By Brendan O’Connell
Sometimes, words fall short. Sometimes, something is so amazing it cannot adequately be described. Sometimes, sports give the world a game so remarkable that no spectator will ever forget what transpired.
On Sunday night, Super Bowl LI delivered as incredible of an experience as any of its 50 predecessors, defying the conventions of language. From inexplicably grandiose commercials to Lady Gaga descending from NRG Stadium’s roof, to late-game heroics, the most-hyped spectacle in American sports went above and beyond all expectations.
In the first overtime game in Super Bowl history, the New England Patriots overcame a 25-point second half deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-28. The victory marked the fifth championship title for both Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick, setting new records at both positions.
In the weeks leading up to Super Bowl LI, much of the chatter that circulated airwaves revolved around what would happen if and when Brady and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would meet on the post-game podium, or the contrast of the Falcons’ high-powered offense versus the Patriots’ stingy defense, or the MVP-caliber season Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan produced.
No one expected a blowout in favor of the Falcons, but the first three quarters certainly indicated that would happen. The younger, more explosive Atlanta squad looked faster and stronger than their Patriot opponents, and enjoyed a 99.6% win probability with a massive lead late in the third quarter. The front-runners in red and black looked primed to capture their franchise’s first championship.
Then, the mental toughness of the Patriots emerged, as they never relented, following the lead of their fearless quarterback and unwavering coach.
Every comeback has an aspect of collapse, but this effort from New England was different. The defense stepped up in the most important moments, generating sacks and turnovers, and putting the offense in the best position they could.
Brady finished the game with Super Bowl record-setting statistics – 43 completions and 466 yards – along with two touchdown passes, 25 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, three immaculate drives late to come back and two challenging two-point conversions, as well as a fifth ring, for whichever finger he wants.
Additionally, James White had the best game of his career, finishing with 20 touches, 139 all-purpose yards, and 20 points responsible for.
So often, in the aftermath of a meaningful and awe-inspiring game, those of us who comment on sports are prone to hyperbole, exaggerating the magnitude of what took place and how we interpret what we witnessed.
Nevertheless, I find myself reflecting upon Sunday night and thinking that we will never see the likes of this again. There is no longer a doubt as to who the greatest NFL player of all-time is – Tom Brady. There is little doubt as to who the greatest NFL coach of all-time is – Bill Belichick. And there is little doubt as to which fourth-quarter performance, which playoff comeback, and which Super Bowl outcome is the most unbelievable, transcendent and momentous of them all – Super Bowl LI.
As improbable as Brady’s rise to the top has been, as incredible as Belichick’s genius has proven and as unprecedented as New England’s success has been, Super Bowl LI gave the world one more glimpse at the resilience, excellence and will to win that will forever define this era of professional football, and defined what has been a fairy tale 16 years for the Patriots organization and their fans. Now, no matter your rooting interest or personal loyalties, it is time to appreciate it.