Minneapolis — It was a long, lonely walk within a stadium filled with the multitudes.
Tom Brady, at age 40, his No. 12 sagging a bit, went step by step off the football with the reality that he had just tarnished his sterling career. And he walked to the bench with the knowledge that the Philadelphia Eagles have borrowed — or stolen — his Super Bowl mystique.
No late, stirring comeback in Super Bowl LII for Brady. He played a magnificent game. He passed for 505 yards and three touchdowns – and still lost. He lost the ball and the Patriots lost the game, 41-33, to the hard-scrabble workingman Eagles.
The key play in this wild west, shoot-‘em-up explosively offensive show strangely occurred on defense.
The Patriots were behind when it happened. But there was Brady, calm, ready to take Patriots on one of their Super Bowl victory drives.
Brady stepped back, and for the only time all game, he was not rewarded with the proper protection. The Philly defenders converged on him. Brandon Graham nailed him in a meeting of fellow Michigan Wolverines. The football popped from Brady’s hand and his arm followed through in its passing motion with empty fingers.
Fumble, and the Eagles possessed the football.
“They stripped the ball and got it back and kicked a field goal,” Brady lamented in the postgame aftermath with the media. “Obviously, I’d have loved not to have it stripped from me. I was just holding the ball trying to get it downfield.
“They made a good play at the right time.”
He turned philosophical before the mob of journalists.
“If you’re not in the game, you don’t have a chance to win . . . “ he told the media. “I’ve played in eight of them and they’re all good games. Never really got control of the game. Never really played on our terms."
But there was plenty more to this superb Super Bowl. Superb, but not close to matching Super Bowl LI in which Brady drove the Patriots from 25 points arrears to overtime victory.
This was the Super Bowl in which the Patriots might have certified any claim as the best, the most proficient team in pro football history.
They had won five Super Bowls in 15 years in the 21st century. There are whose who might have considered them superior to the 1960s Packers and the 1970s Steelers and the 49ers and Cowboys of the late 20th century.
Six would have been a magic number for me to reconsider my long-established stubborn beliefs through 52 Super Bowl years and NFL seasons before.
But, Bill Belichick is not the greatest pro football coach of all-time despite his five Super Bowl victories. Vince Lombardi remains the greatest coach. Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh remain packed with Belichick as great but not quite that great.
In this era in which the entire population owns computers or similar devices, it has been bandied about that Brady is the greatest quarterback of all-time. Numerous such claims appeared this past week in the irregular media. A sixth Super Bowl victory would have changed an old curmudgeon’s opinion. Brady is great but not that great. He remains packed with such quarterbacks as Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr and before them Sid Luckman and Sammy Baugh, maybe Bobby Layne and Otto Graham plus Norm Van Brocklin.
But Johnny Unitas remains the choice as greatest quarterback of all-time
Indeed in Super Bowl LII, Brady was outdueled by a vagabond quarterback, an athlete who spent most of his pro career as a second-stringer.
That’s how Nick Foles started this season for the Eagles after drifting around the league with several clubs — usually on a one-year basis.
“There was a time where I was thinking about hanging up my cleats,” Foles admitted to the media after the game. “I think people we deal with struggles.”
Foles, like Brady, completed 28 passes for three touchdowns. He was calm, steady, in control. He even scored a touchdown on a reverse pass play.
And he conducted the Eagles’ victory drive for the touchdown that won it — just before Brady’s painful fumble.
It was the sort of drive Brady usually operates at Super Bowls.
Foles made it work for 75 yards, consuming more than seven minutes over the fourth quarter. He clicked twice on third down on the drive and once dangerously on a fourth-and-one from Eagles’ territory near midfield with a cool forward pass to Zach Ertz.
For the Eagles, that was the key play of their first Super Bowl victory.
Jerry Green, a retired sports writer, has covered every Super Bowl for The Detroit News.