Final Thoughts From Super Bowl XLIX: Tom Brady’s Patriots Cement Their Legacy

Marc Sterne Producer, "The Tony Kornheiser Show"
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With all due respect to Forrest Gump’s mother, Super Bowls are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna  get. Last year, the game was over within the first five minutes. The epicbeat down the Seahawks put on Peyton Manning and the Broncos was many things, but it was not particularly entertaining. This year however, we got everything we could possibly want and more. The prologue to this contest couldn’t have been any better. The two best teams in the league squaring off. The defending champion Seahawks on the one side, looking to add another title, and stake their claim as the next dynasty of the NFL. The Patriots on the other side, ten years removed from their last Super Bowl triumph, beleaguered by accusations of cheating, and knowing that a win over Seattle would etch their name on the Mt Rushmore of greatest franchises of all time.

The day itself was perfect. The early morning fog that blanketed much of Phoenix, burned away by midday, and the sun and warmth were a welcome change from the rain of the last two days. Seattle fans were everywhere, and it soon became apparent that, while it wouldn’t exactly be a home game atmosphere for the Seahawks, it was pretty damn close.

The two teams approached each other like wary heavyweight fighters. Jabbing here and there, testing the others defense and probing for weaknesses, but playing it close to the vest to avoid giving an easy opportunity to their opponent. New England dominated much of the play in the first half, but squandered a chance for points when Brady threw an interception right at the goal line after their second drive. Seattle couldn’t get anything going though, and were forced to punt after each of their first three possessions.

After a scoreless first quarter, Brady found the endzone with an 11 yard pass to Brandon Lafell. Russell Wilson, who entered the game 11-0 versus Super Bowl Winning QB’s, responded with a TD drive of his own, highlighted by a 44 yard pass to Chris Matthews (who apparently took time away from Hardball to play).

When the Patriots scored with just 31 second remaining in the half though, it appeared as if they had started to impose their will on the Seahawks. That is until Wilson went 80 yards in just 5 plays, culminating with a TD pass to Matthews with just 6 seconds left on the clock. Pete Carroll decided to go for it, as opposed to settling for an easy field goal. With that small amount of time left, the play could have gone awry and left them with no points. That river boat gambler’s mentality come back into play at the end of the game with far different results, but for the moment it paid off. The Seahawks went into the half tied, despite being outplayed for much of the game. Coming out in the second half, they would have the ball, and all the momentum in the world.

In the stands the Seahawks fans, who’d been sitting on their hands for most of the game, could feel things had tilted in their favor and the stadium buzzed with their growing confidence. Patriot fans squirmed in their seats, unsettled by watching the Seahawks march down the field like that, and not even Katy Perry riding a robot tiger and dancing with sharks could calm their nerves.

Seattle wasted no time in the second half, moving down the field with relative ease, before stalling inside the Patriots’ 10. Their 27 yard field goal though, gave them their first lead of the game. They added to that lead after Brady’s second interception left the Seahawks with a short field. Six plays later, Wilson’s short three yard TD pass to Doug Baldwin gave Seattle a 10 point lead.

The storyline to that point was one of slow-building domination by Seattle, and of a Patriots team that had failed to capitalize on its early successes. Tom Brady was playing the role of goat, his two picks led to a ten point swing that was the Seahawks lead. There would be no more talk of him as the greatest QB who ever lived, instead just the notion that he was really good but hadn’t won a Super Bowl since spygate.

Nothing that the Patriots did in their next two offensive possessions would lead anyone to believe that they were going to come back. Consecutive three-and-outs added to the growing belief that the Seahawks would prevail, and with each failed possession, the Seattle faithful inside the stadium grew louder and louder.

But then Tom Brady changed the story completely. Before the game, I wrote Brady is John Wayne, and when the chips are down and John Wayne looks at you and tells you to calm down, do your job and things will be all right, guess what? You calm down and do your job. Brady has done this before – in fact, he brought his team back from a 14 point deficit twice just a few weeks earlier against the Ravens. Brady led the Pats on a nine play 68 yard touchdown drive – converting on a third and 14, and on a third and eight. And then after the Pats defense forced another three and out, he did it again – going 64 yards in ten plays to give the Patriots the lead. Those are the kind of drives that define your legacy. When you come through on the biggest stage at the most crucial moment, you will live forever in the annals of NFL history. Just ask Joe Montana or John Elway. People can talk about what a great quarterback Dan Marino was (and he was), but he never did anything like that.

Still with all of those heroics, the Seahawks came within an eyelash of winning that game. Russell Wilson, as he did at the end of the first half, drove his team down the field to out them in a position to win. The roller coaster ride of emotions that went through that stadium after Jermaine Kearse’s ridiculous catch, was unbelievable. Seahawks fans exploding with joy, certain that victory would be theirs, while Patriot fans shook their heads and muttered “David F*ing Tryee all over again!”

Then just as suddenly as that happened, there was Malcolm Butler stepping in front of a pass at the goal line to crush Seattle’s hopes, and give an improbable fourth Super Bowl to the New England. There have been a lot of brilliant Super Bowls, but this one surely will always be listed amongst the greatest ever played. I am honored to have been in that stadium, and was amazed in the aftermath of all of that at how gracious the Seattle fans were in defeat. Countless times, I saw them go over to Patriot fans and shake their hands to say good game. They say that the measure of a man is how he reacts in the worst of times, and in that moment, those fans showed how truly great they are. I’m not so sure I would have done the same if I were in their shoes to be perfectly honest … and I know that Eagles fans would definitely not have done that either (ok, relax Philly fans – we kid because we care!)

So what is the legacy of these Patriots? No head coach or quarterback has won more Super Bowls than Belichick or Brady. The team’s dominance stretches from 2001 until 2015 (and possibly longer), placing them alongside the Packers and 49ers as the true dynasties of the NFL. No small feat in an era designed to promote parity. The talk of spygate and deflategate can now fade into the background. This team deserved to win that game, and Brady and Belichick deserve all the praise as true champions.