ATLANTA — Brandon King had a boom box on his right shoulder. Ufomba Kamalu, dressed in gray sweats, was bopping. Elandon Roberts was getting down. Ja’Whaun Bentley, wearing his championship hat, was bobbing along. Sheck Wes’s “Mo Bamba” was blasting from the speakers.
A few minutes earlier, Jonathan Jones had popped a bottle of champagne, spraying it on his nearby Patriots teammates. The bottle worked its way around, players taking swigs. Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Malcom Brown, and others joined in on the dance party at various points, with Future setting the tone for the celebration before King put on 21 Savage’s “1.5.”
Some of the Patriots had reached the pinnacle of professional football for the first time Sunday night, others were on Super Bowl win No. 2 or No. 3, but all were celebrating in the locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after beating the Rams, 13-3.
Van Noy yelled and smiled at Adrian Clayborn from across the room, then yelled, “Salud!”
“That’s what the [expletive] I’m talking about!” Brown shouted, hugging and dapping up his fellow champions.
“Put on ‘Congratulations’!” another player exclaimed, referring to Post Malone’s smash hit that has been the soundtrack to many a sports achievement.
I dreamed it all ever since I was young
They said I wouldn’t be nothing
Now they always say congratulations (uh, uh)
Worked so hard, forgot how to vacation (uh-huh)
They ain’t never had the dedication (uh, uh)
People hatin’, say we changed and look we made it (uh, uh)
Yeah, we made it (uh, uh)
. . .
Waiting to get into a locker room in the bowels of a stadium can provide a window into the first semi-solitary moment coaches and players may have in the postgame chaos, no matter how brief that moment may be, as they walk one by one the 30 feet from the end of the tunnel to the locker room entrance.
Dante Scarnecchia was the first coach off the field, wearing not a stitch of championship gear over his navy blue head-to-toe getup. Joe Thuney was the first player off the field, a championship T-shirt pulled tightly over his pads, and the hat, his second, atop his strawberry blond hair.
Van Noy turned the corner and let out an “Oh, man!” as he walked down the hallway, sounding equal parts relieved and excited. Cordarrelle Patterson called after him, his Southern drawl coming through, “Kyyyle! Kyyyle!” They two shared a long hug.
“It’s gonna be a fun one,” Marcus Cannon said as he let out a sigh.
Then around the corner came the Lombardi Trophy, a handler carrying it toward its destination.
“Wow, look at the trophy,” a fan marveled.
. . .
In the main interview area, players touched on some of the same themes this Patriots team has hammered home all postseason. They overcame adversity; they had doubters, but played for themselves. James White, Stephon Gilmore, Tom Brady, Trey Flowers, they all mentioned it. Devin McCourty said nobody outside the team thought they’d be here.
David Andrews made his way through the throng of reporters and cameras and plopped down on his assigned riser. The first words out of his mouth: “I’ll tell you what, it feels a hell of a lot better sitting up here this year than it did last year.”
Does it get old? Andrews, on his second championship, this one captured in front of his hometown crowd, immediately said no.
“So much work goes into it,” he said. “It’s the most amazing feeling in the world. It’s amazing to be here.
“It’s amazing to be back home and play in front of so many friends and family. This is where my football journey started, and I never thought the game would bring me back here for this moment, but it did and it’s so special.”
Moments later, six-time champion Brady strolled into the interview room with a wide grin, still wearing his navy football pants and gray championship T-shirt, and made his way to his assigned riser, fittingly labeled No. 12.
Rob Gronkowski, on his own riser, talked about how the team grinded it out this year, how unbelievable this victory was. Then Andrews passed by Gronkowski’s riser, exiting the interview room, and let out a guttural growl. “David, whassup, baby?!” Gronk said in his most Gronk voice. “Congrats!”
Gronkowski, as candid and loose and free as he had been all season, talked about how the team stuck together throughout the downers, how that’s what it’s all about.
“We went through life this year,” Gronkowski said.
Brady made his way for the locker room and shouted at his tight end: “Tell ’em, Beast Mode!”
“I love you, doll!” Gronkowski yelled back.
Oft-rumored that he’ll retire at season’s end, Gronkowski fielded the questions about ending his career here, with three Super Bowl rings and his name atop every statistical category and record for his position. Not yet time for that decision, he said. Maybe in a week or two.
“Tonight it’s about tonight,” he said.
. . .
Brady entered the locker room and shared a hug with Phillip Dorsett and then Chris Hogan, who was holding the Lombardi Trophy. Brady then embraced Joe Cardona, Thuney, and Cannon, sharing a moment with each before his teammates marveled at the trophy. Running backs coach Ivan Fears walked from the back of the locker room and locked Brady in a long hug, patting him on his backside.
Devin and Jason McCourty, champions for the first time together, the first set of twins to achieve that feat in the NFL, filed in one after the other. Devin handed his shoulder pads to a staffer, who helped him peel off his jersey before handing it back to Devin for safe keeping in his bag.
Cannon hollered a reminder to the locker room: “We got to get to the bus! We got things to do. We gotta go. We gon’ miss our own party!”
Robert Kraft brought in 50-year-old cigars, in a shiny navy blue and cedar-lined box with “Patriots” emblazoned across the top and a gold plate attached to the inside panel reading, “We are all Patriots.”
“RKK brought out the cigars?!” said Brady, now showered and in his suede jacket and street clothes.
Matthew Slater got into the middle of the scrum, where Kraft stood next to the box of cigars resting on a couple of chairs, and was handed the Lombardi Trophy, which he kissed with glee.
Duron Harmon, usually one of the last players to leave a postgame locker room, came in long after most of his teammates had showered and left. Jason McCourty shouted: “Du, you already behind, bro!” Devin followed it up with: “I’m ’bout to be dressed, Du!”
Harmon conducted interviews as his two young sons Chris and Dallas sat next to each other in his locker, one playing with his phone, one donning dad’s gloves from the game.
James Develin, in a brown suit and fedora, found Julian Edelman, who trickled in late after fulfilling his MVP duties. The two shared a long embrace and patted each other on the back, and Develin said: “Congrats on a great season.”
Lawrence Guy looked over at Adam Butler, being interviewed by a TV crew, and yelled: “Adam! Tell them I’m your mentor!”
Devin and Jason, simultaneously dressing and giving interviews, soaked in the moment.
“Couldn’t have dreamed this,” Devin said.