By Steve Keating
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Reuters) - John Fox would have loved nothing more than to have walked out of MetLife Stadium as a Super Bowl champion on Sunday but the Denver Broncos coach knows life goes on even after a crushing 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
In a sport defined by the quote, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," made famous by the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose name is attached to the Super Bowl trophy awarded to the winner, Fox's road to the championship game this season offered new perspective.
Three months ago, Fox was enjoying a rare day off during his team's bye week, playing a round of golf with friends in North Carolina, when he suddenly collapsed on the course.
A few days later, the 58-year-old was undergoing open-heart surgery to replace an aortic valve.
Returning to the sidelines to guide Denver back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 15 years, Fox was philosophical about how an eventful season ended.
"They (losses) are all difficult," said Fox, who missed a month of the regular season recovering from the surgery. "This game is a lot of fun when you win. It doesn't matter which game.
"At the end of an NFL season, there is one happy camper and that's the Seattle Seahawks tonight."
Fox was quick to offer credit to Seattle's top-ranked defense that kept his record-smashing quarterback Peyton Manning and the league's top-ranked offense under wraps.
The Seahawks defense forced four Denver turnovers, turning two interceptions into second-quarter touchdowns while dishing out punishing hit after punishing hit.
"It was a combination of coverage and pressure as it always is," said Fox. "There is a reason why they were the number one team in defense during the season.
"Give them credit, they had a lot to do with it.
The loss marked the second time Fox has come up short as a head coach in the National Football League's championship game, losing the Super Bowl in 2001 to the Baltimore Ravens when he was in charge of the Carolina Panthers.
Receiver Wes Welker, who spent six seasons as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's favorite target before joining the Broncos, knows the feeling, having played in three Super Bowls and losing all three.
"It hurts no matter what," said Welker. "It's never easy.
"It's a cruel game sometimes, you just have to roll with it."
Probably no player in the Broncos locker room, however, was more disappointed than cornerback Champ Bailey.
One of the best pass defenders in NFL history, Bailey spent five seasons with the Washington Redskins and 10 with the Broncos, has been named to 12 Pro Bowls and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s but until Sunday the 35-year-old had never made it to a Super Bowl.
"It's not about any one individual," said Bailey, who addressed his team before the opening kickoff. "It's about the whole team.
"I just wanted to kind of give them (his team mates) where I was coming from and what it means to me."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)