By Jack McLoone
“Never Count Out Touchdown Tom” is a mantra as old as time. Or maybe a few years ago. Or maybe just the second half of Super Bowl LI. Honestly, time has entered this sort of temporal warp ever since Tom Brady and the Patriots mounted the largest Super Bowl comeback ever and I’m not even sure what time it is. My clock says midnight but it could just as easily be 5 a.m. on a Saturday in June 2019.
13 years ago, the Patriots had the only “walk-off” in Super Bowl history, when Adam Vinateri split the uprights in the then-Reliant Stadium in Houston to beat the Carolina Panthers. That field goal won a six-year-old Jack $100, and a new Patriots fan was born in central New Jersey, the middle of Giants and Jets country.
Now, with the Patriots back in Houston for another Super Bowl, they managed to one-up themselves in what I can safely call the best and most insane Super Bowl of all time.
The first half of the game justified a lot of my fears heading into the game. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman were eating the over-hyped Patriots’ defense, and the offense struggled due to insane amounts of pressure on Brady. It was like watching a repeat of the Falcons’ dismantling of the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. You’ll have to excuse me for thinking that Lady Gaga’s performance was better than the first half.
But then, football became good again, because you can Never Count Out Touchdown Tom. I couldn’t believe it. In a season – particularly a post-season – of absolutely awful football, the improbable happened: The Patriots started mounting a little bit of a comeback.
When Stephen Gostkowski hit a 33-yard field goal with 9:48, I had a little bit of a crisis of faith. That field goal made the score 28-12 in Atlanta’s favor, and I happened to have eight and two in a box pool that would pay out $500 at the end of the game. While I was not mentally prepared to watch the Patriots get stomped, in the back of my mind I had a little solace knowing I could walk away with $500 to put towards bad real estate investments or something.
But the second the Patriots turned a Ryan fumble into a touchdown, I yelled into the night, “I JUST LOST 500 DOLLARS I DON’T EVEN CARE.”
Julio Jones answered that cry by trying to murder me. That ballerina-esqe toe-touch catch on the sideline brought me back to David Tyree, Mario Manningham, even Jermaine Kearse and the PTSD was almost too much.
But then, the turn-tables turned. The Falcons lost 23 yards, and Julian Edelman finally gave the Patriots a signature catch of their own, plucking the ball out of midair an inch off the turf. I want the gif of that catch tattooed across my chest.
I was in no way cardiovascularly prepared for the stress that game put on me, but that doesn’t really matter, because 39-year-old Brady was, and he picked his way through the Atlanta defense like it was nothing to deliver one of the best performances in the history of the sport, hanging 31 unanswered on the Falcons like it was nothing.
I will hear no more conversations about whether Tom Brady is the best quarterback of all time or not. Never, Ever Count Out Touchdown Tom.