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New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod (74) on the field following the NFC Championship, Sunday, January 20, 2019, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. The Rams beat the Saints 26-23 in overtime to advance to the Super Bowl.

Jermon Bushrod isn’t frustrated for himself. He has stood on the stage, under the confetti, drenched his coach in Gatorade, worn the gaudy ring, grasped the Lombardi trophy in his oversized hands.

He didn’t lash out at the referees with less than two minutes left in regulation of what would be the final game of his 12th season in the NFL in selfish aggravation. Whether he gets back to the top of the mountain during the remainder of his NFL career, he’ll be fine.

But Bushrod, who won the Super Bowl nine years ago with the Saints, shares a locker room with new teammates, young and old, and he knows how hard it is to get here. He knows no matter how hard the younger players work in the offseason, they may never get another chance to be one game away from a Super Bowl. For the veterans, their bodies may give out before they find another opportunity.

And that’s why this 26-23 loss to the Rams, marred forever by a missed pass-interference call in the red zone with less than two minutes to go in regulation, hurts so badly.

“There’s a lot of guys in here that deserve to be up there getting that trophy tonight and getting the opportunity to play again,” he said. “It sucks so hard to get here, and it’s hard to have this position that we had and not get to where you want to be. It’s just frustrating.

“I don’t give a damn about myself, but there’s a lot of people who deserve to be here, who deserve to still be playing, and that’s the only thing going through my mind.”

The veteran offensive lineman wasn’t on the Saints roster a year ago when the team lost on the walk-off Minnesota Miracle, and he can’t pretend to know first-hand the hurt that group of players felt. But since March of last year, he’s had a front-row seat to how that shocking loss lit a fire under those who experienced the pain.

“I came in, and I just felt like this organization was hungry,” he said. “We talked about getting back in this position. We talked about it in OTAs from day one, where we wanted to be, where this team would end up with a first seed, to play at home.

“We talked about it, and we worked and worked and worked to get your ass here, and we got here, and to have a couple things like that happen at the end of a game, it ain’t fair.”

It’s not fair, in his mind, because this was supposed to be THE group. The one with the storybook ending, devastated by a fluke game-winning touchdown in the playoffs a year ago, who added youthful vigor and experienced grit to a roster that could have been in this very game a year ago. The one with the aging future Hall of Fame quarterback, head coach and two coordinators that all arrived in 2006 to lift a team and a city from ruins.

They’d reached the pinnacle before, when Bushrod was just in his third season, but it was supposed to happen again. This was supposed to validate it all.

“You want to say it’s not fair, but you know what? It’s a football game. It’s a game,” he said.

But that doesn’t heal the hurt that the teammates in his locker room felt. Some walked out stone-faced. Some muttered expletives under their breath as they cleaned out their locker for the last time this season. Some shed tears — part in frustration of what transpired and part in disappointment of what they couldn’t do. Some looked on, knowing they wouldn’t see the same group of faces on game day for the rest of their careers.

“Guys will be released or traded or signed to another team. It’s the business side of the game. It happens, but it’s tough, the finality of it. No one plans to be done,” Saints punter Thomas Morstead said. “It sucks. No one has any plans for tomorrow. We all thought we’d be preparing for a Super Bowl.

“It’s very drastic, the finality of it. It’s hard to deal with it.”

Saints linebacker Demario Davis had an interception in the first quarter but couldn't help New Orleans prevent the Rams from driving for game-tying and game-winning field goals on their final two drives.

“You create bonds with guys in the locker room. No team ever looks completely the same, even if you hold onto the main group of guys, you build those bonds,” Davis said. “It’s been quite a journey. I’ve enjoyed every day coming to work, you know. That that’s over, that’s the hardest part. That’s the hardest pill to swallow.”

So what comes next? This one, of course, is different from a year ago, when the Saints could at least look back knowing an opponent made a great play, a defender missed a tackle, that they played their hearts out, and the game was won on the field. But when it’s irreversibly altered by the six inches between a referee’s ears, it’s tough to swallow.

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“You’ve got to have short-term memory when it comes to a thing like that, cause it’ll eat you up inside,” Bushrod said. “You can do something about it and work your way through it. That’s what this team did last year.

“I wasn’t part of the team, but I saw it, and they stuck together, and that’s what a team does. They stick together. That’s all you can do.”

Follow Nathan Brown on Twitter, @nbrownadvocate.