If ever again a critic like Meryl Streep wonders aloud why people love sports, just pop this one into replay. Because Super Bowl LI was everything that keeps us hooked as fans.
You may hate the Patriots – I do. But on Sunday, we watched the greatest game of all time, featuring the greatest comeback of all time (or choke, depending on your perspective). With the Falcons up 28-3 midway through the third quarter, the somnambulant Pats suddenly awoke with strip-sacks, miracle catches and stroll-in two-point conversions. The only time they led was after the final play of overtime.
As in every great game, there was much to debate. Why didn’t Atlanta OC Kyle Shanahan milk the clock? How does Matt Ryan allow himself to take that disastrous sack? One minute the Falcons were dining on lobster tail, and the next they collectively stuck their fingers down their own throats and gagged to death.
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Of course, we shouldn’t be shocked. The answer to all is Tom Freakin’ Brady.
There’s no longer debate over the best player of all time. In the macro sense, Brady is the only QB with five Super Bowl rings and four Super Bowl MVPs. His 43 completions and 466 passing yards Sunday are both Super Bowl records.
In the micro sense, was anyone really shocked by the comeback? The 25-point deficit was there merely to set up Tom Terrific for the moment. The Julian Edelman Catch now tops the Helmet Catch as the all-time Super Bowl play. The game-tying TD with 57 seconds left; the calm, surgical overtime march to victory … it’s all there just to add another chapter to the legacy.
You can cling to Deflategate or Evil Belichick’s spy capers or whatever other nefarious Pats scandals you like. They occurred. But if you’re still arguing about who the best-ever is, you’re ignoring reality. As Kobe Bryant tweeted Sunday night, “Five rings can’t be deflated.” And you should assume Brady will come back next year at age 40 and win it again.
This season, Brady threw spirals with that 50-pound chip on his shoulder, placed there by Roger Goodell. The Pats lost their first-round pick and Brady had to sit four games because the commissioner felt the need to turn the football equivalent of a speeding ticket into (literally) a federal case.
So you figure the last thing Goodell wanted Sunday night was to hand the Lombardi Trophy to that franchise. But consider this: 2016 may have been the NFL’s worst season, dogged by falling TV ratings, national anthem polemics, concussion fallout and an otherwise dreary postseason. A blowout Super Bowl only would have fueled discussion of how the league is in decline.
Brady ended all that. The comeback now becomes the conversation. We’ll spend months regaling the drama and brilliance that occurred Sunday night. The fantastic finish gives the 2016 season a positive identity that pushes Colin Kaepernick and every other headache into the closet.
Tom Brady is so amazing that he may even save Roger Goodell from himself.