TAMPA — It wasn’t a guarantee in the tradition of Joe Namath. It was more of a proclamation than a prediction.
But before Super Bowl 55 against the Chiefs on Sunday, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady sent a text message to all his teammates with a simple message: We will win.
Whether it was confidence or a tinge of arrogance, Brady followed up his message with a players-only locker room speech that was described as the “epic of epics.”
The result was a 31-9 rout of the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium that gave Brady his seventh Super Bowl title in the most unusual season of his 21-year career.
With a 43-year-old quarterback, and despite a 7-5 start and working around all the NFL’s protocols to battle the coronavirus, Brady and the Bucs found a way to bond as a team at the right time, reeling off eight consecutive wins to capture the second Lombardi Trophy in club history.
The off-field bonding opportunities that occur during a normal NFL season were disallowed this season. Yet somehow, Brady managed to forge trust with every teammate.
“This year has been incredible for me,” Brady said Monday. “It’s great. That’s where I rank it. It’s great. It’s been a great year. It’s fun. I think in a unique way, with the coronavirus situation and all the protocols, it was really like football for junkies, you know?
“There was not a lot of other things to do other than show up to work and play football. Normally, there’s a lot of other things that go along with playing football. But if you love football, this was the year to be playing in the NFL, because that’s all that was left. It was like football camp with all your buddies here with you, so I really enjoyed that part.”
Coach Bruce Arians said he still is puzzled by how his team was able to come together when so many protocols kept them apart.
“This thing started in August,” Arians said. “It was really about sacrifice and a commitment to each other. We had to beat the virus before we could beat another team, and I can’t say enough about our guys’ commitment to each other. This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been on, and we couldn’t eat together. We couldn’t talk to each other.
“For them to care this much about each other, the bonding experience happened, and I’m still trying to figure out how, because under the pandemic, this was so, so hard this year for a team to be close, and this was one of the most close teams I’ve ever been around.”
Brady passed for only 201 yards in the Super Bowl but threw three touchdown passes — two to tight end Rob Gronkowski and one to wide receiver Antonio Brown — but it was enough for him to be named MVP of the game for the fifth time in his career.
For Brady, winning Super Bowls is what he is known for. But what he really enjoyed at this stage of his career was watching his teammates celebrate after Sunday’s win.
“It was amazing. For me that’s the best part,” Brady said. “Watching Mike (Evans), watching Lavonte (David), watching Cam Brate, Will Gholston — you know, guys that have been here a long time. Just everybody wants to go to the Super Bowl. Everyone says, ‘Hey, that’s the goal every year.’
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“But … it’s hard to do. It’s a hard league. This league is good. There’s talented players. Talented coaches. You need a lot of good fortune with injuries and stuff like that always play a part.”
Arians knew the Bucs’ roster was good enough to win in 2019, his first season in Tampa Bay, but turnovers torpedoed their efforts, and they finished 7-9.
Getting Brady in the offseason in free agency represented a culture change because he is the culture change.
“I think this was a very, very talented football team last year, but we really didn’t know how to win,” Arians said. “Whenever (Brady is) running the ship, it makes a total difference in your locker room every time we step out on the field.
“I think the leadership that Tom brings and his attitude that, ‘Hey, let’s go play. It’s never over until it’s over and we can win this thing somehow, some way,’ … permeated through our whole locker room, his belief that we’re going to do this knowing that he’d been there and done it, and guys believed it. It changed our entire football team.”
The benefit of having a Super Bowl in his home city was that Brady could go home after the game and sleep in his own bed.
Well, actually, he slept in his daughter’s bed.
“I had five nephews and nieces in my bed,” he said. “That was pretty unique.”
Just like the Bucs’ 2020 season.
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727-709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.
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