Well, wasn’t that a blast of cacophonous American poetry: A completely batshit play call in the final seconds of the Super Bowl, followed by the plaintive wails of a Collinsworth, followed by a brain-dead roadhouse brawl that served absolutely no purpose.
If everything that built up to it wasn’t so damned entertaining, it would have been enough to turn you off to football altogether, but I suppose this is how it became the national pastime in the first place: It is a sport that manages to attract us and repel us, usually at the same time.
This is how we’ll remember Super Bowl XLIX, then. It will be the year of Tom Brady and the Patriots’ 10-point fourth-quarter comeback, the most prodigious in Super Bowl history, capped by a short touchdown pass to Julian Edelman just before the two-minute warning; it will be the year that Seattle appeared to nullify that comeback on Jermaine Kearse’s stop, drop and roll of a catch that conjured visions of David Tyree and Mario Manningham before him; and it will be the year that the Seahawks, instead of running the football behind Marshawn Lynch, the most unstoppable media foil of a running back in Super Bowl history, chose to throw a slant pass into the wrong hands, thereby sealing both a 28-24 defeat and their place in professional football infamy.
The pass was intercepted by a Patriots defensive back named Malcolm Butler, but that hardly matters. What will be remembered here is not Butler’s name, but the names of Pete Carroll and his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell (though Carroll copped afterward to making the call himself). What will be remembered is that the Seahawks were so perilously close to winning this game that NBC’s Cris Collinsworth was actually talking about whether the Patriots should let Seattle score and save what remained of the final minute of clock. And then a few seconds later, Collinsworth was saying, “I’m sitting here, and I absolutely cannot believe that play call.”
And this will overshadow everything else. This will overshadow Carroll’s ballsy second-quarter play call, when with six seconds left on the clock and the Seahawks trailing 14-7 down near the goal line, he allowed Russell Wilson to throw a quick pass into the end zone for a touchdown rather than kick the field goal. This will overshadow the fact that Carroll seemed to have the Patriots’ number for much of the third quarter, when New England couldn’t muster much offense at all. This will allow people to hearken back to the old Pete Carroll, the hippie-dippie goofball who was fired by the Patriots, largely for a perceived lack of substance before resurrecting his career at USC (“My therapist said I should talk about getting fired,” Carroll reportedly told the NBC broadcast team).
On the other side, of course, this breaks up New England’s run of absurdist Super Bowl defeats (both to the New York Giants). There is no question the Patriots are the defining dynasty of the 21st century, and there is little question that Brady is now the greatest clutch quarterback in the game’s history, if not merely the greatest of all time. But there will forever be a metaphorical asterisk attached to this game. This was about the ending; it is what will endure and what will permit people to wonder whether New England’s fourth Super Bowl win was some sort of cosmic karmic payback for the Helmet Catch, or whether it was the kind of flukish victory that makes people hate the Patriots so much in the first place.
Was it one of the greatest football endings we’ve ever seen, or one of the dumbest? Were the Patriots really the best team in the NFL this season, or were they criminally devious and lucky, deflating footballs and benefiting from truly mystifying play calls? Honestly, I don’t know the answer here. I’m writing this shortly after game’s end, and I imagine in the days and weeks and months and years to come, this whole thing will congeal into an NFL Films storyline, and I imagine the Seahawks’ play call will take its place in the halls of Super Bowl infamy, amid the drop of Jackie Smith and the lovable foibles of the Buffalo Bills.
Look at Marshawn Lynch, running the other way, people will say to themselves, when they watch the highlights package of Seattle’s final play. The dude is virtually unstoppable, and you didn’t trust him to plow forward three feet? This is the story of Super Bowl XLIX; it is mystifying and it is confusing and it makes no sense in the aftermath. But then, neither does the ethos of pro football right now. It is a league whose scruples are always in question, a sport that appears to be on the constant verge of endangerment.
Here was a Super Bowl that devolved almost metaphorically into pointless hockey fights after Butler’s interception; and yet, despite everything that happens, we keep on coming back to it, in bigger and bigger numbers. I can’t believe it, either, Cris. And I also can’t wait for next year.
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb