Much will be written about Super Bowl LI. As Super Bowls go, it was a thriller. As comebacks go, it’s the new definition of extreme comeback. My son was asking me about New England’s chances as they entered the fourth quarter with the Patriots still trailing, 28-9. I said it has to be close to zero percent. He has school tomorrow, so he wanted me to take him back to his mom.
Then the Patriots settled for a field goal on a 4th-and-15 that I thought was ill-advised. So I said, just a couple more minutes, and we’ll head out. And then Dont’a Hightower reached out and knocked the ball away from Matt Ryan, and suddenly, the chances were at least somewhat within the realm of once-in-a-lifetime. So we stuck it out and witnessed something fairly amazing.
I am a Patriot fan these days, as I’ve written before. It’s because I moved to the Nashua, New Hampshire area in 2000 – a few months after the Patriots were forced to use a compensatory pick near the end of the sixth round. Compensatory picks could not be traded. So, reluctantly, no doubt (Bill Belichick is legendary for his love of wheeling and dealing for future draft picks – he could rival Siddhartha himself when it comes to delaying gratification), Belichick picked. And with the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, the Patriots select… yeah, you know.
I cared, though. Tom Brady was the Michigan quarterback following the National Championship in 1997. Never quite got a fair shake under Lloyd Carr, but he had a presence back there. Something Belichick saw. So when franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with a terrible injury in 2001, the Patriots were in good hands. I felt part of that – something as simple as moving and seeing my home-town guy lead my new home team to their first title… that was cool.
I should note that I grew up in Ann Arbor. My dad was a Michigan professor and all my degrees are from Michigan. It’s why I was fairly neutral about the NFL. Passion in football is about the Maize and Blue. The NFL is about research and work for me. I allow myself this one rooting interest. When Brady retires, I’ll probably return to neutral. I’m back in the Ann Arbor area now, and it would seem hypocritical to get on that bandwagon should the Detroit Lions start winning.
Of course, Deflategate was difficult. I read about Ideal Gas Law and Roger Goodell’s desire to prove that he has the legal right to act as judge, jury and executioner. So this one meant a little more, and it was nice sharing that with my son, who wore his Brady jersey as we watched and went from sad to sad to sad to at least this won’t be a total embarrassment to “I’ve been watching football my entire life and I’ve never seen anything like that.” And we stayed to watch Goodell hand the trophy to Bob Kraft and enjoy the announcement of Brady’s unprecedented fourth MVP award in his unprecedented fifth win as a Super Bowl quarterback.
So, what about the game? What to write? I tried looking up the record for most points scored by an NFL team without a single extra point. According to Pro Football Reference, 34 today ties the Eagles (week 14, 2013) for most in a game since they added extra points to their tracking tool (at least the 1960s). So there’s that.
I’ll stick with one concept for now: Brady’s 62 passing attempts. He went 43-62-466-2-1.
Generally, you don’t get to 60 without a large deficit. As I’ve written many times, I keep a database of quarterback performances dating back to 1974 – when the passing rules in the NFL were changed to open up the passing game. Before 1974 (and a subsequent adjustment in 1977), you could basically pick up a receiver, hog-tie him, carry him to the sideline and put him in the equipment trunk (along with the deflated footballs) without getting a penalty.
Today’s game was the 49th time a quarterback has made 60 or more passing attempts in a game since 1974. Their team’s record in those games: 8-41. Of those 49 games, four were in the playoffs – tonight’s and three divisional-round games. Drew Brees lost in 2012, Steve Young lost in 1996 and Bernie Kosar of the Cleveland Browns mounted a fourth-quarter comeback win over the Jets in 1987, going 33-64-489-1-2.
I don’t know that Brady’s legacy needed any cementing, but, in the end, all I can say about Super Bowl LI and his team’s comeback win is… incredible.