A magician never reveals his secrets. An NFL head coach generally is even more tight-lipped.
But the day after Super Bowl LV and the end of a season in which he pulled a GOAT from his hat and made a Lombardi Trophy appear from thin air, Bruce Arians seemed as mystified by how it all happened as anyone.
"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," he said on Monday, hours after his Buccaneers beat Kansas City, 31-9, to win the championship and cap a year of COVID-19 protocols. "For them to care this much about each other . . . The bonding experience somehow happened and I am still trying to figure out how."
It was, he said, a season that began in confusion. There were so many new pieces on the team — not the least of which was quarterback Tom Brady — that when the Bucs took the field against the Saints in Week 1, there were few who knew what they were doing.
" ‘What the hell is that play? What’s that word mean? What’s this guy gonna do on this play?’ " he said, recalling the questions he and Brady found themselves asking each other. "It takes time and it’s not easy. It takes time, and this year we had no time. I can’t give Tom enough credit for just hanging in there with the coaches and knowing this is going to work out sooner or later. And it did."
The strangeness of the season continued right through to the postgame celebrations. Brady, the first quarterback to play in a Super Bowl in his home stadium, should have been afforded the luxury of sleeping in his own bed the night after his victory. Instead, he was relegated to his daughter’s room, he said, with about "five nieces and nephews" crashing as house guests.
The Brady clan was able to assemble in Tampa for the Super Bowl, but they had kept their distance from their quarterback relative not only to avoid distractions but to avoid spreading COVID.
"Nobody comes to the house until this game is over!" Brady said of his mandate.
On Monday, he said, he planned to carve out time to enjoy the win with them.
Brady’s season wasn’t the only thing affected by the pandemic. His parents contracted the virus and his father, Tom Sr., disclosed in recent weeks just how hard he was hit by it. He was hospitalized early in the regular season.
"In the end, he came through like he always does," Brady said. "So I was happy he was there last night watching us play. It all ended up well."
The pandemic created issues for Brady and limited his interactions with his new teammates. He said last week that there are Buccaneers, especially on defense, whom he still does not know well because there has been no opportunity to bond with them in person. Brady, though, did not seem to mind every perceived inconvenience that marked the 2020 season.
"In a unique way, with the coronavirus situation and all the protocols, it was like football for junkies," he said. "There were not really a lot of other things to do other than show up for work and play football. Normally there are a lot of other things that go along with playing football. If you love football, this was the year to be playing in the NFL. That’s all it was. It was like football camp with all your buddies year-round. I really enjoyed that part."
Brady and Arians already have voiced their intention to return in 2021 and see what they can accomplish with an offseason that may include in-person training. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champions since Brady did it with the Patriots in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.
"I’m very, very confident," Arians said of the Bucs’ ability to retain most of their players. "I have all the trust in the world in Jason [Licht, the general manager] and what he will do. These guys, they have a bond. There will be dollars involved, but this group is so, so close that sometimes dollars don’t matter. We’re going to do everything we can to get the dollars right, too, because they earned it.
"Hopefully we can keep this band together and have an offseason where we actually know what the hell we’re doing."
FUTURE SUPER BOWL SITES
LVI: Feb. 6, 2022* SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles
LVII: Feb. 5, 2023* State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
LVIIII: Feb. 4, 2024* Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans