As Super Bowls go, this one wasn’t very good for the NFL until the last hour or so Sunday night. But the great thing about sports, is it’s ability to author something really amazing when you least expect it.
That’s exactly what happened in Houston, and the most needy of recipients was the National Football League.
In a season that saw one of its marquee player benched in an example of overblown discipline, low ratings, a National Anthem boycott, and remarkably bad officiating, the NFL found some needed redemption.
Super Bowl LI looked to be every bit the blowout of Super Bowls past. As the first half drew to a close, the Patriots settled for a field goal when a touchdown seemed almost inevitable. They’d head to the locker room down 21-3. The second half would look to be a coronation of the upstart Atlanta Falcons, and a coming out party of sorts, for a freshly minted NFL MVP.
But then, something funny happened on the way to inevitability.
Earlier last week, I’d intended to publish a piece about the Top 10 Super Bowl Performances. Given 50 games to select from, I ultimately wound back to 10 games that I believed lent to great team performances.
While the piece was never published, it lent itself, in principle, to a lot of what we saw last night. The Patriots won a game the way they do best: grinding as a team.
Midway through the fourth and down 28-12, New England began to move to ball. Tom Brady FINALLY began to look like Tom Brady, but the bigger opponent appeared to not be a fading Falcons defense, but the game clock.
Slowly and deliberately, and finally within striking distance of Atlanta, the NFL finally had a game AND a story. Quickly, the possibility of a series of “firsts” appeared within reach.
Five Super Bowl Championships for the Patriots.
Tom Brady’s, “one for the thumb.”
And, perhaps most delicious, revenge on an overzealous Commissioner by a franchise looking to make a point.
And oh yes, an historical collapse.
The Atlanta Falcons, whose life could be seen to drain from them with every tick of the fourth quarter clock, became the perfect foil for New England.
In the comeback by which all future comebacks may likely be measured, the Patriots put on a show of team play that blurred the lines of MVP. Sure, Brady is the popular pick, and his gaudy numbers are impressive, but his first half was as bad a half as you’ll ever see him deliver.
He’d play better, but he’d also get a lot of help. If Julian Edelman doesn’t wrap up that deflected pass, NFL watchers are probably talking about a Falcons’ win, and about Brady’s bad first half. Instead, history had a different plan. And with 2:03 left in regulation, Super Bowl LI had a chance to be special.
Reaction: What in the world just happened?
Winners and Losers:: Who came out looking best and worst after Super Bowl LI?
Five Questions:: Let’s make sense of Super Bowl LI!
New England would score, convert a two point try, and force overtime on a Falcons team who looked dazed and confused.
As the Patriots would finish off Atlanta, the NFL had its “Instant Classic.”
As subjective as sports can be, and that which flies in the face of the “self proclaimed “ geniuses who know what is and is not Top 10 worthy, well, you lose.
Super Bowl LI wasn’t that great until the fourth quarter. Tom Brady wasn’t particularly good until late, and the debate will rage as to whether New England won the Super Bowl OR whether Atlanta lost it.
To all I say, “correct.”
Ultimately, it’s whatever you want it or believe it to be. It’s a subjective judgment like partly cloudy or mostly sunny. It’s sports, and the best part is whatever the viewer and fan takes from it.
Is Super Bowl LI THE best of all time?
Perhaps it’s the best comeback by a team and worst collapse of another.
Maybe it was just seventeen or so really good minutes for New England, and seventeen regrettable minutes for Atlanta.
If I write that same piece this same time next year, I’d likely include it in my Top 10, but not for the same reasons the self proclaimed “geniuses” and football geeks would tell you for, or disagree with you on.
But more likely that a great team rose up and dug deep when it needed to most. Brady was awesome, Edelman made a play, and Atlanta, as a team, faded just as New England found enough time to make one big play.
So, was it the best of all time?
Well, that’s a matter of opinion.
And after all, isn’t that what we love most about sports?