Super Bowl XLIX: Beyond joy and heartache, a rollicking game of football

The New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24, in what must surely go down as one of the most rip-roaring rides in Super Bowl history.

Kathy Willens/AP
New England Patriot Malcolm Butler (21) intercepts a pass intended for Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (83) to seal the Patriots' 28-24 win in Super Bowl XLIX Sunday in Glendale, Ariz.

It is alleged that at approximately 8:08 local time, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was seen smiling, hugging, and, it is rumored, even saying aloud without the hint of a monotone that he "loved these guys."

Strangely enough, that was among the least remarkable things that happened during Super Bowl XLIX.

There was the fact that the most influential player in the game was Chris Matthews, a Seattle Seahawk rookie who had never before caught a pass in the National Football League. That is, until Patriot rookie Malcolm Butler, who had never before done much of anything in the NFL, just happened to make the Super Bowl-saving interception that will be talked about until, well, words are invented to describe it.

In that moment of disbelief, it seemed as though the world had tilted into some alternate "what if" universe – the mental place that Patriots were already preparing to go once, surely, Seattle scored its Super Bowl-winning touchdown from the one yard line with 27 seconds left.

What if we could have gotten a turnover?

What if, somehow, we could have stopped them?

By the end of the game it turned out that we all were living in the most recklessly optimistic dreams of Patriot Nation. And it might just be that when the Patriots roll down a freshly snow-frosted Boylston Street Tuesday (probably) for a victory parade, the long john-wearing throng might have to pinch themselves to make sure that just happened.

Of course, the focus will be on "The Play," "The Call," "Beastgate," or whatever Twitter will have anointed the game's final meaningful play by Monday morning. The 4-year-old kid in Row G knew that the Seahawks just had to give the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch once, twice, three times at the one yard line with 27 seconds left. Because he's the "Beast." Because he runs the football as though he devours live porcupines and picks his teeth with the quills.

He's just one bad dude.

The "FiveThirtyEight" statistics-based sports blog would have put the odds of Lynch not scoring from the one yard line on three consecutive plays at 4,613,562,791 to 1. (That's a rough guess.)

The Seahawks simply had to feed the Beast.

But they didn't, and Butler made the interception that no one outside the confines of Seattle coach Pete Carroll's head even could have conceived. 

And thus, we had a Super Bowl well worthy of the name. In fact, it is very difficult to think of one better. There have been close games. There have been dramatic games. There have been well-played games.

But has there ever been a Super Bowl as outrageously outrageous as this? So utterly and completely @%^!*#&$?

(No, that is not a typo.)

The fact is, unless you live in the 206 area code, it was just fun. And shouldn't the Super Bowl be fun? Queen Elsa of Arendelle turning the National Anthem into "Let It Go." Katy Perry singing with dancing sharks. American flags the size of small Swiss hamlets. Fireworks exploding at the slightest provocation. By gosh, we even forgot about #deflategate for a few seconds there. 

But let's not forget the rest of the game, because it was enjoyable from kickoff to wild, wild finish, frankly.

There was Belichick being delightfully Belichickean through his coaching jiu-jitsu. The Seattle Seahawk defense is great at everything, you say? Well then, we'll just take what you give us. Nothing too fancy, nothing too daring. Just a steady diet of what works, even if they're just five-yard checkdowns to our running back.  

The Greatest Show on Turf, it was not. But it was ingenious. It was Houdini picking the lock with the seconds ticking away between cute puppy ads.

One year before, the Denver Broncos had tried to go toe-to-toe with this same Seattle Seahawks defense in Super Bowl XLVIII and ended up losing by five touchdowns. As usual, this time Belichick brought his rook and bishop to a street brawl. And it was working.

Sort of.

What about Seattle's five-play, 80 yard touchdown drive in 31 seconds at the end of the first half? That was just one of the moments when Patriots fans were considering freeing their plasma screens through the living room window. After all, who was this Matthews guy?

He was 6-foot, 5-inches of frustration, that's what. Regular season: zero passes caught. Super Bowl: four receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Then came Jermaine Kearse's Ringling Brothers catch at the five yard line with one minute left, and visions of super slow-motion heartbreak, played over and over until the television sighed, danced sickeningly in Patriot heads. Again. (See Tyree, David.)

Instead, it might well go down as the most improbable and spectacular catch in Super Bowl history that didn't matter a hoot. And Lynch's run from the one yard line might go down as the most galactically obvious decision that was never made in Super Bowl history. 

And so it was Belichick who was smiling. And it was Seahawks fans who were saying, "Who is this Butler guy?"

And it was all of us who got to spend a surprisingly enjoyable night in front of the television.

At least, those of us who didn't throw it out the window.

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