Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarter-back, is defeated. His head hangs and his shoulders are slumped. The Patriots are 20-0 down in the second quarter, falling victim to an efficient Atlanta Falcons team. The image is now iconic; it showed how a man at his lowest ebb rose from the depths of despair, trumping psychology to orchestrate the greatest ever NFL comeback.
The Patriots had brought the game to 28-12 with 9:44 minutes left, through a touchdown and field goal. Brady led the charge, and his team-mates responded. Receiver Julian Edelman’s astonishing catch symbolised this call to arms, twisting and arching himself so that he could grasp a ball that was twice deflected, just inches from the turf. It was this determination to win, a relentless energy to keep going, which swept through the Patriots. A touchdown resulted from this astonishing play and it was 28-20: they had started to believe.
2:24 minutes remained. Anticipation pervaded and a nervous energy rippled through the Patriots dominated stadium. Moments later, James White would tunnel his way through the Falcons’ defence for a touchdown. Next came a season-defining moment. The Patriots needed a two-point conversion to take the game into overtime. Crippling pressure, immense noise and the expectation of a state on your shoulders – lesser men would have folded, but not 5 time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. Brady found Amendola with a short pass and tied the game.
Somewhere in the White House, a Patriots fan would allow himself the time to cease Presidential activity and smirk.
The euphoria might have been short-lived, however. If it was Tom Brady directing the Atlanta Falcons instead of Matt Ryan, we might be telling a different story. Ryan was unable to drive his offence up the field and could not secure goal-kicking range. Ryan is this season’s MVP, but was shackled by an invigorated and inspired Pat’s defence, intent on playing their part in a generation-defining sporting moment.
And so, for the first time NFL history, a Super Bowl game went into overtime. Fate had her input and decided the Patriots should have the first possession: a touchdown would win the match. It was inevitable, the Patriots were in unstoppable form. They had seen their hopes crumble and virtually disintegrate into fragments – fragments that mirrored the confetti of Lady Gaga’s half-time show -only to rebuild brick by brick, unbelievable play by unbelievable play. When James White, who ran a record-breaking 110 yards in the match, received the ball short of the touchdown, sheer will and determination saw him cross the coveted white line.
The Patriots had completed an unprecedented comeback. On a night when all Patriot hopes seemed to be shattered, it was the stuff of miracles.
THE STUff of miracles
This was much more than a logic-defying comeback; more than a fifth Super Bowl for Tom Brady; more than a story you’d recount time and time again. It was an episode that crystallised what sport is all about. The simple throw of an oddly shaped ball stimulated so much more than joy – well, if you are a Patriots’ fan.
It is only sport that can produce such polarities: the dejection of seeing a Super Bowl slip from your grasp contrasted against the ineffable experience of witnessing your team laugh in the face of odds.
It was a game that strolled up the cynics and pessimists of the sporting world, the self-righteous and aloof individuals who scorn sport’s importance, and exposed their shallow rhetoric.
This was a game that presented human endeavour at its incomprehensible best – go find that in an essay on the pseudo-radicalism of an obscure 18th Century text. You won’t find it.
Without delving into the elusive philosophical world I have just lamented, this game was a transparent insight into the remarkable psychology of human triumph and should rightly be hailed as one of the greatest sporting events ever.