MINNEAPOLIS -- Tom Brady strutted into U.S. Bank Stadium in a stylish trench coat and dark shades, looking as if he were about to audition for a James Bond remake. On his way out of Super Bowl LII, Brady appeared less like an action hero and much more like a man who needed a stiff drink or three.
He was staggering down a hallway wearing his game pants and a light hoodie, his sweat-soaked hair mussed and his eye black smudged. Brady passed Matt Patricia, the outgoing defensive coordinator and Detroit Lions head coach-to-be, and Patricia reached out and grabbed Brady's arm on the way by. Brady looked down at the bearded figure in red and didn't say a word. He cut through a curtain, took his seat for a news conference and tried to explain how a man could throw for a playoff-record 505 yards at age 40 and still feel miserable about it.
"Losing sucks," Brady said into his microphone.
Even losing valiantly while putting 33 points on the board in a building located two-and-a-half hours away from his grandfather's farm in Browerville, Minnesota, where young Tommy spent parts of his summers milking cows and fishing and puking after foolishly trying his uncle's tobacco chew.
An all-grown-up Brady didn't feel like throwing up after the Philadelphia Eagles strip-sacked him in the final minutes and beat the Patriots by a 41-33 count. He'd already played in seven of these incredible games, all heartbreakers for one team or the other, and he'd long ago accepted the terms of engagement.
"If you want to be world champs," Brady said, "you have to play in this game."
In other words, if you're going to win five Super Bowl titles by a combined 19 points, you're going to get burned, too. You're going to play 60 minutes without punting the ball even once, and you're going to connect with three receivers -- Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski -- for more than 100 yards apiece, and you're still going to feel as gutted as your Patriots felt a decade ago when the New York Giants derailed a 19-0 season with a series of wild and crazy plays.
Brady had come back from 28-3 down to the Atlanta Falcons in the big game last year -- without the then-injured Gronkowski -- to win his record fifth ring in overtime. This time around, without Julian Edelman all season and without Brandin Cooks (head injury) for most of the final three quarters, Brady erased a 10-point deficit Sunday night and gave New England its first lead with his third touchdown pass of the second half, a 4-yarder to Gronkowski, with 9 minutes, 22 seconds to play.
But two second-string quarterbacks on the other side, Nick Foles and his head coach -- an old backup named Doug Pederson -- were reveling in the biggest night of their football lives, too. As a coach, Pederson has been more of a riverboat gambler than Brett Favre, the Hall of Famer who played ahead of Pederson, ever was as a quarterback. Pederson spent the entire season going for it on fourth down, and he wasn't about to stop because the great Bill Belichick was standing across from him, or because more than 100 million Americans were watching.
On fourth-and-goal near the end of the first half, Pederson ran a successful flea-flicker pass to Foles, who had never caught an NFL throw. Better yet, Pederson ran the play after Belichick had tried a flea-flicker pass to Brady, who dropped the ball despite the fact his previously injured right hand was no longer taped up. Pederson went for it again on fourth-and-1 at his own 45 after Brady's go-ahead touchdown, and Carson Wentz's body double, Foles, honored his coach's faith. Seven plays later, Foles found Zach Ertz for a lead the Eagles wouldn't surrender.
Brady took the field with 2:21 to play, a timeout and the two-minute warning in his hip pocket. Everyone had seen this movie before, over and over and over. As the greatest quarterback of all time, Brady was going to drive the Patriots down the field, win the game and break his tie with Bart Starr for most NFL titles. He hadn't been sacked all night, as the GOAT of offensive line coaches and soon-to-be-70-year-old Dante Scarnecchia had done a masterful job scheming against Philly's deep and dangerous front.
But on the second snap, that impenetrable Patriots' wall finally caved. The Eagles' Brandon Graham rushed hard and reached in with his left hand to knock the ball out of Brady's grip and into the arms of Derek Barnett. Philadelphia's only sack and New England's only turnover of the night left Brady sitting on his rump, incredulous over what had just happened and hoping against hope that the Tuck Rule would save him the way it did that snowy night in Foxborough 16 years ago when the dynasty was born.
Brady had one last shot at it after the Eagles kicked a field goal for an eight-point lead, but he was left for the kind of Hail Mary that didn't work in New England's second Super Bowl loss to the Giants. With nine seconds left, Brady took the shotgun snap, slipped away from pressure, and heaved a ball high toward Gronkowski, who had failed to catch the rebound of Aaron Hernandez's tip in the end zone against the Giants six years ago. The ball was batted around, and this time Amendola was the one who got to it too late before it fell to the ground.
The Eagles erupted in celebration of their first Super Bowl victory, and their first NFL title since 1960, while Brady and Belichick assumed the role of gracious losers as somebody else's confetti fell around them. Belichick would say he was proud of how his team competed, and on cue he'd offer no details about why Malcolm Butler, the goal-line hero in the epic Super Bowl victory over Seattle three years ago, didn't see the field on defense on a night when New England's secondary couldn't cover or tackle anyone.
For his part, Brady criticized himself for not making the catch of Amendola's perfect throw on a trick play in the second quarter, and for unwittingly resurrecting his wife's quote from that second Giants' Super Bowl in Indianapolis, when Gisele responded to a taunting Giants fan with a shot at Wes Welker: "My husband cannot f---ing throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time," she said in 2012. Brady said Sunday night's play "was there to be made and I missed it." The quarterback said he'd caught the pass in practice. "But I didn't catch it tonight."
On the strip sack, Brady was a bit more defiant. "They made a good play at the right time," he said. "They made one good play at the right time." Emphasis on "one."
When he was done with his presser, Brady stepped down and walked into an embrace with his former teammate, Willie McGinest, and then another one with Shaun O'Hara, a member of that 2007 Giants team that denied the Patriots their perfect season. "Be proud," O'Hara told him. "You played your ass off."
Brady sure did. He headed down the corridor, behind a dark curtain, and ultimately made his way to his corner locker. Last year, after his magical performance against the Falcons, Brady's locker became the scene of a bizarre passion play. He frantically searched for a game jersey that had somehow disappeared from his bag, starting an international hunt that ended in Mexico, where the jersey was found in the possession of a credentialed journalist who had stolen it. Sunday night, Brady's locker contained only a chair, four empty hangers and some wrapped sandwiches.
He grabbed the chair, conducted an interview with his friend Jim Gray, and then got up and disappeared into the training room. Before he'd concluded his news conference, Brady said he expected to return. "I don't see why I wouldn't be back," he said.
Brady knows he can't leave after the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo, and he has said all along that he wants to play at least into his mid-40s. He just won his third league MVP award. He just made a season-long mockery of the Madden Curse. He just threw for 505 freakin' yards in the Super Bowl.
Brady just needs a little time to recover from Doug Pederson, a former Eagles' backup who once had beer and batteries thrown at him by Philly's finest. Brady just needs a little time to recover from Nick Foles, who nearly retired before the 2016 season and ended up winning the long, lost championship for the Eagles that Wentz was scheduled to win.
It would've been nice to beat the Eagles for a third title in four seasons, 13 years after Brady accomplished that very thing. He thought it was going to happen, too. On his way out for pregame warm-ups, Brady ran into his former teammate and new Hall of Famer, Randy Moss, and screamed in his face, "Let's go ... Let's go."
Brady arrived at U.S. Bank Stadium a proud and fierce defending champ, and exited the building a broken man. Losing sucks.
Losing the Super Bowl is a lot worse than that.