It’s an amazing aspect of the NFL to see the amount of emotion that is packed into one game. And New England corner Malcolm Butler got to experience both sides of the spectrum—what seemed to be inevitable defeat followed by redemptive elation—in the Patriots 28-24 win over the Seahawks Sunday night.
With just over one minute left in the game, Russell Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse on an improbable catch that was tipped into the air, bobbled off both of Kearse’s legs and finally reeled in for the 33-yard hookup that would set up a goal line situation.
Butler’s defense on the play was spot on. Sometimes the ball just doesn’t bounce your way.
Being down less than a touchdown and having Marshawn Lynch in its backfield, a 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line should have assured Seattle of capturing the Lombardi trophy. But the Patriots brought out their goal-line front, and the Seahawks opted to pass.
Butler again played the pass perfectly, and this time it paid off when he jumped the slant route and picked off Wilson’s throw on the goal line to secure a New England win. In less than one minute, Butler was able to run the gamut of human feeling.
And as fans we experience in some small part, however vicariously it may be, that feeling too. This is why we watch sports.
The game then being a foregone conclusion, this maelstrom of emotion bubbled over and was felt in excess when punches were thrown and a brawl nearly broke out.
But nonetheless we’re all people. We feel, we think, we act and sometimes, maybe, we reason. And in no better venue than sports like football can this idiosyncratic human behavior be exemplified and expressed more adequately within the span of just a few hours.
Trailing by 10 with the clock vanishing quickly, Brady must have felt, despite any austere countenance he may wear for image sake, a quaking tumult inside him. Pressure, some would call it. But six Super Bowl appearances no doubt bolstered his moxie in leading his team to a win.
Two interceptions earlier in the game had to have weighed on his conscious as he took over with 6:52 remaining down 24-21. You may not have noticed it from the 64-yard touchdown drive he commanded by going 8/8 and marching down the field and into the end zone.
Of his 37 completions, 328 yards and four touchdown passes, this last drive more than any forged into being the Brady archetype of the unrelenting quarterback whose will to win outstrips all else.
His fourth Super Bowl title (’02, ’04, ’05, ’15) puts him in the pantheon to which belongs only the names Montana and Bradshaw—not shabby company. Of these Super Bowl wins, Brady has been the MVP in three. The list gets even shorter of players with three Super Bowl MVP awards: only he and Montana.
But Brady’s journey to the top of the sport’s kingdom has been one of effort and time. In 2000 he was a sixth-round pick no one but the Patriots gave the time of day. But now he stands as possibly the greatest quarterback the NFL has ever seen.
This one extracted example of human triumph is simply the story of someone who caught fortune by the hair when she appeared in front of him, as opposed to allowing his turn at the wheel’s pinnacle to pass him by.
This is sports’ purpose. Just as with a great book or poem, sports create a unique place to go, not as an escape from life, but to a condensed and highlighted form thereof.
A bit of astute Cris Collinsworth commentary during the Super Bowl stuck with me: “These are just big human beings.”
No truer statement could have been spoken, Mr. Collinsworth. They may be the big human beings and we, the fans, the small. But the former in no way devaluates the latter. As fans we create the purpose and necessity of the game.
The same goes for life. Whether you are a big or small human being matters not. The sports we create in turn create for us the stories of triumph and determination that we’d not be humans at all without.