FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – Tom Brady was nowhere to be found by reporters and cameraman waiting eagerly for the star quarterback, with or without his famous boot.
His teammates are certain where to find him on Feb. 3 — on a Super Bowl field for the fourth time in his career and leading his heavily favored New England Patriots against the New York Giants.
"I know he'll be ready to play. He always is," running back Heath Evans said Thursday. "He looks fine to me."
On Monday, Brady was photographed in Manhattan with a walking boot on his right foot, a protective device he had removed before going to a club that night with his girlfriend Gisele Bundchen. The much-publicized boot didn't turn up in any pictures or video taken of him Tuesday by celebrity chasers.
Yet it gained celebrity status itself.
"Well, considering the fact that he always has cameras in his face, I guess it was only a matter of time," Evans said of the superstar who squires a supermodel around New York City.
The fact he walked with the boot with only a slight limp that wasn't evident later was a sign that his injury wasn't serious. It turned out to be a minor high ankle sprain, according to published reports.
The NFL MVP apparently sustained it in Sunday's 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game. He had two weeks for it to heal before the Super Bowl.
"I don't foresee him not being in this game," defensive end Richard Seymour said.
Brady has been in the Patriots' past 126 games, the third-longest current starting streak among active quarterbacks behind Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.
Teammates praise his dedication in the weight room that helps him remain durable.
"He puts in the work to be one of the elite players because when Tom first got here, he was a slim, skinny kid," Seymour said, "and now you kind of look at him and he has legs, chest.
"He's in there doing Olympic lifts and working out in the offseason just like he was an offensive or defensive lineman. He's a part of us and that's the way he carries himself."
The Patriots returned to practice Thursday after three days off.
Photographers and reporters waited for Brady to walk, limp or even crawl in. They didn't see any of that.
Brady never showed up in the locker room for the 45 minutes in which the media were allowed inside. Then he was a no-show for the 15-minute media access period at practice. Seldom-used backups Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez never had so many cameras focused on them as photographers waited in vain for the leader of the quarterbacks to start stretching beside them.
That was quite a change from early in the week when Brady walked through a bunch of scampering videographers and photographers near Bundchen's home, an obstacle that could be as intimidating as the Giants' fierce pass rush.
But he handled it with poise, neither smiling nor frowning much, if at all, and not responding to comments from the paparazzi.
"I think Tom's one of the toughest players on our team, mentally and physically," coach Bill Belichick said at his news conference Thursday. "He works hard and he can be focused on his job regardless of what's going on in all of the surroundings — the crowd, the game, the whatever it is, stuff flying around him — but he's very calm. He's a great competitor, but he's very calm."
Belichick said he had no comment on Brady's injury.
Then he showed a spark of wit that has turned up more frequently in recent weeks.
"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," Belichick said with a grin. "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."
Several players brushed off questions about Brady.
Running back Kevin Faulk, said he "changed the channel" when the boot came on his TV screen.
Wide receiver Randy Moss must have been happy that Brady, accidentally or intentionally, took the spotlight off the potential distraction of the previous week, a temporary restraining order against Moss obtained by a longtime girlfriend. Moss didn't talk to reporters Thursday.
Seymour said he paid more attention to the bouquet of white flowers Brady was toting in his hand than the white boot on his foot.
"Every channel I turned to, there it was, magnifying in on the boot," he said, smiling. "To me, the good part was the flowers."
To most other people, the focus was on a simple piece of overexposed footwear similar to that worn by thousands of other athletes with minor injuries, an object that generated so many pictures and headlines and so much worry by Patriots fans.
Now that the paparazzi have moved on to other targets, would Belichick portray the boot flap as a non-issue?
"Portray it however you want," the coach said.
And wait for the injury report.