INDIANAPOLIS -- It ended so abruptly.
Tom Brady heaved that last Hail Mary into the end zone and nobody caught it. Game over. It felt like, four hours into the most ambitious, revealing conversation you've ever engaged in, your listener suddenly turned heel and walked away.
New England filed off the field, avoiding, beyond everything, the celebratory snowfall of confetti that precipitated for the New York football Giants. It was as if one glittery shred could have scalded Patriot skin.
The tradition that followed -- the media meet -- was hardly routine.
New England lost the Super Bowl. Again. Now the players had to talk about it. A job hazard. An obligation of both sides, every week, until the end.
Except there is no bright side at the end. No chance to correct mistakes, no chance to prove that the loss is not who you are, no chance to git 'em next week.
This truth was written on their faces.
One by one, the Patriots trickled into the makeshift "interview room." Black curtains partitioned the enormous space being occupied inside the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium. Podiums dotted the slate gray floor in a horseshoe shape.
The players stepped up, sat down, and dared reporters to speak.
Sometimes, nobody did.
Jerod Mayo didn't even relieve himself of his uniform, so badly did he want the damn thing over with. He broke the silence first trying to expedite the process: "Let's go! Let's go!"
BenJarvus Green-Ellis barely moved his mouth to shape his words, as if that would soften their reality. "Football is a game that's played where everything's earned. Nothing is given to nobody. The Giants earned it." His is not a dynamic personality anyway; Sunday night, Green-Ellis looked broken.
James Ihedigbo took his corner podium like a wounded wolf. He bared his teeth on every answer, stubbornly refusing to show weakness. "I don't think there's one play they beat us out there," he growled.
Rob Gronkowski was heartbreakingly gracious. "We'll have more chances." The optimism betrayed his youth -- and his remarkable talent. Confidence, naivety -- both -- fueled his optimism. You wanted to believe him.
The rest ranged from near-tears regret (Wes Welker) to broad-minded determination. (Kyle Arrington). And all of it happened in startling proximity to the Super Bowl Champion Giants.
Figuratively, the teams were separated by an ocean of a designation: winners, losers. Literally, all that stood between them were those indifferent black curtains.
The PA system's boom of player announcements cut awkwardly into the Patriots' efforts. "I can't hear you," more than a few said.
Eli Manning's availability was pronounced too loud.
Finally, it was time to pack up and go home. Today they went to Gillette, packed up, and went home from 2011 for good.
Until the conversation can begin again.