In early September, when Doug Gabriel was informed that he had been traded from the Oakland Raiders to the New England Patriots, he hopped on a red eye flight from Oakland and, unable to sleep, daydreamed about catching passes from two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady.
That dream would become a reality almost too soon. After arriving at Gillette Stadium for the first time, he was handed a playbook and told to dig in. He would be a big part of the Patriots offense, and would have little time to learn everything he needed to know.
One month later, Gabriel has become one of the Patriots' top offensive weapons and one of Brady's favorite targets. He sat down with us to talk about becoming a Patriot, playing with Brady and being a father.
What was the first thing the Patriots told you about what your role would be in the offense?
They said my role was basically to just come in and help out the team. They said if I learned the playbook, I could contribute to the offense. I was like, 'Great!'
Did you feel a lot of pressure to get up to speed quickly?
Not by the team. I put pressure on myself, because of what I strive to be. I felt like coming to a team like this, it was a great team and I could help, so I wanted to be perfect - get here, learn the system and have it down in a matter of time.
When you walk into a new locker room for the first time, knowing you are going to spend so much time there, does it feel like walking into a house you just bought but have never seen before?
Yeah. And it's also walking into a room full of people that you're not really sure are going to accept you. I had a lot of nervous energy, not knowing what the outcome was going to be. But I got here, and the first person I met was Tom Brady. And then I met some of the other players, like Rodney Harrison, and they all said, 'You can be a big part of this team.We need your help. Everybody's been here doing it, so if you're ready to work, let's get to work.' I'm more of a quiet guy, but players came up to me and said, 'If you need anything, let us know.' They took me in like a brother. It was surprising.
Is there one guy in particular that you have gotten to know a little bit better than the others?
Not one guy. But I have Chad Jackson; we talk a lot about on and off the field stuff. Daniel Graham and me talk a lot, and Benjamin Watson's locker is right next to mine so we talk a lot too. It's pretty good.
Do you talk to different guys about different things? For instance, your conversations with Troy Brown must be much different than your talks with Chad Jackson.
I talk to Troy for advice and about the atmosphere here, how things work here and to get a feel for the coaches and the players. With Chad, I've been in the league longer than him, so I try to just let him know that he can be a big help to this team, and let him know certain things that I work on and we talk about what he needs to work on. It's like a big brother, little brother situation.
When you first got here, you were excited about the idea of playing with Tom Brady. Has he lived up to your expectations?
He has. Tom isn't one of those quarterbacks who picks one certain receiver. You go around the league and you can see that there is one guy a quarterback targets. Tom is more of a giving person. If you're on the field, you don't have to worry about getting the ball. There's never a 1-2-3 read. Whoever Tom feels is open or whoever is further into their route is going to get the ball.
Is that different from other quarterbacks?
To a certain extent. I focus on quarterbacks and receivers when I look around the league, and there is usually one certain receiver that the quarterback focuses on. You look at the backside or the front side and you say, 'Man, that other guy is running a great route, but the quarterback isn't even looking his way.' As a receiver, that gets you down. Here, everyone has high spirits.
Does anything else set Tom apart?
Tom will call a meeting whenever he feels like it. It's good because sometimes if he feels like we're off a little bit we'll have a meeting before practice. If he feels like we're off in a meeting, we'll meet even more.
You said if you're open Tom gets you the ball, but you caught a touchdown in Buffalo where Tom admitted you were covered.
I was covered but I was there. I was there. It's funny, because Tom was like, 'You made the play. Why weren't you excited? Why weren't you celebrating?' I was like, 'I don't know. That was a great play, but let's get to the next one.'
Where does that laid back attitude come from?
I'm the baby of the family. I'm the youngest of four boys; so I know how to be patient, wait my turn. I was never at the top.
Was that also what it was like playing behind Jerry Rice and Tim Brown in Oakland?
Oh man. Coming from college where I was 'the guy,' I knew I had to take the back seat and sit back and learn from them, watching them run routes and listening to them.
Is there anyone around here that reminds you of Jerry Rice?
With personality and leadership, it's Rodney Harrison. When the offense is on the field at practice, you can see Rodney working on little things on the side. Jerry would do that every time, too. That's why I get here early and stay late, because of guys like that.
Do you think of yourself as a 'big' receiver? Do players give themselves those labels?
No. Labels are given by other people. I don't know what other players think about that, but you know if you're big, small or whatever. You know what you have and what you can bring to the team. I know personally what I can bring to the team, and what things I have to work on. I know what I can do. There are always people that are going to criticize, but I don't listen to it or worry about it. When I go home, it's all about one thing: my son (three-yearold Doug Gabriel, Jr.). That's what I worry about.
Is it tough when your son is at home in Texas and you're here?
It is. He's up here now, but earlier he wasn't here and it gets hard. I talk to him on the phone and it's always, 'I'll call you back, Daddy. SpongeBob is on,' and I'm like, 'Huh? I'm your father!'
What's your favorite thing to do with Doug Jr.?
Go to the zoo.We went to the zoo on Tuesday. My son loves giraffes. I don't know what the fascination with giraffes is, but we sat right by the giraffes, literally four yards from them, and he sat there and watched the giraffes for a good hour. There were three giraffes and he just sat there for an hour eating his cookie. I'm like, 'You ready to go see something else?' and he's like, 'Not just yet.' He loves it.
Not just yet? He doesn't sound like a three-year-old.
My son acts older than his age. He likes to have conversations. He'll sit and talk to you or just watch TV with you. Yesterday, I got home and he said, 'Dad, you look tired. You should lay down for 10 minutes.' I laid down for 30, and then he told me that my nap was over.