Welcome to Episode I, Volume I of the Unconventional Review, a look back on the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory a week and a day after the fact … because if you can’t savor that all-timer of a game, dwell on every moment big and small, then what’s the point? Upon returning from Phoenix, I burned off a few vacation days … and promptly spent those days watching every program about the game I could find, including the DVR’d NBC broadcast (not Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth’s finest three hours), Sound FX, Super Bowl Classics, and NBC Sports Network’s excellent Turning Point. Had there been a Saved By The Bell reunion on Fallon in which the cast reenacted the fourth quarter, I’d have devoured that too. I’d suggest these are my last thoughts on Super Bowl XLIX, but you know better. This game is staying with us forever. Periodic revisitations aren’t just welcome. They’ll be irresistible. Let’s revisit.
THERE WAS ONLY ONE LOGICAL CHOICE FOR MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
If you thought anyone other than Tom Brady was the MVP of XLIX, well, it’s nice of you to acknowledge whomever you were acknowledging: Julian Edelman, perhaps, since he was as dependable as a receiver can be, or Malcolm Butler for saving everything with one of the greatest clutch plays in the history of sports.
Hell, did you realize as it was happening that Shane Vereen had 11 receptions? He was the perfect amalgamation of J.R. Redmond during the ’01 postseason and Kevin Faulk for the majority of his career.
We can’t take Gronk for granted, either — when he wasn’t making tough catches look easy on the winning drive, he was opening up the rest of the field for Edelman and Brandon LaFell (aka David Givens 2.0) and the vindicated Danny Amendola.
All of those guys — and so many others — offered extraordinary performances. But our salutes for them would be tempered today had Brady not gone 13 for 15 in the fourth quarter against a defending Super Bowl champion with a notoriously ferocious defense and a 10-point lead.
That was not supposed to be possible against this Seahawks defense, and yet Brady dissected them, with the Super Bowl and his legacy at stake, with such apparent ease as if this were Week 8 against the quittin’-time Bears.
Of course, it was not easy at all. He just made it look that way, something only the greatest ever is capable of accomplishing.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Ten cards for $20? A little steep, especially since you could probably come up with a 10-card Patriots commemorative set from the final drive alone. Actually, that’s a lot lot steep. But I won’t be able to resist. That cool ’85 design is the clincher.
I’ll keep this simple: Everything I loathed about Pete Carroll during his three seasons as Patriots’ coach was condensed into the final few minutes of the Super Bowl, and you damn well better believe it feels like glorious vindication.
The rah-rah nonsense, the strutting, gum-chomping cockiness when things were going well … and then the blank-faced gosh-darn-it-what-just-happened? reaction when his team’s lack of common sense and discipline leads to frustrating defeat.
The final, oh, eight minutes were the Carroll Experience in full, punctuated by the squeaked, rapid-fire “OH NO!” when Butler picked off Russell Wilson’s pass.
As someone who still remembers the frustrations and lost opportunities from 1997-99, you bet it was fun to watch it from the other side for once. I’m not apologizing for savoring the schadenfreude.
FAVORITE POSTGAME MOMENT (AND GET LOST, DIGGLER)
Easy answer: Everything not involving Marky Mark, who cornered Brady on the field long enough that it started getting awkward. A person less polite than Brady might have said:
Dude, enjoyed being in your teddy bear movie with you. Thanks for that. But can you kindly step aside so I can go celebrate with my teammates now?
But if it must be narrowed to one moment, then it is this: Brady, spotting Malcolm Butler in a sea of teammates and greeting him with a huge hug and the perfect acknowledgement:
“Malcolm, are you [bleeping] kidding me?”
If there’s anyone who can appreciate an underdog rising to the moment, it’s Brady.
SERIOUSLY, THOUGH: MALCOLM, ARE YOU BLEEPING KIDDING US? I’ve probably seen Butler’s interception 30 to 40 times now. I suspect you have, too, and I also suspect you’d agree with this: It’s still as mesmerizing as it was the first time you saw the replay and realized what had happened. I especially like this angle of the play …
… because it amplifies a couple of things. Not only did Butler have the presence of mind to recognize what was coming and jump the route without a split-second of hesitation, but it sure looks like he clued in Brandon Browner about what was up as well.
It cannot be ignored that in the biggest moment of the season, the Patriots benefited enormously from something some of us feared would be a problem in a crucial situation: Browner mugging a receiver. His refusal to allow Jermaine Kearse to set the pick on Butler allowed Butler a clean break on the ball. The whole thing was a brilliant confluence of intelligence and execution.
Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia deserve endless praise for coaching up a rookie defensive back to the point that he recognizes the formation and trusts himself to the make the play under extraordinary, pressure-packed circumstances. But it’s the kid who made the play who deserves the most praise. There are veteran players who would be engulfed by that moment.
Butler rose to it, and he did it two plays after the ridiculous Kearse catch, a frustration that might have lingered for a young player with less mental toughness.
You can’t praise him enough for the way he comported himself during the game in relief of Kyle Arrington, with that final play as the culmination.
Yeah, I’d say he’s a lock to make the team next fall, wouldn’t you?