Tom Brady is the greatest winner in the modern history of America’s most popular game. He is rich and married to a rich supermodel. He might have the world’s greatest discernible sporting life and when he loses a Super Bowl he is granted no privileges, spared no regrets.
On the final play of the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over Brady’s Patriots on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, Brady was knocked to the ground. As the Eagles began a celebration that would endanger light poles all over Philadelphia, a teammate helped Brady to his feet, and he congratulated two opponents.
Security reached him and he walked, head down, to the locker room. Minutes later he appeared at a podium in a concrete space deep within the stadium. Still wearing eye black, his football pants and his knee brace, Brady spoke quietly, calmly.
“It’s tough to lose,” he said. “But if you want to win championships you have to play in these games.”
Brady played a royal flush and was told his cards were counterfeit. He passed for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards at the age of 40, with a recently-healed right hand and his most talented receiver in the locker room because of a head injury, and his team’s supposed defensive masterminds getting embarrassed by Nick Foles. He ran a three-minute mile only to discover he was racing a Camaro.
“It stinks,” he said. “But no one’s feeling sorry for us.”
Brady came within a play or two of winning a sixth championship. He might be the rare quarterback whose reputation can’t be affected by winning or losing a Super Bowl. He completed 28 of 48 passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and went home to a handful of Super Bowl rings.
Brady winning another would have been like Michael Jordan hitting .300 in the big leagues — remarkable and not necessary.
“Tom’s a legend,” teammate Rob Gronkowski said. “He’s the greatest, but obviously he wasn’t enough.”
Brady finished his interview, after saying he wants to play for the Patriots again next season and sees no reason why that won’t happen.
The question had to be asked because Brady has said he wants to play another five years, and finds himself at the center of rare stories about turmoil within the hierarchy of the longest-running dynasty in recent NFL history, after he reportedly went over his coach’s head to demand that his talented backup be traded.
Saturday night, Brady won the league’s MVP award. Sunday night, he looked as if he could play until the end of this decade, or the next. He started slowly, throwing wobbly passes and even dropping one on a rare pass route, then shredded a defense that two weeks ago throttled the Vikings.
Brady left the podium and walked to the Patriots’ locker room as it was being stripped like an abandoned car. Most of the players had left, and the last nameplates were being pulled off the lockers. A man walked by with a rack of thin, cheap, wire hangers. Peeled-off athletic tape lay like reptile skins on the floor.
Still in football pants, Brady walked into the trainer’s room. He emerged 15 minutes later dressed like a TV producer’s idea of an assassin, in all black except for a gray coat with a large, upturned collar. He called to an assistant and walked down the hallway, the side protecting players with a thin, black curtain.
All around him, Minneapolis’ greatest circus was being dismantled. Two men wheeled exercise bikes alongside him. Cameras and tripods rushed past in both directions. He stopped to congratulate Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett. He emerged from behind the curtain into a gaggle of stadium workers and volunteers, who stopped and stared.
Another Eagle rushed to shake his hand, then Brady turned and walked through the loading dock and into the cold, the man who has everything telling himself he has miles to go before he sleeps.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib