FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Fans drove to Gillette Stadium past a booth selling ”Free Tom Brady” T-shirts.
Then, when they arrived for the New England Patriots’ first training camp practice on Thursday, they let the star quarterback know how they felt.
Brady took the field to a boisterous cheer from the more than 10,000 fans who sat in a sweltering sun to see the Super Bowl champions open the defense of their title.
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Team owner Robert Kraft, who lashed out at the NFL a day earlier for upholding Brady’s suspension, also got loud applause when he came out on the field.
Kraft waved to fans when he arrived and then signed autographs for about 20 minutes at the end of practice. Fans were overwhelmingly supportive of the owner, according to an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the exchanges in an area off limits to writers.
Up above, an airplane buzzed the practice field towing a banner that said: ”Cheaters Look Up!” and listing the Twitter handle of a New York Jets fan website.
But at ground level, Brady looked sharp in his first football action since the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in February for the franchise’s – and his – fourth NFL title. He even had a one-handed touchdown catch on a pass from Julian Edelman, according to a video posted online by a member of the public. (The Patriots do not allow media to report on formations or trick plays.)
Brady was suspended four games and the team was docked $1 million and two draft picks for what the NFL said was a scheme to provide insufficiently inflated footballs for the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Brady appealed, but Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the punishment on Tuesday.
Both the players union and the NFL filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court seeking support for their position. Before the Patriots took the field on Thursday, a judge in Minnesota rejected the union’s suit and said the case would be heard in New York.
But Brady was a winner again on the field, with fans chanting his name and waving signs in support of the three-time Super Bowl MVP. He was not available to the media on Thursday, slipping away through an inaccessible exit after practice.
Backup Jimmy Garoppolo told reporters that he was not thinking about whether he would have to start for the first four games if Brady’s suspension holds. He said he does not have a preference on whether he likes the football hard or soft.
In response to failed appeal, online gambling site Bovada dropped the Patriots odds of winning the Super Bowl from 9-1 to 12-1. The website said Garoppolo’s over/under for touchdowns in the first four games is 4, and for interceptions it was 3.5.
(The over/under for ways the website spelled Garoppolo in its news release was 2.)
Earlier, coach Bill Belichick declined to answer questions about the deflated footballs scandal for the second straight day, citing Kraft’s admonition that the team shouldn’t discuss it.
His players followed suit.
AP Photographer Charles Krupa contributed to this story.
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