Lombardi trophy leaves lasting memories for Patriots: 'It was so beautiful'

Peyton, Eli create Lombardi Trophy prototype with Corn Flakes box (2:41)

Peyton and Eli Manning learn about the history of the Vince Lombardi Trophy and do some arts and crafts to create their own. For more Peyton's Places, sign up for ESPN+ today at https://plus.espn.com/ (2:41)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Every Super Bowl champion has a Lombardi trophy story.

New England Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy coveted it so much that when it was finally coming toward him in the euphoric celebration following Super Bowl LI in 2017, he had an out-of-body experience.

"Michael Strahan was walking it down the aisle and I couldn't say anything. It was almost like I was afraid. He notices, looks at me, and says, 'You know you can touch it!' So I kissed it," Van Noy recalled with a smile.

Then, with a laugh, Van Noy added: "It was so beautiful."

So shiny too.

"It's Tiffany, right?" Patriots four-year veteran offensive lineman Ted Karras asked, with a touch of humor. "That's the most important hardware in our professional lives. You gotta kiss it."

For those looking for stories and history surrounding the Lombardi trophy -- as Peyton Manning was alongside brother Eli in episode nine of Peyton's Places on ESPN+ -- New England is a good place to start. The Patriots have won three of the past five.

One of Manning's former Denver Broncos teammates, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, is now part of the group looking to deliver another Lombardi trophy to New England. Thomas and Manning were part of the Broncos team that won Super Bowl 50, and Thomas recalled taking pictures with the Lombardi.

"I got a little emotional," Thomas said.

It is a common reaction for those who are meeting the Lombardi trophy for the first time.

"I was with my family and it was a spiritual moment," the 28-year-old Van Noy said. "Time never stops for anyone, but it kind of stopped for me for a sec. With all the stuff behind the scenes that had been going on -- stuff away from the field, stuff on the field -- to share that moment with them is priceless."

Patriots special-teams captain Matthew Slater took a trip back in time as the trophy approached him following the Super Bowl XLIX win against the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1, 2015.

"My first thought was back to my childhood, watching Super Bowls," Slater said. "The first Super Bowl I ever went to was Green Bay vs. Denver back in San Diego [on Jan. 25, 1998]. Watching John Elway win that Super Bowl [XXXII] after he had toiled all those years, coming so close on the big stage before, to finally get over the hump.

"Then I thought about my father [Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Jackie Slater] losing a Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rose Bowl there in L.A. and not having the opportunity to get back there.

"This sport is the ultimate team sport. When you talk about the Super Bowl, you think about all the great teams that were built and fought and toiled -- just to get to that game and win it, that's why we do this. So I thought about the history of it the first time I held it."

Not to mention the history of the Patriots and how they also won three Super Bowls from 2001 to 2004.

"I had been here for a while, seven years, and I felt like we were always compared to that group. I felt like we would never measure up unless we got it done," Slater said. "So there was a sense of pride and feeling like, 'Now we belong at the table.' The failure we experienced -- not winning playoff games for a while there -- it was all coming to me at once. It was very emotional."

Slater also has a picture that he cherishes -- of him and New England offensive lineman Dan Connolly holding the trophy, their smiles as wide as goalposts. The photo reminds him of their friendship and their improbable careers.

"Two guys who shouldn't have been there: an undrafted lineman from a school people never heard of [Southeast Missouri State] who was a practice squad guy who became a key starter; and a guy who just plays special teams. Unbelievable," Slater said.

Similarly, Karras has a photo of him and fellow offensive lineman Joe Thuney kissing the Lombardi trophy together following Super Bowl LI, which is meaningful to Karras because they entered the league together as Patriots 2016 draft picks and are close friends.

Then there was the unexpected turn of events that produced an unforgettable memory for veteran cornerback Jason McCourty after last season's Super Bowl LIII.

"When we landed and all the fans were here to greet us, Bill [Belichick] handed me the trophy to walk around with it. That was a really good feeling, of just the accomplishment, as a team we were able to do it. Even dreaming of winning one, you don't dream of a moment like that," said McCourty, who had never qualified for the playoffs in his first nine seasons before joining the Patriots in 2018.

Moments like that are precious because, as seven-year veteran safety Duron Harmon said, "We don't get it like the NHL [and the Stanley Cup], where you can pass it around, spend a night with it."

So players have to make the most of their limited opportunity.

"Getting to see the Lombardi trophy after the game, after the confetti, just watching them walk down the aisle of the field, I was able to put my hand on there and touch it," said five-year veteran defensive tackle Danny Shelton. "It was amazing because I had my wife with me and my younger brother, as well."

Receiver Phillip Dorsett called the experience of first encountering the Lombardi trophy one of the greatest moments in his life, but he wasn't coming close to kissing it.

"I didn't want to because a lot of people did, and I'm a big hygiene freak when it comes to that," Dorsett said. "I just held it and hugged it."

And then there was a special moment behind the scenes for Dorsett.

"Tom [Brady] brought it in to the locker room and said, 'Does anyone want to touch it?' I was like, 'Yes!'

"When I got it, it was like holding a baby."