Greatness Courts Failure
New England had been bullied the entire first half. Matt Ryan, the league’s ‘so-called’ MVP, torched the Patriot secondary while the Falcon offensive line opened up holes for DeVonta Freeman so large, George Bush Sr. could have driven his golf cart through them. The only touchdown Tom Brady mustered - went to the opposite team. A dagger in the heart, pick-six that had Atlanta’s owner, Arthur Blank, chicken-winging from his luxury box before Robert Alford even spiked the ball.
The Patriots faced pressure unlike any other NFL team to set foot on Super Bowl soil before them. Sifting through the haze and malaise of evaporating halftime pyrotechnics and the first couple quarters gone array, head coach Bill Belichick stared up at 2 numbers moving in opposite directions.
The first number - The scoreboard. Or moreover, the discrepancy of the score on the board. 7, then 14... ultimately ballooning itself to a marlin of a deficit (25 points) that, historically, no football team since the advent of the championship game, had ever come back from.
The second number (perhaps even more daunting in nature) - The game clock. Torturously ticking its way dry, each second lending itself to more and more sand in the losing end of the hourglass.
The weather is forecasted, paternity tests determined, presidential elections are called from lower percentage confidence intervals than what we saw in Super Bowl LI. With the Balboa-esque lumps the Patriots were taking in the early rounds, game analytics from @ESPNStatsInfo reported the Falcons donned a win probability of 99% at 20 different, distinct junctures in the game.
At 99% probability, you can guarantee 3 things. It’s gonna rain like a mother. You are the father. And the nation’s about to be run by a child.
But even though the Patriots’ chance at victory dipped as low as 0.4% at one point, nothing was decided. Nothing was declared over, no matter how many F-Bombs rang out in Foxborough. No matter how many Dirty Birds flocked from Fulton to Fayette.
The fat lady refused to sing.
Regardless of the Falcons at the Edge of Glory and the Patriots at the end of their rope. Dire straights. Lateral options to wideouts. Attempting 4th down conversions on their own side of the field. Onside-kicking with over a quarter to play. Off the foot, no less, of a man who’d just shanked an extra point. The Patriots were scrambling, sweating; their opponent closing in on them like Indiana Jones standing lonesome between Mola Ram’s men on a wobbly, jungle bridge.
“Hang on lady, we going for a ride.”
And that’s when the Pats, like Indy, raised their swords over their heads and did what the Pats do. Their job.
Champions of 4 previous Super Bowls under the Belichick/Brady era, they remained poised. They scored. They kicked a field goal. Made a few stops. Scored again. A little two-point conversion and a David Tyree impersonation later - highlighted by #11 catching an 11-inch football, 11 millimeters
off the ground, - Julian Edelman sent an eerie pulse of energy that surged through the sidelines, past the stands, an out to sea to shining sea.
It didn’t matter if you were playing in it, or just watching the game on TV, (117 million people strong) something incredible came over us. Something pivotal. Intangible. Definition-less. While we sat on our couches, comfortable in the segregation of unilateral parties thrown across the country, in that moment, we felt something unequivocal as a nation. All of us.
Whether we wanted to fight it or not, there was no denying...... We felt it.
And in that moment, together, we did what Americans do best. We started to believe.
Not the kind of believe like you believe Lady Gaga actually jumped off the top of the NRG Dome. I’m talking about the contagious type of believe that lives in your gut. The one that makes you feel sick and strong at the same time. The kind of believe that you don’t question, you don’t second guess, you don’t have trepidation over.
The kind of believe that turns the game of chance we all understand life to be, and says for one minute... one time... let us walk hand in hand toward the inevitable. Let us witness a force greater than us. But very much so, brought on by us.
1st and 10 from the 41 and the writing was on the wall. A slight difference in the air in the football... stadium. Atlanta found themselves changing game plans. They went from attack - to panic attack - their fans at home ditching the guac and asking those nearest the medicine cabinet to ‘pass the Xanax’ instead. Teeing up the fat lady, now starting to getting loose.
First crooning... as James White dove into the end zone. Then singing... as Danny Amendola crossed the plane for their second consecutive 2pt conversion. And finally... belting as Tom took over - in overtime - hearts everywhere, either breaking or bursting in joy with the unbelievable at stake.
The New England Patriots, champions, rising like a Phoenix. Believing in the system, believing in themselves, believing in one another. But most importantly –
... In Brady.
The last man you want to see trotting onto the field if you’re nursing a lead, he pointed to his Mom in the stands, sauntered into the huddle and proceeded to put the team on his back. He barked out signals, cool as Joe, with Roger shining his trophy and sportswriters everywhere swirling, chomping at their fingertips to pen the epilogue of the last 15 years of white noise surrounding Bob Kraft’s organization – from the tuck rule, to Spygate, to Deflategate, to that horrendous cameo in Ted 2...
And like the Greatest Of All Time do, Tom Brady silenced them all. Shhh... The deafening hush of a mic drop.
In the end, the Patriots had a choice to make with 15 minutes left to play Sunday. They stood before two doors as the fourth quarter fingers across the sidelines stretched to the sky. One led to defeat. The other... immortality. Down 19, they could have fallen short and been remembered in the same vein as all the other runner-ups in the last half century.
Or... they could win.
And etch in stone the greatest quarter in franchise, Super Bowl, and arguably football history. As Kevin Kostner told Romeo in Tin Cup, “When a defining moment comes along, you either define the moment – or the moment defines you...”
So they did.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Patriots fan. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Falcons fan. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a football fan. Sunday’s game was one of those rare times where life imitates art.
Things you can’t write. Things you can’t possibly dream of. Every once in a while, they happen. If for no other reason than to challenge our imaginations. Our spirit. Our resolve.
Super Bowl LI was a testament that even in the most troublesome of times, when the odds are forever not in our favor, when our chances, slim and none, decide to up and left town... we always have a choice. To decide which door we are going to walk through. It’s that will that makes us human.
And because we have will, because we have a choice, together... we will always have a chance. Believe in yourself. Believe in each other.