I have been alive for 19 Super Bowls. Of those, I can remember about 10.
There was Devin Hester’s miraculous opening kickoff return for a touchdown back in 2007. David Tyree’s helmet catch will forever be stuck in my memory and I can still picture Santonio Holmes tapping his toes just inside the end zone.
However, no NFL game has ever taken me by surprise quite like Super Bowl LI.
For the most part, the game was mediocre. The New England Patriots, despite looking like the best team in the league all season, put on a performance similar to a junior varsity football team.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons, led by league MVP quarterback Matt Ryan, looked unstoppable. Ryan’s passes were precise, and when they weren’t, receiver Julio Jones showed off his inhuman ability to catch just about anything.
It was in the bag for the Falcons. A scoreless first quarter turned into the early stages of a blowout. By halftime, Atlanta led 21-3, and the demoralized Patriots walked to the locker room with their heads hung low.
But then, something happened. It could have been Lady Gaga’s melodious voice that inspired Tom Brady or perhaps a death threat from Bill Belicheck — either way, the New England quarterback left the locker room a changed man.
I still don’t know how it happened. For two straight quarters, Brady looked very much his age, 39. His throws wobbled and fell short of their targets. His feet, though never quick to begin with, seemed stuck in quicksand. His receivers dropped passes left and right, their hands looking like they were coated in butter.
Again, I still don’t understand how it all changed. Maybe an-over-the-phone pep talk with the president set Brady straight, or maybe Rob Gronkowski had a bro-to-bro session with everyone on the team.
Nevertheless, the Patriots took charge of the game. Ryan threw for the Falcon’s last touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter, and it was all New England from there.
Part of me, the part that despises cheaters perennial winners, wanted to see the Patriots crash and burn during the most watched televised event in America. But another part of me, the one that actually enjoys a good game, wanted the comeback to happen. I wanted this snoozer of a game to end in epic fashion.
And that’s exactly what happened. Brady found James White in the end zone for the Patriots first touchdown of the game.
Brady gave the country another great Super Bowl highlight not long after. A 23-yard pass from Brady to Julian Edelman bounced high in the air after a defender tipped it. Edelman, with laser focus, tracked it down, his arms snaking between two defenders just in time to make the catch.
White made the difference again on a one-yard touchdown run, followed by a successful two-point conversion.
And just like that, the game was tied. It sounds over simplified and impossibly quick for such a turnaround, but it really did happen that fast. I refused to leave my seat in fear of missing another memorable moment. My eyes, dried from not blinking, remained glued to the screen.
Then, just like that, White again powered through for the score. The dagger that put Atlanta’s dreams of title came six minutes into the Super Bowl’s first overtime.
I could not believe it. After 19 Super Bowls, LI became No.1.
Brandon Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @brandonmtnhill