."
But when he straps on the helmet, it's all football for Brady.
"Look at the season he had last year," Woody said. "I think it was the second-best season of his career or something. A year after he tore his ACL? That's pretty amazing if you look at it. He was still one of the top five quarterbacks last year, a year after having major reconstructive surgery on his knee. If that's not tough, what is?"
Tough enough to serve as an example for the top pick in this year's draft, Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Brady was a rare bright spot for the Patriots in a 36-35 exhibition loss to St. Louis, throwing for 273 yards and three touchdowns.
"I am glad he was able to be out there and watch one of the really great quarterbacks play," Spagnuolo said. "I told him when he had a chance when he was on the sideline to watch No. 12 (Brady) because he does it right."
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel in New Orleans and Dennis Waszak Jr. in New York contributed to this report.