FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady returned. His boot didn't.
The Patriots quarterback walked with long strides and without a limp in his brown wingtips Sunday as he headed for one of the five buses that would take the team to its flight to Arizona for the Super Bowl a week later.
For the first time since last Sunday, Brady appeared in front of reporters and photographers in Foxborough. At a departure rally shortly before the buses left, he walked without slipping on a light dusting of snow on the Gillette Stadium field as flurries fell.
"Now this is Foxborough faithful right here," Brady told a cheering crowd of about 15,000 after he reached the podium at midfield along the Patriots sideline. "We can just go ahead and play the game today. Thank you guys for coming out."
The face of New England's franchise reportedly has a minor high ankle sprain. He wore a protective boot on his right foot last Monday in New York, causing a major stir and concern among Patriots fans hoping the club would beat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl and become the first team in NFL history to finish 19-0.
After returning to Foxborough on Wednesday from a trip to see supermodel girlfriend Gisele Bundchen, Brady wasn't seen by the media the next two days while they were allowed into the locker room and at practice.
There was no media availability Saturday, and Brady hadn't spoken in public since his news conference right after New England's 21-12 win over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game the previous Sunday.
The NFL MVP made no reference to the boot or the condition of his foot at the rally. Neither did coach Bill Belichick or the other players who addressed the crowd -- Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau.
One fan held a sign: BRADY -- GIVE THE GIANTS THE BOOT.
A young boy had a different message on his poster. "Where is Brady?"
Last Monday, Brady was spotted wearing the boot outside Bundchen's home. Later that day and on Tuesday, he wasn't wearing it when photographed by the paparazzi. Teammates said they expect him to play in the Super Bowl.
As the snow fell, Brady stood at the podium in a gray, pinstriped suit, and a crisp white shirt that was open at the collar. He had no overcoat but kept his hands in his pockets in the subfreezing temperatures while others spoke. Then he made some brief remarks.
"We're going down there for one reason," he said. "That's to bring a title back to Foxborough."
After the rally that lasted about an hour, players boarded the yellow buses lined up outside the stadium with a sign on each: GOOD LUCK PATRIOTS.
Brady waved to the crowd with his left hand and carried a travel bag in his right as he walked beside backup quarterback Matt Cassel. They went about 30 yards from the last bus in line before they boarded the second as fans cheered.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press