HOUSTON — As red, white and blue confetti rained down from above and blanketed the turf at NRG Stadium, New England Patriots players and coaches celebrated their team’s stunning Super Bowl LI victory in their own unique ways.
Up on the dais that covered the end zone where James White scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime, Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady let out a primal scream as he lifted the Lombardi Trophy high above his head with both hands.
Down on the field, wide receiver Danny Amendola shared a long embrace with team owner Robert Kraft.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch snapped photos with his family while wearing a Super Bowl champions T-shirt far too small for his shoulder-padded, 350-pound body.
Safeties coach Steve Belichick spotted a familiar face in the stands and vaulted, Lambeau Leap-style, into the front row of seats, back-length blond hair flowing behind him.
Tight end Martellus Bennett addressed a large group of reporters and cameras near midfield, comparing his first Super Bowl title to eating ice cream for dinner.
Third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who was inactive for the game, meandered through the chaos, wide-eyed.
“This is (expletive) crazy,” the rookie said, speaking for all Patriots fans who’d just witnessed their team stage the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28.
Back in the interview room, running back Dion Lewis beamingly declared his hamstring, which he had tweaked on the final play of regulation, felt “great now.” He heaped praise on White, who had the game of his life with a Super Bowl-record 14 receptions and three touchdowns.
“Oh, my man was balling today,” Lewis said of his fellow Patriots back. “What did he have, 14 catches? Three touchdowns? Man, he came through big for us.”
A few feet away, an equally wide grin covered the face of safety Duron Harmon. He bounced his young son on his lap as he relived the miraculous circus catch Julian Edelman made late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-tying score.
“Oh man, we were going crazy,” Harmon said. “It was great to get a crazy catch to go our way, you know? We’re usually on the other end of that — some type of miraculous catch. … I’m trying to tell you, it was just a real moment. We just literally went crazy on the sideline because we knew what it was going to be. We were coming back to win the game.”
And they did, erasing a 25-point deficit in the final 17 minutes of regulation and making sure the first-ever Super Bowl overtime lasted just one possession. They secured the franchise’s fifth championship since 2002 and cemented Brady’s status as the greatest quarterback of all time.
The Patriots will roll the duckboats through the streets of Boston once again Tuesday morning, sharing the celebration with millions of New Englanders. Then, as they do better than any team in football, they’ll turn the page, directing their focus toward repeating as champions next February in Minnesota.
“As great at today is,” a sleep-deprived Bill Belichick said during Monday’s morning-after news conference, “in all honesty, we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images