Brady, Kraft embrace, chat before QB's return vs Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The embrace was lengthy and seemingly warm as Tom Brady, towering over Robert Kraft, met the New England Patriots owner outside the visitor's locker room before Sunday's return to Gillette Stadium for the star quarterback.

Brady, who left New England in 2020 after leading the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles, then won another in his first season with Tampa Bay, even appeared comfortable heading to a dressing room he was totally unfamiliar with.

Not that anything should have seemed close to normal in a drizzly Foxborough, Massachusetts, as the most anticipated match of the early NFL season approached.

In the parking lots, hundreds of fans were wearing No. 12 Patriots jerseys, and there was a smattering of Buccaneers Brady kits, too. Josh Nelson of Burrillville, Rhode Island, went with the split look.

“He's a classy guy. I've been a Tom Brady fan forever,” said Nelson, a season ticket holder for more than seven years. “The memories of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, we can't forget that success.”

Asked, then, why he was sporting the New England/Tampa Bay jersey, Nelson laughed and replied “I sought it out.”

Devon Poduje, 20, of West Hartford, Connecticut, who attends the University of Maryland and drove up for the hero's return, was rocking a new Bucs No. 12 jersey, while her 13-year-old sister, Tiegan, stuck with the traditional Patriots shirt. The entire family was split on who would win — 3-2 in favor of the hosts — but all noted they expected a rousing reception for Brady.

Before kickoff, that is.

“This worked out really well with his going to Tampa,” Devon said, noting the family's NFC team has been the Bucs. “And then winning the Super Bowl.”

Knowing Brady was a lock to break Drew Brees' NFL record for yards passing, she said he would receive “absolutely a standing ovation” when he did that.

Her sister Riley added: “He set most of those yards here.”

Another fan in Bucs garb, Brody Swanson of Mapleton, Utah, had flown in for the game — and isn't a fan of either team. His favorites are the Raiders. But he purchased the Brady jersey on Saturday, wanting to be a part of “history.”

Elaina Roundy, also of Mapleton, noted that “everybody was buying Brady jerseys” in the Patriots' store, and that she often has flown to games in which he played.

“You can't boo a legend,” she said.

Two fans who were willing to pay big money for tickets, but were fortunate not to have to fork out four figures, expected an “insane” atmosphere all night.

C.J. Dalton of Rindge, New Hampshire, said he would be on his feet for Brady until kickoff.

"It's all Patriots once the game starts," he noted.

Mike Leflore of Salem, New Hampshire, said he's always been “more of a Brady guy than a Belichick guy. Players play, coaches coach.” He was hoping for a video tribute to the quarterback during the game.

Both men believed the stadium would rock for Brady during warmups and introductions, and wondered if fans would boo Brady at any time.

Perhaps a sign that this would be a tribute to Brady's legacy appeared in an area to the side of the end zone known as Brady's Corner. A banner that disappeared when Brady did last year was back on display Sunday night.

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AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower contributed.

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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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