Tom Brady is going to his ninth Super Bowl - as many as Joe Montana, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers appeared in, combined. But after a tumultuous and erratic regular season, this one is different, and Brady keeps letting everyone know it.
For one thing, he's now 41, far closer to the end of his career than the beginning, no matter how long he intends to play. For another, he and the New England Patriots came into the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs as an underdog, the first time New England found itself in that position since 2014.
"Everyone thinks we suck," Brady opined after the Patriots beat the Chargers in the divisional round, and that's a theme he struck again after Sunday's overtime victory in Kansas City sent New England to a fourth Super Bowl in five years. We're here again, he seemed to say. Deal with it.
"The odds were stacked against us," Brady told reporters after the game. "It hasn't been that way for us for a while. It certainly was this year."
This time, it seemed personal.
On Monday, Brady admitted "that was as emotional a game as I've been through, certainly in a long time" during his weekly WEEI interview. "We fought through adversity all year," he said.
Gone was the drama that created headlines last year, the rumors of a rift with Coach Bill Belichick. Cameras caught Brady saying, "I love you, too," to his longtime coach after the game. Which means that Belichick said it first?
"We've always gotten along great," Brady said on WEEI. "We've worked together for 19 years. We've had the same goals in mind for 19 years. He's been a great, great mentor in my life. He's taught me more than anyone could about the game of football. He's the greatest coach of all time and we've had some great moments together."
Brady and his people, as is their custom, sent a postgame Instagram message that was a little more in-your-face than usual. This one, accompanied by a caption containing only the letter "W," reminded everyone that Brady is "Still here," as video showed him and Rob Gronkowski walking out of Arrowhead Stadium. As Gronk smiled, Diddy's "Bad Boy for Life" started to play. The lyrics?
"We ain't goin' nowhere, we ain't goin' nowhere, we can't be stopped now 'cause it's bad boy for life."
Diddy posted the video on Instagram himself, writing "Congratulations to my brother @tombrady true Inspiration. Boy won't stop!!!"
Brady, the old guy whom everyone thought was finished, passed for 348 yards Sunday as New England dominated the game, outgaining the Chiefs 524 yards to 290 yards, finishing with double the number of first downs (36 to 18) and running 94 plays to Kansas City's 47. For the second straight game, Brady was not sacked and the Chiefs got pressure on him on just 10 percent of his dropbacks. The Patriots came up with some new, last-minute wrinkles, including eight new plays that were added to the playbook in an 11 a.m. meeting Sunday inside the Westin Crown Center ballroom, Brady told Pro Football Talk's Peter King.
He told WEEI on Monday that it's not unusual for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to come up with "plays that we've never even practiced" as "preparation goes right up to the beginning of a game."
In his last 17 playoff games - roughly the equivalent of a full season - Brady has gone 13-4, passing for 5,596 yards, with a 33-16 touchdown-to-interception ratio. All that success aside, he was thinking of Chiefs phenom Patrick Mahomes after Sunday's dramatics, seeking him out for a brief, private conversation.
"I just went and saw him," Brady told King, declining to offer details Monday. "I mean, he's feeling like you think he'd feel when you lose a game like this. It hurts. He's a hell of a ... I mean, what a great young player. So impressed with his poise, his leadership. He is spectacular."