It was the second quarter. The Atlanta Falcons had just scored their second touchdown, extending their lead to 14-0. I was, to be in honest, not in great spirits. Needing a break, I went upstairs where My Darling Wife was wrapping up bath time with our 22 month old daughter. As I walked in MDW cautiously asked “how’s it going?” Before I could answer, my daughter looked up, smiled and said with two Elmos in her hand, “it’s okay, Daddy.” Now I’m sitting here wondering if she knew something I didn’t all along.
Maybe my daughter is psychic?
Or maybe I just witnessed an act of greatness?
Eh, maybe it’s a bit of both.
Super Bowl 51 was exhausting. I was down as far as a I could go; I was up as high as I could go. After my daughter’s reassuring words, I went back downstairs. The Patriots were driving; they were looking to score and hey, if they at least come away with a field goal, that’s something. One of the things I can’t say I’m a big fan of with sports is how it can make you think to yourself, I just want something good to happen so I can feel good about something. That’s a super depressing thought; a statement usually reserved for people with real, legitimate problems. But then I had a real, legitimate problem, so that sad statement was valid.
That Tom Brady interception, taken all the way back for a touchdown, was to put it lightly, not a good moment. The consolation prize of a field goal came two minutes later, just before the half ended, and by that point it was 21-3 Falcons. The Falcons looked better and faster. They were playing with spunk, zip, youthful exuberance and vigor. The Patriots? The Patriots were not.
Half Time Rationalizations
You know, the Patriots’ offense hadn’t been that bad.
You know, the Patriots’ defense hadn’t been that bad.
The Patriots are known for making second half adjustments.
If Lady Gaga goes all political, Trump will probably have the game stopped and name the Patriots the winners because of course that son of a gun has his stink on the Pats.
And as for Half Time?
Well, there were drones.
Nope. That’s Dronez. But still cool.
Back to the Game…
So you know, the Falcons start with the ball…not ideal…but the Pats’ defense stops ’em…three and out…Pats’ fans everywhere whisper the same thing to their loved ones…okay, offense, we need something…the offense does nothing…it’s a bummer…then the Falcons score…it’s 28-3 and you know, maybe it’s not their day…but it could be…the positivity was starting to waver, starting to be harder to come by, harder to manufacture, and that creeping feeling in the stomach was the urge for a respectable finish…make it look good on paper, make it close at least, make it something we can all feel mildly okay about come Monday…the Pats get a good drive going…go, go, go and on the 13th play of the drive, James White gets in for a touchdown and…fuck…they missed the extra point.
The Fourth Quarter
That was after Stephen Gostowski capped off another long drive with a field goal, cutting the Falcons’ lead down to 28-12. Only 16 points. Not crazy. Not far-fetched by any means. Crazier things have happened. And the Patriots needed something crazy to happen. The defense had kind of, sort of slowed up the Falcons but now, now they needed something more.
It was around this point when I stood up and would remain standing up for the remainder of the game. In five plays the Patriots scored and followed that up with a Two-Point conversion. It was now 28-20 and if you didn’t mutter to yourself at this point some variation of this is crazy, you weren’t watching. BECAUSE IT WAS CRAZY. The Patriots just kept chipping away. Things started to slow down, things started to trudge along and a belief started to lurk and peer in the windows. The Falcons, a young team, had looked mighty chesty in the first half and deservedly so. But with things tightening up, would they tighten up as well?
Not at first. A screen to Devonta Freeman went for 39 yards, bringing the Falcons to near-mid field. 8 points down was manageable. Any more than that and, shit, no one could be that lucky. Then Julio Jones did a Julio Jones thing and (expletive deleted,) things did not look good.
Like, you want to be mad. You want to somehow argue that he was out. You want to do anything in that moment that somehow discredits what was an amazing catch. But you can’t. You must be resigned to greatness when it happens. You tip your cap and give a pained smile.
Then you pray.
I think this was when things started to get weird.
All the Falcons really had to do was run it a couple times and kick a field goal. Dude, even kneel three times and kick a field goal. That would put them up 11 and make it a two score game. It was all they had to do. On second down, Matt Ryan goes back to pass FOR SOME REASON and gets SACKED, pushing the Falcons back to the outer reaches of field goal range. A kick was doable, but less certain. They surely couldn’t afford to go back any further and…they went back further and were forced to punt. One job, guys. You had one job. What was that one job? Uh, not go backwards. Yes. And what did you do? Uh, we went backwards.
And a grateful Pats Nation thanks you.
There was three minutes left. The Patriots had to go the length of the field, score and get a two-point conversion. My insides was a duel of belief and skepticism, history and a chronic sense of doubt. Damn it man, at some point we’ll relax some and trust Tom Brady. Maybe some already have. I don’t know. I’m still of the mindset that it can’t be done, even though I’ve seen it been done on numerous occasions.
So this happened.
The Falcons challenged. That was dumb. The ref who ran over to rule it a catch did so with the conviction of someone who was 100% certain that was a catch. They showed replays. Julian Edelman made the catch. He somehow made the catch. Not somehow, he did it because Edelman continuously wants something more than you do. But would it be ruled a catch?
Yes. Yes it was ruled a catch.
I’m not a mystical dude, but that shit was karma for past instances of pure baloney.
Fox showed that moments later. I was mad, then I wasn’t. Maybe I was maturing. Eh, maybe.
Atlanta, losing the challenge, no longer had any timeouts. This would be kind of important.
What happened next was something I’ll never forget, or at times remember because I might have blacked out. But the Patriots just kept going. Atlanta, who had looked so fast and young and fast, now looked young and tuckered out. Adrenaline runs out eventually. And with a minute left, the Patriots tied the fucking ball game thanks to another White touchdown and a Two-Point conversion that Danny Amendola completed before getting shoved backwards. It was tied at 28. You weren’t watching? You had gone to bed? You had turned the channel? I can’t blame you but now you turned back because despite a marginal effort by the Falcons, we were headed to overtime and the Patriots won the toss, got the ball and my insides was alive with one thousand fireworks going off at once. A marching band paraded up and down my rib cage and monkeys danced in my throat and a bombardment of lightning strikes rattled my brain.
With each yard they gained, creeping closer and closer to the Falcons’ end zone, I felt the emotions rushing and running.
And then they scored.
And then they won.
The fucking New England Patriots and Tom Brady did it again.
There were three bad quarters followed by one amazing one. There was a fumble, there was an interception, there was a few too many dropped balls. There were sacks and the feeling of defeat. There was rationalization and reckoning. There was those happy to dance on the Pats’ grave, there was comparisons to the election. But there was Tom Brady and a Patriots team that despite the bludgeoning they continued to endure, kept on keeping on.
Patriots Championships Ranked
2. 2015, 2017 (tie)
As the years go on, maybe that ranking changes, but I’d be hard-pressed to see how. It’d be short-sighted and too revisionist, too easy to fall victim to recency bias, to say that either the win over the Seahawks in 2015 or this most recent win was better than that first one.
But the emotion I felt when Super Bowl 51 eventually ended goes right up there with what I felt when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. It was a youthful release of joy. I jumped around the room like a lunatic and it all happened completely absent of self-control. It was…it was…it was really something.
It’s okay, daddy.
Yup. She was right.
It was okay.