MINNEAPOLIS — The buffet stretched six yards past the Patriots’ locker room, stocked with greasy pepperoni pizza, fruit cups, wraps, cookies and barbecue potato chips. There were three entrees under silver cloches, two of which looked like fried chicken wings (dead birds, get it?) and racks full of water and soda at the end.
This was supposed to be party fuel; the meal to soak up all that Grey Goose and Dom Pérignon. The snack that would tide them over on the brief bus ride back to another Super Bowl party, at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
But as defensive coordinator Matt Patricia walked by, still wearing the puffy red windbreaker that made him blend in with event security, he didn’t give the spread a passing glance. He ran into defensive end Lawrence Guy, and the two just hugged. No talking.
This was a repast funeral for the Patriots dynasty, and nobody was hungry. It was that part of the night where the guts of a Super Bowl stadium get strange. On one side of the hallway the family of owner Robert Kraft barreled through a small crowd walking in the opposite direction. Gisele Bündchen, the model and business mogul wife of quarterback Tom Brady, consoled her children by an open doorway as they waited to get ushered somewhere—anywhere—else, preferably behind the black curtain where only team members could stand. Meanwhile, there went a dark-haired man wearing a pink cowboy hat and a Nick Foles jersey skipping down the path between two locker rooms.
“Ain’t no goodbyes, ain’t no goodbyes,” Pats defensive tackle Malcolm Brown said as he walked out of the locker room and fished for a clear Gatorade in a wagon full of ice.
He was being diplomatic. Brown had just seen Patricia, too. Both hugged and told one another “I love you.” It was the kind of vice grip embrace that lasts a little while. Sometime late this week or early next, Patricia will be named the head coach of the Detroit Lions. Same for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Indianapolis Colts. This was the final day as well for so many one-year-deal mercenaries who come to New England just to win this game.
Now, with a quarterback turning 41 and a head coach inching toward his 66th birthday, it’s fair to wonder if this might be the end of a sure thing altogether.
Bill Belichick, who just a year ago swung a 25-point comeback to stun the still-recovering Atlanta Falcons in the Super Bowl, was asked if he was frustrated that the team couldn’t recover from a 10-point halftime hole to the Eagles this year. He was stiff, going on ornery, when the question landed.
“Of course it was disappointing to lose this game, yeah,” he said.
A losing locker room smells like medical tape, sweat and Old Spice shower gel. On the table inside there were six untouched bowls of bananas and another two containers of sliced oranges, the one you might see at a youth soccer game. No music, just the slapping sound of temporary name placards hitting the bottom of a moving box.
The most noticeable theme was players just wanting to get these visuals and scents off of their clothes and out of their hair.
“I gotta go get my s***,” wideout Danny Amendola said at the end of a long sigh. “Go to the hotel.”
He walked into the arms of Willie McGinest, the former Patriots linebacker and current NFL Network talking head, and shared a brief hug before disappearing around the corner.
Center David Andrews grabbed a locker room attendant and asked: “If I leave anything here, will it just go to the hotel?”
Sweatbands, socks, athletic tape. On another night, if this had all worked out, this detritus would have value. You could give it away as Super Bowl champion, game-worn memorabilia. People would fish in the dumpster for it. Instead it was just littered on the floor.
James Harrison took a pair of dress shoes and a blazer and shoved them, along with a few personal items, into a clear garbage bag, and swung it over his shoulder like a sack of oranges on his way out. Malcolm Butler, who didn’t play a single defensive snap on Sunday, had to step all over the tape, Grizzly tins and plastic bits after he parted ways with a pair of reporters at his locker. He told them “I ain’t got nothing to say,” and saluted. (That ended up being untrue, as Butler told an ESPN reporter en route to the bus that the Patriots “gave up” on him, and added: “F--- it.”).
Linebacker Marquis Flowers was wearing a black t-shirt, tight black pants and black sneakers with spikes all over. It wasn’t hard to imagine him picking that out just a few hours ago to wear at the sweetest, most exclusive party of the NFL season. Instead the color scheme seemed appropriate for a different reason altogether.
“It hurts, it definitely hurts,” he said.
Flowers, who finished the game with a critical tackle for loss but also trailed Eagles running back Corey Clement on his stunning third-quarter touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, said he wanted to apologize to Patricia and hoped more of the loss would be put on his shoulders, not the coach’s.
“I gave him a hug,” Flowers said. “They’re hard on themselves, but today, I mean, that’s just us. It’s hard to beat any team when you give up 41 points.”
When asked about Patricia leaving, he said “I’m not talking about that.”
Nobody really wanted to talk about the mass exodus. Not like this. Maybe in a happy, longing tone over a glass of expensive red wine at the after-party where the future was just as bright as the present—but not here in front of a sea of shouting reporters after a gutting, last-minute loss.
“To work all year for this game and to have an opportunity to come and compete at the world championship—I feel terrible for the guys in the locker room, because they’re the ones that put in all that work,” McDaniels said. “And you’re a couple plays short, usually it makes you stronger and to try to come back and do it all again. You realize when you’re at this stage, there’s a lot of great players and coaches, and you never know when you’re going to get another opportunity. So, it’s tough.”
Asked when he was expected with the Colts, he said: “We just talked about this.”
In time, the Patriots—mostly Belichick himself behind closed doors—will talk about it if he hasn’t already. Belichick has lost talent before—Charlie Weis to Notre Dame, Romeo Crennel to Cleveland, Bill O’Brien to Penn State and Houston, Eric Mangini to the Jets, McDaniels to the Broncos. But will he have the strength and patience to do it all again? Linebackers coach Brian Flores is a budding star who could end up taking over Belichick’s defense. Wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea is described by players as whip-smart and over-prepared—just like his boss—and may slide nicely into McDaniels’ role. It just all takes time, especially the way New England scrapes the barrel to prepare for every opponent and practice. Everything in this league takes time.
It’s stunning, though, how quickly an NFL operation can pack itself up and go after a game like this. To New England’s credit, some players stuck around. They kept the locker room open until 10:16 local time, 59 minutes after the final gun, before telling reporters it was time to leave.
From there, everything was stuffed into a mound of duffel bags—Elandon Roberts’s on top, with Amendola’s, Harrison’s, LaAdrian Waddle’s, Joe Thuney’s and Kyle Van Noy’s sandwiched underneath. They were put into commercial moving boxes and wheeled down the hall, past the buffet, past the interview rooms and past the still-exploding Eagles locker room.
They were pushed onto the loading dock and hoisted onto Penske moving trucks, parked perpendicular to the buses. A quarter-turn from there gave anyone brave enough to look a wide-open view of the Southeast tunnel, where the friends and family of Eagles players eagerly jogged to play in the sprayed silver and green confetti still on the field.
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