HOUSTON — Tom Brady probably would have been exhausted Monday even if he hadn’t just spent most of the wee hours celebrating his fifth Super Bowl title, one that required the largest comeback and the first overtime session in Super Bowl history.
It was a wonder that Brady was still standing, that he hadn’t collapsed from physical or emotional exhaustion from a Super Bowl week unlike any other and a season unlike any other for him.
But there he was Monday morning ready to accept his Super Bowl MVP trophy from the man who used Deflategate to smudge his reputation, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Bleary-eyed and beatific, Brady was gracious with Goodell. Their interaction wasn’t awkward or acrimonious. TB12 was cordial but cool to the commish, who offered back slaps like he had never compared Brady to a performance-enhancing drug user to justify the four-game suspension.
Brady seemed more upset about his missing jersey than Goodell’s glad-handing.
“Tom, come on up. Get your trophy,” said Goodell. He placed a hand on the small of Brady’s back as they took photos with the Super Bowl MVP trophy and patted him as he left the stage. That was it. A moment that a segment of Patriots fans had built up in their minds was completely unremarkable and forgettable. You can’t say the same for Brady’s performance in Super Bowl LI and the emotional week that led up to it.
Brady left it all out on the field as the Patriots rallied from a 28-3 third-quarter to defeat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28, on Sunday in Super Bowl LI, serving as the cynosure for the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. He also let it all out during an emotional week here in Houston, bearing his emotions.
Dealing with a five-ring media circus, he teared up when talking about his father. He spoke openly of how challenging the year had been for his family due to his mother’s illness, which had prevented her from attending any games. He provided a window into his life and the support system that props up Tom Brady the person.
With his parents looking on, Brady showed that love trumps Deflategate.
“It was great. It was great. She’s been through a lot, way harder than what I went through last night, way harder than what our team went through last night,” said Brady. “My dad has been there every step of the way. They set such a great example for me. All families go through challenging times personally. She has a lot of support and a lot of love, and I was just happy last night to be able to celebrate with her. She hadn’t been to a game all year, so what a hell of a game for her to be at.”
Brady capped an emotional and cathartic week with a record-setting performance, setting Super Bowl records for completions, attempts, and yards. He left Houston as the only four-time Super Bowl MVP and five-time Super Bowl-winning QB in NFL history. He left with his reputation as the greatest quarterback of all time and his relatability as a regular guy enhanced.
“What he had to deal with this season and what he’s dealing with personally, he’s just a class act,” said Julian Edelman. “A lot of people hate on him, but that’s just because he’s at the top always. If you really get to know him, he’s a family man and loves his job.”
One day folks who weren’t alive for Super Bowl LI will look at the box score and see Brady’s numbers — 42 of 63 for 466 yards with two touchdowns and interception — and still not be able to truly appreciate how clutch he was, leading the Patriots to scores on five of their final six drives to overcome a 28-9 fourth-quarter deficit. The only time the Patriots didn’t score was when they got the ball back with three seconds left in regulation.
“He is the greatest quarterback ever. He willed us to victory,” said running back James White, who had a Super Bowl-record 14 catches for 110 yards and scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner.
In need of some rest, Brady seemed relieved to finally put Deflategate and any Patriots’ quest for revenge to bed. It framed his entire football season and was the undertone every time he took the field.
It turns out our long, regional nightmare had a happy ending. Now, let’s never speak of the Ideal Gas Law or the Wells Report or its Patriots-produced, context-providing counterpart ever again.
Deflategate should exist now only as a frame of reference for a remarkable season and the fifth championship that Brady and coach Bill Belichick won in a 16-season span.
Belichick swatted away the idea that Deflategate provided Brady with any extra motivation. He took that as an affront to Brady’s diligence and dedication to his quarterback craft.
“I think it’s really inappropriate to suggest that in Tom’s career he’s been anything other than a great teammate, a great worker, and has given us every single ounce of effort, blood, sweat, and tears that he has in him,” said Belichick. “And to insinuate that this year was somehow different, that this year he competed harder or did anything to a higher degree than he ever has in the past I think is insulting to the tremendous effort and leadership and competitiveness that he has shown for the 17 years that I’ve coached him.
“It has been like that every year, every day, every week, every practice. I don’t care if it’s in May, August, or January. Tom Brady gives us his best every time he steps onto the field.”
Fair enough, Bill. But you might want to talk to your bosses.
As part of the Patriots official Super Bowl championship package, there is a No. 12 T-shirt that says “Vindicated” above Brady’s number and “Once Again” below it. So, some folks in Fort Foxborough obviously subscribe to the theory that winning this Super Bowl was sweet retribution for Deflategate.
But the emotion that fueled Brady’s fifth Super Bowl win was affection, not antipathy.