“Gonna be a hell of a story.”
While Super Bowl LI came down to a throw from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman that had its own miraculous ending, those seven words from Edelman to Brady on the Patriots’ sideline during the comeback may tell the whole story even better.
They perfectly describe the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, and served as an unknowing warning for the most dramatic theft you may ever read about.
No, I’m not talking about the Patriots stealing a Lombardi Trophy away from the Falcons after going down 28-3 in the third quarter. I’m talking about the team’s star quarterback’s jersey getting taken right from his own bag in the team’s locker room in the final moments of that night.
The whole story sounds like the plot of a movie, so it’s only fitting that the folks over at FOX Sports and NFL Films, in conjunction with Religion of Sports, would put together an incredible, hourlong documentary to highlight it all.
“The NFL is the greatest reality show on the planet,” FOX’s Jay Glazer said in the documentary. “You have the greatest comeback in NFL history, you have the greatest caper in sports history.”
“It was some Ocean’s Eleven stuff.”
With exclusive footage to help paint the perfect picture about the weeks of effort it took to return Brady’s jersey (and his Super Bowl XLIX jersey, as well), the crew behind the documentary covered it all, with some nice, subtle touches to make it all seem like a story so perfect it could have been scripted.
Each interview came with a surveillance camera-style overlay at times, even including the names to identify each person over their head with videographers and interviewers in sight.
Thee best details of it all? The inclusion of Brady himself, who dives deep in ways that fans haven’t seen before as he describes the emotions running through his head as the situation played out, and some insight about why that specific jersey meant so much.
“My family had gone through a lot in that entire season,” Brady said. “Having that and then being down 28-3, and having this desperation as a team and slowly chipping away and chipping away.”
“Going through all the things we went through with my family just made it so much more meaningful.”
Brady also revealed that he wasn’t a big jersey collector until that moment, focusing on the memorabilia he’d throw to his receivers or hand off to running backs, rather than what he was wearing for each game.
“The only thing I’ve really kept over the years is some game balls,” Brady revealed. “I still have at least one game-used ball from every Super Bowl sitting in my office at home. I never really kept a jersey or a helmet. I knew I wanted to keep that [Super Bowl] 51 jersey for everything that it meant for my family. I just thought this would be a really cool one to keep.”
The crews mix in footage of Brady handing his game-worn jersey to a team equipment staffer, and the journey that employee took through the tunnels at NRG Stadium in Houston en route to the Patriots locker room.
They also pepper in the future Hall of Famer’s reaction once he realizes his jersey has been taken out of his bag, beginning a search that would turn into an international incident.
The documentary features interviews with those involved in the investigation, including Dick Farley, an NFL security officer assigned to the Patriots; Brian Brusokas, an FBI agent specializing in sports memorabilia; and David McCain, the director of Digital Forensics for the league.
Those involved in the search discussed how they utilized cameras in the stadium and footage from FOX Sports to assist them in their investigation, and even took the audience through the exact ways in which they found the person responsible for taking Brady’s jersey.
Perhaps the most important person involved in the investigation? A teenager named Dylan Wagner, who was in contact with a man on eBay who had Brady’s Super Bowl XLIX jersey.
“’Shouldn’t that be in Tom Brady’s house or the NFL Hall of Fame?'” Wagner said. “‘How did you get it?’ I don’t care if it was legally or illegally, I was just so impressed that he had that jersey.”
That simple connection proved to play a huge factor in the overall situation, especially once Wagner heard about the disappearance of Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey.
“It could be a stretch, but if this jersey’s missing and this jersey’s missing, there’s a good chance this guy has both of them,” Wagner explained.
The documentary went into extreme detail, even describing the specific ways Brady likes his jersey cut and hemmed for games.
“I never like it too long,” Brady said. “Sleeves have to be the perfect, have to tug in the right spot. Can’t be too much fabric, because you give the defense too much to grab. Can’t be too tight because you don’t want to be restricted at all.”
Those fine little details made the documentary as perfect as it was, and those responsible for the project did a great job at highlighting the insanity that is an NFL locker room after a big win.
“NFL locker rooms postgame are crazy in the regular season,” former Sports Illustrated writer Robert Klemko said. “In a Super Bowl postgame locker room, it’s the perfect place to steal something of great value.”
Mark Briggs, a former Patriots security team member, highlighted the different people in the locker room after Super Bowl LI, which included a Ravens PR employee and a Chiefs PR employee.
“It’s mayhem, it’s a circus,” Brady said.
The craziest piece of all of the mayhem? The fact that the man responsible, Martin Ortega, had taken a selfie with Brady in the locker room, and that wasn’t the first time the duo’s paths had crossed.
Ortega had taken numerous pictures with Brady over the span of the Patriots QB’s career, using his power as a credentialed journalist to gain access to numerous players in multiple Super Bowls.
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“Coming to previous Super Bowls and being allowed access to the field gained him the insight on how the field reacted after the game and how his media credential allowed him access that normal people didn’t,” McCain said.
That experience also led to Ortega stealing Von Miller’s helmet from his MVP performance at Super Bowl 50, which was an interesting added nugget showcased in the documentary, as well.
The documentary then heads down to Mexico, where the search during the international incident heats up as investigators went to Ortega’s house. After a search warrant was executed and the jerseys were recovered, forensic investigators had to watch Super Bowl LI to match jersey with what they had received.
The jersey was then flown back to the United States in a carry-on bag, helping to complete a rollercoaster of a story showcased perfectly throughout the documentary
“That’s pretty good theater,” Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas said.
The documentary also showcases an interesting tidbit about the joke played by former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Brady when the Patriots visited Fenway Park after the Super Bowl victory and Gronkowski playfully stole Brady’s jersey for a second time.
“We were in the back, he told me he was going to kind of do it, and he’s like, ‘Yo, Rob, steal the jersey from me when I whip it out.'” Gronkowski said. “He whips out the jersey, that place is going wild and I come out of nowhere while that jersey is up in the air, give a little jump, grab the jersey from him and the crowd starts going nuts.”
“He played it perfectly, it was a great setup, so that was dope.”
“I thought we had a lot of fun with it,” Brady said. “I hope the fans enjoyed it, too.”
Glazer then discusses how he put out the whole timeline of the incident, helping to out Ortega in the process and upset players like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Rodgers.
“They all got really angry,” Glazer said. “Man, this guy [Ortega] really invaded our privacy.”
The all-around attention to detail in the film was phenomenal, with every angle of the story covered like a group of surveillance cameras around a football stadium.
The only thing that could make the whole documentary better? Hearing from the man behind the theft himself, Martin Ortega.
Oh, that actually happened?
“I took Tom Brady’s Super Bowl LI jersey, and I regret it very much,” Ortega told the camera crew. “I have beautiful memories, and well, this is what will remain as memories of these years at the Super Bowl.”
“Now that I’ve analyzed what happened, I think this is very similar or the same as an addiction,” Ortega continued. “I invested a lot in these items, and that ultimately made me want to have more and more and to what nobody else could have. Like Tom Brady’s jersey.”
“In my case, it got out of control. Now I understand that.”
Ortega apologized to Brady personally in the documentary, which, in a nice touch, was shown to the Patriots quarterback himself for him to react to on camera.
“Apology accepted and this is something that I think we’ve all learned from,” Brady said. “Everybody makes mistakes. We just hope that our mistakes don’t leave permanent scars.”
“We do things with a lack of judgment sometimes, but when you learn from those, I think they can improve your life, as it seems to have done with Martin.”
The cameras showcased how Ortega’s family has supported him through the issues that arose, and the aftermath of the entire situation came to a close a few weeks later.
Brady got his jersey to put in his office, Ortega avoided any criminal charges as Brady didn’t want to impact his life after the theft, Wagner got his own reward by earning tickets to a Patriots game and a signed Tom Brady football, and the world moved on.
The only thing left was the story.
“Every time I walk in [my office], I see the jersey,” Brady said. “For me, it’s a real point in time in life and it was something to really be happy about. But, also, that moment in time has passed. It speaks to the power of athletes and sports in general in our society and how influential they are in people’s lives and it’s amazing these jerseys are like relics. They tell the history of the game, not only visually but tangibly.”
The documentary perfectly highlighted the impact of sports on fans’ lives, whether it’s with an emotional connection or a physical one through collecting memorabilia.
And, with the documentary airing on FOX just a few days after the death of Kobe Bryant, its message was only heightened.
“People pass away, stories get lost, these things are forever,” Brusokas said. “It’s a text, it’s an object, it’s a way to connect with the past.”
The documentary is definitely worth the time for any sports fan, no matter if they’re a football fan or not, and regardless of whether or not they are a fan of Brady. It’s a story of triumph in the case of Brady and those handling the investigation, and a story of tragedy and redemption for the other side: Martin Ortega.
No matter how you view the situation as a whole, only one sentence really makes sense: It did end up as one hell of a story.