MINNEAPOLIS — Behind the black makeshift curtains in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium, a little more than 30 minutes after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in franchise history, Tom Brady finally met with his wife and children following the third Super Bowl loss of his career.
There were no tears from Brady in this reunion—perhaps they’ll come later—only love and reassurance. Brady’s daughter, the one who he defended on radio at the start of the week, hung her arms around his neck. He knelt down to talk to one of his sons who in return smiled back at his father.
Then he looked at Gisele Bündchen, his wife of nearly nine years. She’s been less-than-subtle about her wishes for Brady to hang it up—earlier in the week, Brady’s relatives had been told that when media called, there are two people you should not talk about: Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Gisele.
The two kissed and exchanged an “I love you” before Brady retreated back to the locker room. He had finished his podium press conference, but he still faced one more media obligation with Jim Gray, whom Brady had told earlier in the week that he planned play football in 2018 no matter the outcome of the Super Bowl.
It was hardly news because few even considered the idea that this would be Brady’s last season, and now there’s no way that the greatest quarterback of all time would want to go out on New England’s 41–33 loss in Super Bowl LII.
Brady didn’t stay on the field long after his last-chance Hail Mary fell incomplete in the end zone on the last play of the game. He jogged back to the locker room as the green and silver confetti fell, and by the time the doors were opened to the media, he was already beginning to peel off his ankle tape. His white No. 12 jersey was nowhere in sight, surely safely protected from any fast hands to avoid a missing-jersey situation like last year in Houston.
When he was summoned to talk to the media, he went without a fuss, only asking for a couple of minute to get composed—a contrast to last season in Houston, when he was visibly unenthused about going to the interview room. As the MVP of Super Bowl LI, Brady knew it was his duty to talk to the media, but he didn’t want to leave his teammates after winning their fifth Super Bowl.
Within five minutes Brady had pulled on a black hoodie and headed for Podium 1 wearing white socks but no shoes. As pleasantly as possible, Brady spat out the platitudes of a losing quarterback: “you try to win and sometimes you lose,” “if you’re not in the game, you don have a chance to win” and “it sucks.”
But he also couldn’t help himself. He passed for a Super Bowl record 505 yards and tossed three touchdowns. His offense never punted. He was sacked just once, but that led to a costly fumble on the plus-side of the two-minute warning. If he could have avoided Brandon Graham and gotten that pass off with 2:14 left in the game, the Patriots would have had a much better chance at their second straight Super Bowl comeback.
“I knew they had a good rush,” Brady said. “They made a good play. They made a good play at the right time. They made one good play at the right time.”
Back at his locker after meeting with his family, Brady sat down with Gray for four minutes to do the scheduled radio hit. Brady had told Gray that “you’re going to see me play football next year” earlier in the day for Westwood One radio and told assembled media that he “expects” to play next year.
“Thank you for all your friendship and support,” Brady told Gray seated across from him, “and I look forward to doing this [again] shortly.”
Again, the signs are plentiful that this isn’t it for Brady. That may not be the case for his head coach, who it would clearly seem lost the power struggle when he traded Jimmy Garoppolo in the fall. Team president Jonathan Kraft said this week that Brady has “earned the right” to decide when to retire, which again flies in the face of established Belichick philosophy. As his quarterback got dressed in a back room, Belichick left the locker room for the evening.
Seven minutes later Brady emerged in his gray coat and black beanie with his black bag over his left shoulder. It’s about a 90-second walk from the locker room to the team buses, and players have to walk past the winning team’s interview room to get there.
“Legends!” shouts an Eagles player on the other side of the black curtain, surely unaware of the real legend walking by himself near by.
“Oh yeah, baby!”
While Brady was walking, he encountered Brandon Graham, of the strip-sack fame, who had just left the field. The two Michigan Men shook hands and spoke briefly.
“‘Go Blue, baby,’” Graham recalls telling Brady. “That’s all I got to say, because he’s the man. You can’t take away what he’s done. He made us work hard and made us earn that one. That guy right there, on the last drive, you know, people put their money on it. And I’m just happy that we didn’t let him.”
Brady finished his walk out into the Minnesota cold toward Bus 021, with all indications that he’ll be going for his ninth Super Bowl next season.