We’re all idiots, which is part of what makes sports so awesome.
Every year, more human hours are spent analyzing the Super Bowl than public education. More than a hundred million Americans watch this game every year, which is a good guess as to how many of us think about it beforehand.
We talk about what a win would do for each quarterback’s legacy, whatever that means, and how one team will stop a freakishly big tight end and how the other team can attack the league’s best defense, and we fool ourselves into thinking we have any of it figured out because, remember, we’re all idiots.
Nobody has this thing figured out, which is so much of the fun, because it means we get incredible moments like one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played — a wild, rough, brutally and beautifully played celebration in which a go-ahead touchdown pass with 2 minutes left by one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time is, what, the third most exciting moment?
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The Patriots beat the Seahawks 28-24 in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday, but that was after they lost it, which came after they won it, and none of this would make any sense except that we all saw it happen in real time and will see the whole thing replayed over and over again today and tomorrow and for years to come.
The last of what felt like a million turning points came when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll — by all accounts a smart man who knows that Marshawn Lynch plays for his team — called a pass play on second and goal from the 1-yard line. That decision got what it deserved when rookie Malcolm Butler worked around a pick play, intercepted the pass and made one of the most dramatic plays in Super Bowl history.
Watching from the sideline, Carroll jumped, started to pump his fists, and then threw his headset down and melted into disappointment. He will spend the week being rightfully skewered, and just wait until the national conversation picks up on the memory of the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Remember that game? Carroll took Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush off the field for a fourth-and-1 that would’ve kept Vince Young from having the chance at what turned out to be the national championship-winning drive. Some of Carroll’s best players on that USC team – including LenDale White, who got the ball on the play — blamed the play call.
The similarities are eerie, and after the Super Bowl — a second consecutive championship gone — Carroll gave the bizarre explanation that “we were going to run the ball in to win the game, but not on that down.”
The whole thing isn’t nearly as simple as that, and for a lot of reasons. The Seahawks had just one timeout and 20 seconds left, the Patriots were stuffing the line of scrimmage. Butler made a terrific play and, besides, Russell Wilson was not legally bound to throw the pass.
One of the great things about sports is that these massive shifts — these forever memories — turn a thousand different ways based on a bounce here, a read there, or an extra hour watching film by a rookie cornerback who was playing in a 7,000-seat stadium in the Gulf Coast league a year ago.
Just a minute before Butler became famous, he was on the ground — first his back, then his knees, then on his feet — for one of the absurd catches in Super Bowl history. Jermaine Kearse tipped it at least three times, and Butler once, with Kearse finally catching it on his hind parts. Without Wilson’s interception, this is David Tyree 2.0, another wonderful moment of skill and luck when the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Instead, it’s a really cool highlight, and a play one of your friends will bring up years from now: “Nobody remembers this because of Wilson’s interception, but...”
Football history changed with Butler’s interception, and not just by pushing Kearse’s catch to the background.
For a while, this was the Super Bowl of Chris Matthews, and not that Chris Matthews. A man who a year ago was working at a Foot Locker, and originally didn’t know if he could get off in time to make a flight to try out for the Seahawks, was the biggest star of America’s biggest game.
Matthews had never caught a pass in an NFL game before, but in the Super Bowl caught four for 109 yards and a touchdown. He would’ve been the game’s MVP, most likely, given the keys to a red truck and the one saying “I’m going to Disney World” in the commercial. Instead, he probably still needs to type “football” or “Foot Locker” when Googling his name to filter out the famous political talking head.
You couldn’t go 2 minutes in this game without running into something worth talking about at work the next day, from Tom Brady’s horrendous early interception to Darrelle Revis being inadvertently blocked by a referee on a touchdown to Russell Wilson taking over in a spot every red-blooded boy has pretended in his backyard — down four, 2 minutes left, 80 yards to go, Super Bowl.
And, with hindsight, of COURSE this is how this game went.
This has been a rotten year for the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell has layered himself with embarrassment on top of embarrassment on top of tone-deaf reads of public opinion.
He has been overruled by a judge, called out by players and vaguely belittled by at least one owner. This was the season of Ray Rice knocking out a woman on video, Adrian Peterson arrested for reckless or negligent injury to a child, and ham-fisted handling by the league. This was the season of banners flying over NFL stadiums mocking the commissioner and calling for him to be fired.
None of it matters. Goodell told a bald-faced lie in his annual state of the league address — well, at least one — in saying he is available to the media almost every day. NBC, a broadcast partner of the league, was able to get the president on air Sunday, but not the commissioner. He wouldn’t even go on the league-owned network, and continues to decline interview requests for months on end.
But, again, none of that matters. Not a shred of it. Not this overblown controversy about the air pressure of footballs, not the league’s dubious concussion statistics, not the new personal conduct policy, and certainly not any drama about whether the Rams or some other team breaks a market’s heart by bolting to Los Angeles soon.
None of that matters, because the league always has games to put on TV, and those games are often the most exciting, compelling and, most of all, profitable entertainment property in the country. One of the great Super Bowls in league history only reinforces the hold. This was the most-watched TV show of the year. The NFL Draft won’t be far behind.
Who cares about the commissioner’s hypocrisy? Did you see that play by the rookie?
The lesson, as always: The NFL wins.