GLENDALE, Ariz. —Somehow the soulless big budget spectacle that was the Super Bowl, this anthemy, exploding tricked up show with its outrageous price gouging, the $9 “souvenir” sodas, and $15 “souvenir” popcorn, was finally worth it. And not because New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady made a little commemorative history with his fourth ring, either. Peanuts? Six bucks. So was water. But you would have paid anything for a drink to cure the cottonmouth this tumultuous, head-clutching game left you with.
In answer to the simple question, “What happened?” where would you start? With Brady rallying the Patriots from 10 points down with less than eight minutes left, and setting the record for completions in a Super Bowl, with as many as he is old in years, 37? Or with the Seattle Seahawks’ desperate answering surge downfield as they trailed 28-24 with less than two minutes to go, benefiting from a freakish break only to commit one of the great historical blunders on the 1-yard line?
The back and forth didn’t matter to Brady, and neither did the half-dozen new records he established. He only cared that after 10 years of striving, he had finally won another Super Bowl. “Whatever it took today, that’s what we needed to do,” he said.
He threw four touchdown passes to overcome two interceptions and joined Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls, in a manner he could never have imagined.
“It wasn’t the way we drew it up,” he said.
The University of Phoenix Stadium looked like a giant hubcap in the middle of a parking lot, the paved-over blacktop barely distinguishable from the flat wasteland fields surrounding Glendale. Kickoff was a relief from the thrumming of loudspeakers in the tented sideshows, and the incessant chatter about Deflategate. Brady’s legacy will probably be complicated by the controversy over whether the Patriots had released an infinitesimal amount of pressure from game balls in the playoffs to gain a competitive edge. But it was also worth noting that Brady’s performance had undeniable substance compared to a debate that was basically about air.
The collision between these two teams was a meeting of contrasting elements, hot and cold. The Seahawks were all primal energy, their amped Coach Pete Carroll chawing on his gum and jumping around on the sideline, a 63-year-old man moving like he was 16, while trampoline-legged defensive backs Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman hurtled through the air, ball-hawking with incredible closing speed.
The Patriots were their dead-eyed opposites, Coach Bill Belichick standing expressionless and stock-still in his hoodie, while Brady read the defenses with that super-coolant stare of his, looking for any opening to make an incursion.
After watching film all week, the Seahawks’ Sherman had a good idea of what might frustrate Brady: “Dropped passes,” Sherman said. “Guys getting into his face after they make a sack. He’s just a competitor — the same thing that irritates anybody else when you’ve got your competitive juices. But his weaknesses? He doesn’t have very many.”
The Seahawks aimed to hit Brady, and his receivers, hard. They hit him hard enough to shake him and force him into uncharacteristic mistakes. “They challenge you on every play,” Brady had said earlier in the week. “There is no easy play, no easy yards.”
On just the second possession of the game, Brady had moved the Patriots to the Seattle 10-yard line, when defensive end Michael Bennett bore down on him from the left, and Cliff Avril from the right. They hit him so hard his helmet would come loose. So did his judgment. Brady tried to sidestep and threw a high spear toward the end zone aimed at no one in particular — and Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane leaped in the air and snagged it.
But Brady made just enough great plays at the critical juncture of the game. Stepping into javelin-like throws, he drove the Patriots 64 yards in 10 plays, hitting Julian Edelman with a three-yard scoring rope with 2 minutes 2 seconds to go that left Edelman skipping. With the extra point and 28-24 lead, nothing less than a touchdown would beat them. It seemed like the end of a classic performance.
“You understand, you know, they earned it,” Sherman said.
“He was clutch at the end of the game,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said.
But that’s when things went crazy. Wilson answered immediately, with a deep strike to Marshawn Lynch. “I thought we were going to be clutch, too,” Wilson said. Then, on first and 10 at the New England 38, he looked deep again for Jermaine Kearse down the sideline. The Pats’ Malcolm Butler went with Kearse, leaped up and batted the ball away, and both players collapsed in a heap. The ball fluttered around — and came down on Kearse’s leg. He kicked it up in the air, batted it twice with his right hand, and then it settled into his lap. Catch. On the 5-yard line.
On the sideline, Brady did a double take. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I looked at it, and saw it, and thought, ‘Man, we got to be ready to go back out for another drive.’ ”
But that’s when Carroll lost his mind. With a little more than 20 seconds left, Brady and the Patriots were lined up along their bench, as if awaiting execution. But instead of shoving the ball into the end zone with the demolishing Lynch, the Seahawks called a pass — and Wilson tried to force it to Ricardo Lockette. Butler stepped in front and seized the ball, and the victory.
“We made just enough plays to win,” Brady said, hoarsely afterwards. He paused, and turned away from the microphones. “Could I have a drink of water?” he asked. “That’d be great.”