FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady walks silently to the chair at his locker. He talks quietly with Deion Branch in the adjacent stall. Later, he puts on his jacket and heads for the exit.
No hearty backslaps or loud jokes with teammates. Nothing to call attention to himself.
Just another routine practice day in the life of one of the most accomplished figures in sports.
"Tom thinks he's one of the boys," Branch said. "He can't be one of the boys. This guy's the face of the NFL."
Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, could be the face of the championship game again if his New England Patriots beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday for the AFC title. He returned to practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's session to rest his non-throwing, left shoulder.
But he kept working.
"You don't lounge around or take a nap" while skipping practice, Brady said with a chuckle.
Fans see his effort on the field. Teammates see it all week in meeting rooms and film sessions.
"I have great appreciation for any professionals who take their jobs seriously. This is what we do for a living," right guard Brian Waters said. "Any time you see a guy as great as he is, with all the physical talents and mental preparation that has to go into it, and how he prepares, I am proud to play with him and it drives you that you don't want to disappoint him."
And if a player does disappoint Brady, he's not shy about telling him.
He did it to rookie Tiquan Underwood after an interception in the Patriots 34-27 win over the Washington Redskins — until offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien stepped in and yelled at Brady. And he's done it to Branch when he thought the 10-year veteran didn't run a route precisely enough.
But that's what leaders do.
Branch played with Brady from 2002-05 and was traded to Seattle the day after the 2006 opener. He was reacquired after the Patriots fourth game in 2010, rejoining a quarterback who still seemed familiar.
"He's still the same guy, the same leader," Branch said, "still pushing guys in the meeting rooms, pushing us on the football field, a great competitor. This guy's a perfectionist who always tries to be the best and that's why he's at the top of the league."
Brady's had confidence even if NFL teams doubted his prospects coming out of college. Five rounds went by and he still was available in the 2000 draft.
Finally, after 198 other players had been chosen, the Patriots drafted him in the sixth round.
Club owner Robert Kraft recalls the night he was leaving the old Foxboro Stadium when he saw "this skinny beanpole" carrying a pizza.
"He comes up and says, 'Mr. Kraft, I'm Tom Brady.' I said, 'I know who you are, you're our sixth-round draft choice from Michigan.'
"And he looked me right in the eye and he said, 'and I'm the best decision this organization has ever made.' "
Since then, Brady has completed 3,847 passes for 44,749 yards and 336 touchdowns, counting the postseason. He set an NFL record with 50 touchdown passes in 2007. This season, he threw for 5,235 yards, second most in league history.
All that from a guy who running back Kevin Faulk describes as "scrawny" when he saw Brady in the locker room as a rookie.
"That was a long time ago," said Faulk, the only player who has been on the team longer than Brady. "The intensity clearly is still there. Leadership, it keeps improving every year."
Whether he's dealing with a veteran like the 35-year-old Faulk or a pair of spectacular 22-year-old tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the guiding hand is firm.
"It's definitely a tough love relationship," Gronkowski said. "Just coming in at first and everything, you're just trying to learn."
Brady absorbs game plans so thoroughly that he can be considered a coach on the field.
"He's like an offensive coordinator out there," wide receiver Julian Edelman said.
That makes the job of coach Bill Belichick's staff a lot easier.
"He can direct our team as well as anticipate things that are going to happen on the other side of the ball. I think we all know how tough he is," Belichick said. "He's always there to compete and he competes at a very high level. I think he's earned everybody's respect and when he says something, we all listen."
A veteran of 20 postseason games, Brady knows the importance of staying calm amid all the excitement.
He "keeps everything even keeled for everybody throughout the course of this playoff run," said retired wide receiver Troy Brown, Brady's teammate from 2000-07. "That's really what he has to do as the head man out there on the football field."
And this from another former teammate, linebacker Tedy Bruschi:
"Offensively, the players in that huddle believe every word that comes out of his mouth."
Bruschi recalls an incident at the 2005 Pro Bowl that showed how competitive Brady was after the Patriots won their second straight Super Bowl. They still had confetti in their pockets from the celebration. Bruschi recalled that before introductions, Brady said, "Nobody has ever won three in a row."
"Come on, Tom," Bruschi said Thursday, "take a little bit of a break and enjoy it."
Brady has the attributes of a great quarterback — leadership, an accurate arm, an outstanding ability to read defenses, a poised pocket presence and a fiery competitive nature.
Does any one stand out?
"To be considered one of the best, and if not the best quarterback, in the game, you have to have more than one thing that sticks out as outstanding," Hernandez said. "His all-around (game) sticks out as outstanding for him."
Good for the Patriots. Bad for Brady's privacy.
"He wants to be a regular guy, but it's hard," Branch said. "You can't walk outside your house. ... I know it's not good because I know there's times this guy wants to just be able to tale his kids to the park and relax.
"But, you know, he's got to thank God for things. He's been blessed. This guy has done some great things throughout his entire career."