I believe that I speak for most of the United States when I say that Super Bowl XLIX was exactly how a Super Bowl should be. There were lead changes, records set, a ridiculously extravagant halftime show, shoestring catches (Jermaine Kearse, you are ridiculous). There was a brawl in the end zone and the game came down to the last 30 seconds. What more could you ask for?
For Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick, it must have felt like any number of flashbacks they’ve had of Super Bowls past. It was, in fact, on the very same field seven years ago when New York Giants receiver David Tyree caught a heave from Eli Manning en route to a stunning Giants victory over the powerhouse Patriots, who had yet to lose a game on the season. Kearse’s catch was even enough to unnerve Brady, who has ice water running through his veins.
“I felt like we were going to win the whole game, and then they made that catch,” Brady said in his postgame comments. “Then I had a little bit of doubt.”
Fortunately for the Patriots, the luck that was gifted upon the Seahawks in the form of Kearse’s bobbling, juggling, on-his-back acrobatics ran out just two plays later. In what many are deeming one of the worst calls in NFL history and certainly the worst call in Super Bowl history, from the one-yard-line, having just seen a solid run from prolific Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball, and the rest is history.
In case you haven’t been on social media over the last few days, the history that ensued was that Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw an errant ball that landed right in the waiting hands of Pats rookie Malcolm Butler, giving the Patriots the ball with 20 seconds to go and a four-point lead.
In fairness to Carroll, he probably couldn’t have predicted that an undrafted rookie who had yet to record a pick in his NFL career would make an incredible jump on a quick slant route on the biggest stage in professional football. But he did. In fairness to everyone else, hand the ball to inarguably one of the best running backs currently active in the league. It’s common sense.
But what this Super Bowl represented, more than any intricacies, was the continuation of a decade-long trend: Super Bowl games are getting closer and more competitive. It only takes a quick glance back to Super Bowls of the ‘80s and ‘90s to see that it was a regular occurrence for games to end 38-9, 55-10, or 52-17.
And I know that people are going to tell me to look back to just one Super Bowl ago, when the Seahawks won 43-8. But that was an anomaly, an admittedly extreme outlier. Over the last 12 Super Bowls, last year’s contest was the only one to be decided by more than two touchdowns. Eight of the last twelve have been decided by less than a touchdown. Only three Super Bowls in the ‘80s and ‘90s combined were decided by less than a touchdown. There are several competing theories as to why this is happening: the enforcement of a salary cap starting in the mid-’90s, a more efficient market, greater access to technology or maybe we’re witnessing more of a team game. No answer seems to be correct.
What stuck with me the most, however, was a crushing hit on Patriots wideout Julian Edelman. After being struck essentially crown-to-crown by the helmet of Seahawks corner Kam Chancellor, Edelman was hardly able to run straight, stay on his feet or make the quick moves we’re accustomed to seeing from him. Yet he played until the final whistle and caught a go-ahead touchdown. The Patriots insist that he passed a concussion test during the game, though that doesn’t settle me. Nor does Roger Goodell’s animated quips about how concussions are down 25 percent this year. Well, great. I’m not convinced that more concussions aren’t simply being covered up. One needs only to look at the staggering number of debilitated NFL veterans, those who can’t have a life after football or those who choose to take their own life because of such severe brain damage.
And it’s likely to only get worse as the NFL increasingly prizes strength in its collegiate athletes. Many lament that the NFL will turn into a flag football league if rule changes are enforced. But it is painful to think that fans of the NFL believe that players’ wealth in their 20s and 30s as an NFL star is worth it for players to endure a lifetime of hurt. There are more than 4,000 former players who are suing the NFL for negligence and for refusing to pay players enough or at all for disability caused from playing time in the league. Most of them will not win, and the NFL will go about its business. For all that I love the game of football, this violence can not go any further. Not if we care about the lives of people in between the lines.