SAN DIEGO -- When the New England Patriots' buses pulled up to the University of San Diego on Wednesday afternoon around 12 p.m. PT, the scene had a little bit of a throwback feel to it.
Players and coaches were greeted by cheers, a group of about 30 onlookers snapping pictures with their phones, their excitement rising when they recognized the likes of Bill Belichick, tight end Rob Gronkowski and even a hooded Tom Brady walking to their temporary locker room and then the field for an afternoon practice.
It was raining Wednesday in San Diego, which doesn't happen often here. Just as unusual was the Patriots' presence at pristine USD where each building has a castle-like look.
"It's definitely a little different," allowed receiver Julian Edelman, a native of Northern California. "It's kind of cool to be on such a nice campus. It kind of feels like Foxborough in the spring with the rain; I'm sure Coach probably had something to do with that."
Edelman's light-hearted dig at Belichick captured the mood among players before their first of three practices here leading into Sunday night's game against the Chargers. There was a mix of humor and appreciating their surroundings, but at the same time, each player made the point that this is a business trip, first and foremost.
Belichick felt the team would benefit from coming directly to San Diego from Green Bay, where the Patriots lost to the Packers 26-21 on Sunday. Adjusting to the weather, time change and lightening the travel load were the three primary reasons for the decision.
On Monday, players went through their regular meetings that included corrections from the loss to Green Bay. That night, Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and defensive end Akeem Ayers, among others, went to the Los Angeles Clippers' game where they rubbed elbows with Justin Bieber and Clippers coach Doc Rivers, a longtime friend of the Patriots organization.
Tuesday was a day off, as safety Devin McCourty explained that the last few days have been a controlled schedule with free time mixed in for some fun and relaxation.
The Patriots did the same thing in 2008 when they played back-to-back games on the West Coast, but for eight-year veteran Darrelle Revis, this marks his first time spending a week of practice away from the home facility.
"I think it's great, man, really thought out by our organization and Bill and our coaching staff after such a big game against Green Bay," he said. "Guys are hanging out, sitting by the pool, relaxing, being around each other.
"This is a crucial time in our season too, for us to continue to be around each other and have each other's back as a team. We have to really be on the same page as a team and coaching staff to finish out the season."
At Wednesday's practice, Belichick had players in numberless uniforms, which was likely a result of being in an unfamiliar setting where onlookers could watch practice if they tried hard enough. Belichick isn't one to concede in any area where he feels competitive advantage could be compromised, and the Patriots' presence on campus had many trying to peek through the vine-filled fence around Torero Stadium, while others watched from the top of a nearby parking garage.
Naturally, there was a heavy security presence at University of San Diego, which hosted the practice after the Patriots reportedly made a late switch from an initial plan to be at University of California-San Diego.
"We've used multiple facilities as part of this trip and it's all worked out well," Belichick explained before practice.
Gronkowski drew a rise out of the excitable students who lined the walkway to practice, taping the number 69 to the back of his blue jersey as he made his way to the field. But by the time practice began, the number had been removed, which reflected the balance between fun and business with players who clearly seemed to be enjoying their surroundings.
"It's nice to have In-N-Out [Burger] and Mexican food close by," said right guard Ryan Wendell, a native of Pomona, California. "But it's about getting ready for San Diego."
"We have to remind ourselves that we're not on vacation," added special teams captain Matthew Slater. "Guys get away from home base, so to speak, and you can get a little lax and lose a little bit of your focus. I'm not saying it has to be business 24 hours around the clock, but at the same time, we're not out here for fun [and] leisure. We're out here to take care of our business and I think we have to remember that every day."