FOXBORO, Mass. — As the Gillette Stadium game clock hit triple zeros, something caught Chris Long off guard: the confetti.
Long knew confetti showers were a part of post-Super Bowl celebrations, but he didn’t realize teams shot them off for conference championships — like the one the New England Patriots won Sunday night by routing the Pittsburgh Steelers — as well.
After all, this was the first time 31-year-old defensive end had been a part of a conference title-winning team. Heck, he didn’t even get his first taste of playoff football until last weekend, making his long-awaited postseason debut in New England’s divisional-round win over the Houston Texans.
“I’m usually at the bar when these games are going on,” said Long, who, as a member of the St. Louis Rams, missed the playoffs in each of his first eight NFL seasons.
Now Long, whose first season as a Patriot was his best since 2013, can begin preparing for his first Super Bowl, which will pit the Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons a week from Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
He’s not the only one, either. Of the 53 players on the Patriots’ active roster, 30 never had reached the Super Bowl before, including key contributors in tight end Martellus Bennett; offensive linemen Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and David Andrews; linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin; running back Dion Lewis; cornerback Eric Rowe; defensive end Jabaal Sheard; and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan.
“I think it means a little something different to everybody,” Long said after New England dominated Pittsburgh 36-17 to win its ninth AFC title. “But we are all in it together and we’ve all earned this right to play one more game. We come from different backgrounds, and we come from different teams a lot of times, so there are different circumstances getting here. It’s a melting pot in that way, and there are just unselfish guys in this locker room.”
This has been a resurgent season for Long, who played in all 16 games for the first time in three years and matched his sack total (four) from the 2014 and 2015 campaigns combined. He hopes it ends with the Patriots celebrating amid another cascade of confetti.
“I’m a big confetti guy,” Long said. “… There’s no bad situation where there’s confetti. I can’t think of one.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images