ATLANTA — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady walked onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams and greeted a lot of people.
Among those was game referee John Parry.
When photos of the exchange reached social media, the Internet exploded with a familiar conspiracy: the fix is in, the Patriots will win Super Bowl 53.
Parry began his NFL officiating career in the 2000 season as a side judge. He became a referee in 2007.
Since 2007, he officiated in seven games featuring the Rams, all won by L.A. -- including the Rams’ Wild Card win over Dallas this postseason.
Heading into Super Bowl LIII, the Patriots were 9-5 in 14 games with Parry as the head official, including a 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh in Week 15 this season.
Parry was the referee in one other New England Super Bowl, their 2012 loss to the New York Giants.
On a night when the defenses ruled, Brady did just enough to win his sixth Super Bowl ring, leading the Patriots to an aesthetically unpleasing 13-3 over the Rams.
In last year's Super Bowl, Brady threw for 505 yards and three touchdowns but walked off the field with his head down as the Philadelphia Eagles celebrated a 41-33 victory.
"We just couldn't put points on the board for one reason or another," he said. "But in the end, it feels a lot better than last year when we did get some points on the board."
Brady completed 21 of 35 passes for 262 yards with one interception, leaving him with a rather measly passer rating of 71.4. That is the worst figure of his nine Super Bowl appearances, and marked the first time he failed to throw for at least one touchdown pass in the championship game.
Again, no problem.
"We obviously could have played better offensively," Brady said, "but the reality is (when) you get in these games, you just have to find a way to win. We played well in the end and that's what we needed."
Indeed, Brady finally found his vintage form on the lone touchdown drive of the night. He hit four straight passes for 67 yards - the best of them a pinpoint toss threaded amid three defenders that dropped into the hands of Rob Gronkowski for a 29-yard gain to the Los Angeles 2.
"Incredible catch," Brady said. "He's an awesome player, great teammate, friend, and I'm just so proud of everything that he's done for our team."
On the very next play, Sony Michel darted into the end zone to break a 3-all tie.
Not long after, Brady was taking a knee to become the first player in NFL history to win six Super Bowl titles.
The first one came against the Rams, way back in 2002, when that franchise was still St. Louis and known as the "The Greatest Show On Turf."
Now, at age 41, Brady has gotten started on a ring for every finger on his other hand.
"There's been a lot of guys be part of this journey with this team and it's just been so fun to be a part of it," Brady said. "It's a challenging football environment, the pressure is always on, and for moments like this, you have to rise to the occasion."
Sure, it was the lowest-scoring Super Bowl ever, a game that won't be remembered fondly by anyone outside of New England.
For Brady, it might be the favorite of all his titles.
This one took a team.
The whole team.
"We needed everyone out there," he said. "The defense played so well, and we finally helped them out by getting a touchdown."
The Associated Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.
Cox Media Group