Let's establish up front that Tom Brady will start for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Don't waste a lot of time and energy memorizing biographical sketches of Matt Cassel and Matt Gutierrez. Brady has started 126 consecutive games and won't be going LaDainian Tomlinson on us Feb. 3.
But brace yourself for a lot more nonsense between now and game day. Suffering from a high ankle sprain, The Franchise was not seen in the locker room, or on the field in the first 15 minutes of practice (the only portion open to the media) when the Patriots went back to work yesterday.
Where was Brady? Arm-wrestling at Butter with Leonardo DiCaprio? At the counter of Winston Flowers, buying more baby's breath and fern leaves for Gisele? On a plane to Los Cabos, Mexico? Perhaps getting treatment on his ankle?
He wasn't spotted at Gillette and neither were the birds (as you probably know, birds suddenly appear every time Tom is near. They long to be close to him).
Laughing Boy Belichick was a big help. He answered the first Brady inquiry with a "I don't have a comment on it," then claimed he didn't know if Brady would practice. Bill Belichick not knowing Brady's practice availability is about as believable as Pete Rose not knowing the pointspread.
"The injury report will be out next Wednesday and we're excited to give that to you," the coach said. "That form will be filled out completely and I can't wait to give that to everybody."
Right. And I can't wait to send off another tuition check.
Remember the last time you filled out one of those information forms just to get a free umbrella or a discount at a department store (name: Justin Casey Boils; address: Hot Springs, Ark.)? That's the seriousness Belichick applies when he files his weekly injury report. He thinks it's a farce.
You might remember there was speculation regarding Brady's availability before the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in New Orleans six years ago. Brady suffered a high ankle sprain when the Patriots beat the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and for a good part of Super Bowl week (there was no extra week between games that year) there was speculation Drew Bledsoe might start in place of Brady against the Rams.
No way. Just like there's no way Brady misses XLII in Glendale, Ariz.
In the meantime, I've been fascinated by the New York Post's stalking of Brady. The tabloid assault started Tuesday when the Post featured a photo of Brady on its cover, walking in Greenwich Village with the orthopedic boot on his right foot. The headline read, "Who's afraid of Tom Brady now? Girlie man limps home."
Wednesday's Post featured Tom and Gisele on page 3 with a story that hinted that Brady visited a hair replacement clinic while in New York.
Tom and Gisele were pushed back to the Post's page 11 yesterday, as five reporters collaborated on a 17-paragraph story that informed us that the lovebirds ordered Mexican and Chinese food deliveries while Brady stayed at the supermodel's apartment. The newspaper solicited a sex-before-the-big-game quote from a sports psychologist and printed a photograph of Tom leaving Gisele's place at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Whew. Welcome back to the Super Bowl, Tommy Boy.
This is a relatively new dynamic for Brady and the Patriots. In their three most recent Super Bowls, the Patriots were the personification of T-E-A-M, respected and admired by high school coaches and fans across America. Brady was the son-in-law every mother wanted. Prying eyes steered clear of the Patriots because there was nothing interesting to report.
It's different this time. Spygate, the running up of scores, and the pursuit of perfection have turned a lot of neutral fans against New England. The Patriots have become the old Yankees. Nobody loves Goliath. And Brady, though still perfectly mannered, ever-clutch, and accountable, has altered his image. Now he's the guy who didn't marry the actress who bore his child. He's the TAG-watch-wearing, table-hopping superstar - hanging with his supermodel girlfriend during three offdays after the AFC Championship game. He's the super-slick superstud playing opposite a legitimate country goober. (Eli looks more like the son of Mike Huckabee than the son of Archie Manning.)
Brady's a smart man and he had to know he'd be under surveillance in New York this week. Superstardom has its price and if Tom and Gisele wanted privacy, the Village was not the place to be, especially with the New York Giants on deck for the Super Bowl.
Tom will have a better chance to hide next week when he'll be back in the Belichick Bubble. Once the Patriots get to Arizona, there'll be no appearances at Butter, no trips to the florist, no Kodak moments for TMZ. Belichick will have his team sequestered in some nuclear test site next to the New Mexico border.
Coach Hoodie will issue the injury report Wednesday and Brady will be listed as probable, questionable, or even doubtful.
And then we'll finally get to game day. Brady will play, the Patriots will win, and all the nonsense will be forgotten.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.