HOUSTON — The nation was divided. The debate was deafening. But we came together as a people to watch Super Bowl LI on Sunday.
Finally, something we all can agree on.
Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever to play in the NFL. Bill Belichick is the best coach, maybe in all of sports.
What happened in Super Bowl LI wasn't just history. It was about legacy. It was about a team and a quarterback that refused to lose. The Patriots trailed the Falcons 21-0. Then 21-3 at halftime. Then 28-3 with under 2½ minutes left in the third quarter. But somehow, some way, Brady engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, leading New England to 25 unanswered points to send the game into overtime.
The Patriots won the coin toss, and with chants of "Bra-dee, Bra-dee, Bra-dee," ringing in his ears, he led his team down with five straight completions, engineering a 75-yard drive as James White scored on a 2-yard run 3:58 into the extra period for a 34-28 final.
That meant a record fifth Lombardi Trophy won by Brady and Belichick. More than Montana and Bradshaw. More than Chuck Noll. One for the thumb. But given how they feel about Roger Goodell after Brady's four-game suspension for Deflategate, they may choose to wear this one on another finger.
"There wasn't much to say," said receiver Chris Hogan. "We had to put our head down and keep grinding. I know there were guys like me that were on the fence.
"(Brady) is an assassin, man. That guy, he'll take your life. He went out there and he took it from them."
Brady got an unbelievable play from receiver Julian Edelman. Driving for the tying score in regulation, Edelman dove and picked a ball off the hand of Falcons safety Ricardo Allen, with two other defenders closing in, for a 23-yard completion.
"That was one of the greatest catches I've ever seen," Brady said. "I don't know how he ever caught it. I don't know if anyone does.''
It's been a tough year for Brady. In addition to his exile, his dad was only able to make it to one game and his mother, Galynn, had not seen him play this season until Sunday as she battled an undisclosed illness.
When he arrived in Houston for NFL Opening Night, Brady became emotional and choked back tears when asked by a child reporter sitting on the shoulders of Trent Dilfer who his hero is.
"Who is my hero? That's a great question. My dad, because he's someone that I look up to every day, and," Brady said as his voice trailed off. His eyes became watery. "My dad," he said.
Brady finished with 466 yards passing, a Super Bowl record, and two touchdowns on a Super Bowl record 43 completions on 62 attempts.
It makes no sense that the Falcons lost this game. Leading 28-12 and facing third and 1, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked and lost a fumble.
"We thought that was an opportunity to let it rip," said coach Dan Quinn. "When it doesn't go that way, then it's easy to question it."
The Falcons couldn't finish off Brady. They beat him up pretty good and made him feel all of 39 years young. He was sacked five times, three by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Cornerback Robert Alford returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown.
But Brady put the champagne back in the bottle. On the final drive, he went 5-for-5 for 50 yards. The Patriots ended up running 93 plays to Atlanta's 46.
"We all brought each other back," Brady said. "We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle. They have a great team."
After the game, Patriots fans drowned out Goodell when he was trying to make the Lombardi Trophy presentation to owner Robert Kraft. Brady, who was named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player for a record fourth time, was asked where this championship ranked with the other four.
"They're all sweet," Brady said. "They're all different and this was just an incredible team."
Did he feel some redemption? Or validation?
"No, this is all positive. This is unbelievable."
When the game ended, Brady was in tears. So was his family.