…may not have happened yet.
Had the Patriots lost last night at the scene of the XLII crime, it could be said to have ended that previous night they played in Glendale, Arizona, the final cruelty of a game that still hurts to think about.
But instead, this morning, the conversation is much different. We’re talking about the Greatest of All Time and Dynasty and other things that warm my heart on this furiously snowy Monday morning, and the possibilities still seem endless.
As the Seahawks drove down the field and Jermaine Kearse made an utterly impossible catch to put them on the New England five yard line, that previous Super Bowl heartbreak loomed large in this Pats fan’s mind.
“The only reason this isn’t going to be more painful than XLII is because a perfect season isn’t on the line,” I thumb-typed into Twitter, which had been the outlet for my angst all night. “That’s it.”
You can talk all you want about how blessed Patriots fans have been over the last 14 years, and I acknowledge that. But to get to the Promised Land…again…only to have heartbreak visit you in nightmarishly familiar fashion…again…is a terrible feeling, and no amount of prior records can assuage that feeling, any more than a 16-0 regular season makes up for a last-minute loss with the trophy on the line.
Other than Tweeting, I had been quiet for most of the game at the point when the Seahawks went to a passing play, and Malcolm Butler flashed through the line, jumped the route, and put an unexpected end on the game.
I don’t remember exactly what I screamed, but I screamed. I screamed words that included “Intercepted it” and “Holy shit” but it was just a pure, primal outpouring of all the stress that had built up as I involuntarily cringed from the third quarter on at every Patriots miscue. The empty Coke bottle I’d been clutching went flying across the room. I have felt great sports pain in my life, and great sports joy, but this was off the charts even by a spoiled Pats fan’s standards.
I still kind of can’t believe it. I had settled in so readily to the idea that defeat would be snatched once again from the jaws of victory that I’m still watching that highlight over and over again, trying to make it familiar, expected, as Malcolm Butler jumps the route.
We’ll talk about the ending ad nauseam, but in the meantime there were so many other stories, other efforts, that went into it. Say what you want about Pete Carroll’s play call, but give Bill Belichick credit. Not only was he not fooled by the pass play, but he put an undrafted free-agent rookie in the game to replace the floundering Kyle Arrington and that player, more than anything else, cements Belichick’s legacy as a legendary coach even as he buries Carroll’s.
There are precious few teams in the NFL who have such a well-disciplined, well-prepared team. Credit Belichick for the atmosphere he creates around his team, for that kind of preparation from a rookie who, by all rational measures, never should’ve expected to see the ice.
Those of us outside the walls of Gillette Stadium wailed and moaned when Wes Welker left us, and then we’ve watched him become a shadow of his former self, while Julian Edelman, his long-lost twin on the field, held on where Welker could not in 2012. How did Belichick know?
And then there’s our quarterback. What a big swing for him – from .500 in Super Bowls to a winner of four out of six, a record-setting performance that puts him in the rarified air of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana, and of course, one of those signature last-minute drives that an incredulous world first saw more than a decade ago.
The world, apparently, remains incredulous about Brady. He won the MVP of the game but was quickly subsumed in the kerfuffle about the game’s ending. But a look back at this game, two interceptions and all, shows that in the end, Brady was the key. He led the winning drive once again, and this time the defense held on.
Brady and Belichick. Their like will not soon pass this way again.
Soon the conversation will begin about the future, about how much longer New England gets to enjoy those two legendary figures stalking the sidelines and calling signals under center. Was this most satisfying redemption their final farewell to the league’s biggest stage? With Brady pushing 40, it may have been. Maybe we’ll look back on this as the last night of the Patriots dynasty. Which is why I’m trying to savor every second.