ATLANTA — It’s 11:19 p.m., and an hour ago Tom Brady became the first player in NFL history to win six Super Bowls.
He emerges from the coaches’ locker room, where he’d dipped in briefly, presumably to share congratulations, and finds kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
“Game winna! Game winna!,” Brady says to the longtime Patriots kicker as he pats him on the back before going into the shower area, where Julian Edelman stands, still in full uniform.
“M-V-P!” says Brady, the four-time winner of the award who threw the 10 passes that Edelman caught for 141 yards on Sunday night.
Brady has always been gracious in doling out compliments, and whenever someone would call him the GOAT during Super Bowl week he’d do a good job of humbly saying ‘thank you.’ But he didn’t play like the greatest ever in Sunday’s 13-3 win over the Rams, and these postgame compliments really mean something.
Brady had the least impressive statistical performance of his nine Super Bowl trips, throwing for just 262 yards and zero touchdowns. His offense didn’t score a touchdown until seven minutes left in the game, after being regularly flummoxed on third downs by a Wade Phillips defense (again). The Patriots’ 13 points were fewer than any of the previous 52 Super Bowl winners.
Brady said last week he’d been praying to God that he just wanted one more. One more Super Bowl would break his tie with Charles Haley. It would knot him with Michael Jordan, who won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls in the ’90s. He’s already the greatest quarterback in history, and a sixth title leaves “no relative comparison,” as team president Jonathan Kraft loudly proclaimed to reporters in the postgame locker room.
In the immediate moments after winning the Super Bowl it was difficult for Brady to celebrate. He kneeled to kill the final five seconds, took off his helmet and gave it to an equipment manager who had sprinted on the field to secure the precious sports memorabilia. CBS’s Tracy Wolfson got the first postgame interview with Brady but had to wait nearly three minutes in the crush of bodies as Brady embraced former teammate Brandin Cooks, then C.J. Anderson, followed by Edelman and Bill Belichick and finally Robert Kraft.
The Patriots QB met his wife and family on the field after the game, holding his daughter, Vivian, in his arms as he stood on the podium, confetti falling on their faces. Another equipment manager was holding onto his jersey and pads, lacing and interlocking his arms between the neck of the jersey and holding it to his chest as he went back to the locker room. Never again will there be a repeat of what happened two years ago in Houston.
His postgame press conference wasn’t robust. Brady spent about six minutes talking to media and, as is his custom, gave very little. He heaped praise on Edelman and Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel. Any chance he could, he lauded the defense. And he admitted the offense’s shortcomings.
“They definitely had a good plan, and they made us work for everything,” Brady said. “There wasn’t anything … look, they have a good front, good secondary players, they’re very athletic at linebacker. They have a good team. I thought they played really well. We left some points out there, but I’m happy with the win.”
By 11 p.m. Brady was finally back in the locker room. He took his phone off airplane mode and quickly swiped at a few texts before trying to get undressed. That proved difficult with all the hugs and photo requests.
After nine minutes, Brady had managed to remove some tape and his right cleat. He placed his hand under the hand sanitizer dispenser and headed for the shower with his clothes and suede duffle bag. He would be in and out twice more before finally being fully dressed and ready for the rest of the evening.
Patriots CEO Robert Kraft had brought in what he said were 50-year-old cigars (though the labeling appeared to indicate that these were merely limited-edition cigars celebrating the 50th anniversary of Padron).
“RKK, “Brady said to Robert Kenneth Kraft, “you got the cigars? Thank God I don’t smoke.”
Comedian Kevin Hart was waiting for Brady outside the locker room. Hart, who is as omnipresent at big sporting events as Marlins Man, affirmed to Brady that the quarterback is the greatest ever, and Brady accepted it.
After spending 47 minutes into the Patriots’ locker room, the Lombardi Trophy made its way into Brady’s hands once he and Hart finished chatting. He lifted the trophy for fans in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium tunnel and walked out into the night to find the team bus for the postgame party.
It’s abundantly clear Brady will be back next year. He and the Patriots spent the better part of the past month being fueled by the (relatively few) doubters. Whatever real or imagined motivation there is to be found next year and beyond, Brady’s continued winning will only further the gap between himself and anyone else who might ever be called the greatest in this sport.
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