GLENDALE, Ariz. — Football can take your breath away. In good ways and bad. What happened Sunday night under a mild winter Arizona sky will be debated from Kennebunkport to Kennewick for as long as the Sam Adams—or Mac & Jack’s—flows.
Pacific Northwest: What are we doing throwing at the 1 with three shots to let Marshawn Lynch win the game?!
New England: Great play by a guy we never heard of!
The Super Bowl That Took Our Breath Away has a good ring to it. I ran into Steve Young on the field 90 minutes after the game, and he felt the way I did, and the way I suppose much of America still feels this morning.
"It’s hard to accept, because you’re so sure the game was going one way," Young said. “I still can’t believe it.”
* * *
On Saturday night, at the Patriots’ hotel, the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa (sounds more exotic than it is), the coaches had a one-hour staff meeting. What happened there is the essence of what Bill Belichick is as a coach.
As Belichick spoke, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels took his blue Sharpie and wrote two messages on the top of his laminated play-call sheet he’d carry with him on the sideline in Super Bowl XLIX. Whenever McDaniels looked down at the sheet, he’d see these two bold reminders:
CORRECT PROBLEMS AND GET THEM FIXED
Said McDaniels: "What Bill said was, ‘This game is no different than any other one. It’s a 60-minute football game, and whatever issues we have, let’s make sure we correct them, coach them, and fix them. That’s our job.’
The Super Bowl That Took Everyone’s Breath Away
Brady finished 37 of 50 for 328 yards and four touchdowns. (John Biever/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
LeGarrette Blount was the focus early, but New England couldn’t quite pound the ball the way it wanted to. (David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Pats punter Ryan Allen was a weapon, averaging 49 yards per kick. (Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
K.J. Wright proved no match for Gronk, who beat him easily on a second-quarter score. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Unheralded Chris Matthews used his height to full advantage on his second-quarter touchdown catch. (Donald Miralle/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
The essence of football. (Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
The Pats kick off. (Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Danny Amendola snared the pass that brought the Pats to within three at 24-21. (Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Julian Edelman looked bemused by Tharold Simon’s reaction to his touchdown catch with just over two minutes left. (Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Edelman unleashed his inner Gronk. (John Biever/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Nothing came easy against the NFL’s best defense; all the more reason for Brady to exult after one of his four touchdown passes. (Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Kearse’s crazy catch set up the final fateful series of plays. (Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Marshawn Lynch came up one yard short of the go-ahead score on first down. (Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Malcolm Butler, the rookie from West Alabama, became the hero when he jumped Ricardo Lockette’s route for the pick. (John Iacono/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Russell Wilson walks off after the interception. (John Biever/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. (Donald Miralle for Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Rob Ninkovich, champion. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Chandler Jones takes a moment to soak it all in. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Brady joins Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana as four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. (Donald Miralle/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
“And it’s just a reminder to me … I think our staff did a phenomenal job of adjusting, or correcting problems. We had some issues. Michael Bennett—he’s one of the best defensive linemen we’ve faced—created some problems for us in the first half. He’s as good a down player as we’ve played all year. And so we had to do a couple things, try to get two bodies to him. We had Tom send the protection that way and I thought Bryan Stork did a great job of trying to go over that way and help when he had the opportunity to do so, and then the guards just kept fighting. That’s just the way Bill coaches. Have poise. Fix things. It’s never a perfect game."
Example two saved the game for New England. Of that there is no doubt. Adjust. Correct problems and get them fixed. Early in the third quarter, with the Patriots getting abused by the size of out-of-nowhere Seahawks rookie receiver Chris Matthews, another undrafted rookie, cornerback Malcolm Butler from the University of West Alabama began playing in the nickel. Butler got the nickname “Scrap” for being a feisty player in minicamp, not backing down. The coaches liked him because when they’d quiz players about assignments, they could tell he’d been studying tape and knew how to anticipate what was coming.
I’m not going to play-by-play you to death here, but that anticipation, and Belichick's empowering coaches to adjust when needed, won the game for the Patriots. You saw what happened. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, on second and goal from the New England one, saw Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette lined up in a stack formation to the right. The Seahawks spread their formation at the one, despite having an Earl Campbell type of bruising runner, Marshawn Lynch, plus one timeout, on their side. “I knew they were going to throw it," said Butler. “From preparation, I remembered the formation they were in and I knew they were doing a pick route."
For New England’s loyal and embattled fans, victory in Super Bowl 49 was the thrill they’d been waiting 10 years for—and a collective middle finger to rest of football nation.
Kearse was supposed to pick the corner trying to stay with Lockette. Wilson threw. Butler burst through the poor pick and made an easy catch.
What a journey for Butler. A year ago he’s playing Shorter and Stillman and West Georgia and Florida Tech as a corner for the NCAA Division II West Alabama Tigers. Now he’s handing a fourth Super Bowl, and first in 10 years, to one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time and to one of the greatest coaches. The amazing thing is, New England already had its complete roster filled, all 90 spots, soon after the draft. "Malcolm was part of what we like to call 'the few, the proud, the free,' that did a great job in our rookie minicamp," Belichick said Sunday night. "We kind of created a roster spot for him by juggling some other guys around, and so we signed him. That's a pretty big jump from West Alabama to the NFL." And before his appearance in the second half, Butler's NFL experience had consisted of 190 snaps in the first 18 games of this New England season.
Butler was shell-shocked by it all, standing by his locker after the game, and Patriots PR czar Stacey James was explaining to him how his life was about to change, and suddenly owner Robert Kraft appeared. The look in Butler’s face was precious. “Mr. Kraft would like a photo of you with him and the Lombardi Trophy," someone said, and Butler, in his skivvies and game T-shirt, trying to comprehend what was happening, sheepishly stood next to Kraft and smiled for the cameras.
“I’m so glad you’re on our team," Kraft told him.
At 12:45 this morning, a press release from a Disney.com address landed in my inbox. Part of the headline read:
Malcolm Butler “Going to Disneyland!”
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Malcolm Butler jumped the route and picked off Wilson on the goal line to snuff out the Seahawks. (John Iacono/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Now for the sandpaper to the cheek to all you 12s, the newest and most fervent and suddenly loyal fan base in the country.
That was the dumbest big play-call in Super Bowl history.
Maybe Wilson shouldn’t have thrown it. Maybe he should have thrown it out of the end zone. But I’m not blaming Wilson for the play. It wasn’t an audible. The play came from the sideline, from offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Though coach Pete Carroll took the blame afterward, it’s not his call, and it sounded very much like Carroll falling on his sword for a coach on his staff. Whatever, this was a play you simply do not call. Marshawn Lynch had 102 yards to that point in the game against a heavy New England defensive front. He’d just burrowed four yards over the left side, to the 1.
When Lynch got up, the stadium clock read 1:00. And counting. Call a timeout, Belichick! Call a timeout!A stadium dumbfounded. What we knew just then:
- New England led 28-24.
- Seattle needed a touchdown, obviously.
- Seattle had traveled 79 yards in 62 seconds.
- Seattle had one yard and three plays and one timeout left.
- Seattle had Marshawn Lynch. “The baddest back on the planet!" former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, now a Patriot, said afterward.
New England didn’t call timeout. Belichick is brilliant, and I’m sure he had his reasons. (He said he’d have called time if the Seahawks had run the next play and not scored, but by then, with 20 seconds left, there wouldn’t have been enough time left to do anything fruitful if Seattle scored.) But I think that’s a huge mistake. If New England calls time there, and Seattle scores on the next play, the Patriots get the ball back, down 31-28, with about 50 seconds left. That’s far preferable to getting it back down 31-28 with two timeouts and, say, 18 seconds left.
“A very, very hard lesson,” Pete Carroll said of the final interception. “I hate to learn the hard way.”
One Patriot told me a couple of things that made sense. He thought Belichick bypassed the timeout because the coach was comfortable defensively—as comfortable as he could be with who was on the field trying to stop Lynch—and that a timeout would have given Seattle a chance to stop and consider different plays, and why give the enemy more time to think?
In the end, Seattle could have had either two or three shots with Lynch. Instead, Wilson threw the ball.
“What were they thinking!’’ Browner said. “I just really feel like sometimes these coaches are so intelligent they out-strategize themselves. It’s simple. You turn around and give it to the best back in the game. He picked up like four yards and landed a yard away from the end zone the play before.’’
“We sent in our personnel. They sent in goal-line [defense]. It’s not the right matchup for us to run the football, so on second down we throw the ball really to kind of waste that play. If we score we do, if we don’t, then we’ll run it in on third and fourth down. Really, with no second thoughts or no hesitation in that at all. And unfortunately, with the play that we tried to execute, [Butler] makes a great play and jumps in front of the route and makes an incredible play that nobody would ever think he could do. And unfortunately that changes the whole outcome.
“A very, very hard lesson. I hate to learn the hard way.”
But what’s the lesson? Carroll sounded like he had no regrets. So Seattle, after shredding some other defense and going 79 yards in a minute, with three downs to get one yard, given another chance, would throw a goal-line slant? I don’t get it. I never will.
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The Patriots have now won four championships, tying them with the Giants and Packers for fourth all time, behind the Steelers (6) and the Cowboys and Niners (5). (Donald Miralle/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Of course, Bill Belichick is comfortable in close games. It’s the one thing I’ve always noticed about him. Do you ever see stress on his face? Rarely, even in the most arduous moments. I didn’t see every Fred Gaudelli/Drew Esocoff fourth-quarter shot of the New England sideline on NBC’s telecast Sunday night, but I doubt there was one with a contorted face on Belichick.
Check out the scores of the six New England Super Bowls in the Belichick/Brady Era:
Super Bowl 36: Patriots 20, Rams 17.
Super Bowl 38: Patriots 32, Panthers 29.
Super Bowl 39: Patriots 24, Eagles 21.
Super Bowl 42: Giants 17, Patriots 14.
Super Bowl 46: Giants 21, Patriots 17.
Super Bowl 49: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24.
We’ll leave the impact of the Ted Wells/Jeff Pash investigation into the deflated footballs for another day, because the finish line there could be weeks away. But think about it: The Patriots are two miracle Giant passing plays—the David Tyree Velcro catch seven years ago, and the Eli Manning-to-Mario Manningham miracle completion three years ago—from a 6-0 Super Bowl record in a 14-year span … and being the greatest team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
In the celebratory din of the New England locker room Sunday night, club president Jonathan Kraft made it clear that he, and the region he represents, think they’ve got the best on-field leadership there ever has been. “Bill and Tom are the best coach-quarterback combination in history," Kraft said. “I don’t know what more they can do. The way Bill coaches and handles this team, through everything, is just incredible. And I don’t care what anyone says: Tom Brady is the great quarterback of all time. In this era of the salary cap, and free agency, and tremendous annual turnover of teams around the league, Tom’s won four Super Bowls and gotten to two others that we’ve lost in close games. That’s an accomplishment that’s second to none.”
Bradyu2019s Finest Quarter
Greg Bedard breaks down the final 12 minutes of Super Bowl 49, during which an uncharacteristically cool and calm Tom Brady overcame a 10-point deficit against the NFL’s best defense and led the Patriots to victory.
Brady drove his first New England team to the game-winning field goal 13 years ago to win the first Super Bowl. He had great moments in the other two wins, and not so great ones in the two losses, when the New York defense throttled him and confused the Patriots’ offensive protection.
But when NFL Films writes the Tom Brady: A Football Lifedocumentary in 2026 (after he retires, at 47—just kidding, maybe), there’d better be lots of room for the final 11-and-a-half minutes of Super Bowl 49. In that time, knowing he likely would have just two more possessions, this was his quarterback line:
13 of 15, 121 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 139.9 rating
Brady had the ball, second-and-18, at the New England 24, against the best defense three years running. And before he went out for the series, the mantra on the bench wasn’t “urgency;" it was “patience."
"Even though we were behind in the fourth quarter," McDaniels said, “we didn’t want to start abandoning the game plan, because you really can’t. They don’t allow you to do that. So I thought it took a lot of poise for our guys to understand, ‘Look, it’s not going to happen on four plays against these guys. We’re going to need a 12-play drive, or an 11-play drive, we’re going to have to convert some third downs, and that was really the feeling on the sideline. It was stay with what we’ve talked about the last two weeks: patience and poise. We knew it was going to be an execution game. And it was! Meaning you have to catch a six-yard catch, get tackled, get up, do it again. There are going to have to be some third-and-shorts where you need to convert them in the running game or passing game. And ultimately, I thought our guys did an excellent job of executing under pressure in the fourth quarter. That’s what it came down to."
Eight plays, 76 yards from the 24, in just over four minutes. Now it was 24-21, Seattle. New England got a three-and-out on the Seahawks’ next series, and the Patriots took over with seven minutes left, 64 yards away from the end zone.
Brady didn’t get greedy here either. Eight for eight, throwing fast, scanning the field. The play of the night for me came after an offensive pass-interference call on Danny Amendola, leaving Brady with a second-and-11 from the Pats’ 48. Seattle showed man coverage on the next pre-snap look, with strong safety Kam Chancellor looking to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski. Huge matchup in the game, the most physical safety in the league against the most physical tight end.
In the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, an hour after the game, McDaniels lit up when discussing this play. He put his hands off to the side, the open palms facing down as if he was reaching for something.
“It was man coverage," said McDaniels. “No help guy in the middle, and Gronk runs a great route and beats Chancellor. It was a huge play in the game. Thrown to a spot nobody could get to but Rob, thrown right here [showing the hands again]. Kept chopping wood. When he had his opportunities tonight, they gave him one-on-one coverage like that, he did what he normally does.’’
And then the Patriots agonized over the fluky but great Kearse catch while on the ground (“David Tyree on steroids," Jonathan Kraft called it), and waited for someone to make a play, which Butler did. “I looked at Tom just then, after the interception," said McDaniels, "and the rest of my life I’ll never forget the look on his face. To see that elation—it’s been a while. It was like it was his first one, his first championship."
It’s his fourth. In the 49-season Super Bowl era, only one other coach-quarterback combination (Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw) has won four. Next opening night—Sept. 10, 2015, at Gillette Stadium—Belichick will be 63 and Brady 38, and the press box wags will say the Patriots are too old to repeat. “Age is a number," Brady will say about 64 times between now and then. Sunday night in the desert, he and Belichick proved they’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.
Jerome Bettis was emotional Saturday after learning of his election into the Hall of Fame on his fifth year of eligibility. (Jordan Strauss/AP)
On the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015
I had a strange moment Saturday in an upstairs ballroom at the Phoenix Convention Center, site of the voting for the 53rd class of the Hall of Fame. It came during the cutdown vote from 10 finalists to five, a secret ballot. (The 46 voters listen to debates for the 15 modern-era finalists, and vote for 10. That vote is tabulated, the 10 leading vote-getters are announced in the room, and then we have to winnow that list of 10 to five.) The list of 10: Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Tony Dungy, Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Kurt Warner.
I marked an X next to Bettis, Haley, Seau and Shields. Now I was stuck. Dungy and Pace were worthy, in my mind. But as I winnowed, I found myself in a three-way mental tie for the fifth X: Brown, Greene and Harrison. Greene’s the fourth-leading sacker in the NFL dating back to 1960, with smart stats unearthed by relentless football-lover John Turney. Only Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Deacon Jones have more than Greene’s 160, and he twice led the NFL in sacks after the age of 32. A tremendously underappreciated player. I entered the day solidly in Greene’s corner, and nothing changed. Now the receivers … I liked Brown, a lot. My eyes told me Harrison was a slightly better receiver, more elusive, a precise route-runner who made beautiful music with Peyton Manning for so long. Slightly better. But Brown had a cast of mostly also-rans throwing to him in his career, caught just eight fewer balls than Harrison and had one big edge over most great receivers: his return ability. Brown had 4,555 return yards; Harrison didn’t return kicks or punts (he had just 21), so I factored that in too.
Behind me stood the auditor from Deloitte and Touche. (Official accountants of the Pro Football Hall of Fame!) I knew he was there, waiting. I think I was the last of the 46 voters to still have my white-paper ballot.
I really wanted Greene in. I absolutely thought Brown was deserving. I marked the X next to Harrison. I just thought he was a better receiver by the eye test. But not by much. I folded the ballot, handed it to the auditor and sat back in my chair. Felt like I’d just run three miles.
Hunter Seau was in Phoenix on Saturday after his late father Junior Seau was elected, three years after committing suicide. (Jordan Strauss/AP)
Saturday, to me, was a rewarding but complex day voting for the new Hall of Famers. Rewarding because we put in long-overdue people (particularly Minnesota center Mick Tingelhoff, who has been eligible for 31 years) and because we were able to put in Ron Wolf and Bill Polian, the second and third franchise architects ever. (Jim Finks had been the only pure GM elected in Hall history.) Complex because I thought going into the room at 7 a.m. Saturday that Junior Seau was first among the 15 modern-era candidates, and most everyone else was close for second place. And that’s the way it played out over 8 hours and 50 minutes, until the yes-no votes for the five finalists—Bettis, Brown, Haley, Seau, Shields—were handed into the auditor just before 4 p.m. local time.
Some of my takeaways from the vote:
• Clarifications you should all know. We can elect a maximum of five of the 15 modern-era guys … The “Contributors" category is new this year, an attempt by the Hall to clear the logjam of franchise architects who could never get discussed as finalists because voters almost invariably favor players over scouts and GMs … Contributors and the Senior candidate, Tingelhoff, are discussed first, then voted on yes or no by secret ballot … We know the results of the cutdown from 15 to 10, and then 10 to five, but we do not know the results of the final count until told Saturday night by the Hall of Fame—or until it leaks from excited awardees … Finally: I would have voted yes on 12 of the 15 modern-era candidates had they made it to the final five. Many in the room feel the same way. So it’s not that “we don’t think player X is a Hall of Famer.” It’s that we can only put in five per season, plus the three Seniors and Contributors.
• On Ron Wolf. Readers of this column know I think Wolf is one of the best general managers of all time, so I was glad to see him skate through. Wolf was Al Davis’s chief scout with the Raiders for years, then the GM of the expansion Bucs, and later ran the Packers for nine years. I’ve harped on the major themes of his success in Green Bay, about hiring Mike Holmgren, trading for a third-string Atlanta quarterback named Brett Favre, and convincing the best free agent of all time, Reggie White, to sign with a team a year earlier that he said was the only team in the NFL he wouldn’t sign with. But how about running nine drafts, and picking nine players in the fifth round or later who would go on to make at least one Pro Bowl? Who does that? You can look them up: Mark Chmura, Mark Brunell, Dorsey Levens, Adam Timmerman, Matt Hasselbeck, Donald Driver, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Travis Jervey (special-teamer) and Marco Rivera. “Hopefully," Wolf told me Saturday night, “guys who build teams will start getting the respect they deserve and have deserved for a long time." As for himself, Wolf said: “To be enshrined with the greats of the game, to be in the same hallowed room with the greatest men in the history of the game, the men who made this the greatest game in the world … honestly it leaves me speechless."
• On the rest of the class. This was a cleanup year to me, with four new members (Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Will Shields) who’d waited a combined 26 years for entry … Marvin Harrison is upset about missing for the second straight year, and I get it. It’s not going to get easier, either, with Terrell Owens, Hines Ward and Randy Moss joining Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt on the waiting list in the coming years … Longest debate in the voting room: Bill Polian, 51 minutes. Shortest: Junior Seau, seven minutes … The candidacy I felt has the best momentum entering next year: Kevin Greene. He’s going to make the Hall one day.
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As for future Hall of Fame classes …
Brett Favre will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The leading candidates to be finalists for future Hall of Fame classes:
2016: Brett Favre, Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca, Darren Sharper.
Pretty thin at the top, but two premier guys.
2017: LaDainian Tomlinson, Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Jason Taylor, Hines Ward, Matt Light, Derrick Mason, Joey Porter.
Wouldn’t be surprised to see Dawkins break the safety schneid here. If John Lynch is still out there, Lynch-Dawkins will be an interesting debate.
2018:Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Ronde Barber, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Donald Driver, Jeff Saturday.
This is the kind of year when all five modern-era candidates could come from first-year eligibles. A potentially historic class.
2019: Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed, Champ Bailey.
Again, three very strong first-time eligible candidates.
Troy Vincent, a successful NFL defensive back from 1992 to 2006, has worked as an NFL executive since 2010. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)
A bad look for NFL vice president Troy Vincent
Armen Keteyian has an eye-opening interview with NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent on Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports” show that airs Tuesday night.
Two things surprised me the most. Vincent admitted it was Colts GM Ryan Grigson who turned in the Patriots for the suspected underinflated football. And there was this exchange with Keteyian that, quite frankly, makes Vincent look just terrible, regarding the exhaustive investigation of the Ray Rice case by former FBI director Robert Mueller:
Keteyian: “Did you read the Mueller report?”
Vincent: “No sir.”
Keteyian: “You did not?”
Vincent: “No sir.”
Keteyian: “And as the head of game operations in your position, why not?”
Vincent: "The crime had already been committed … There was a ton of public speculation at the time what we did, what we didn't do. We acknowledge we made a mistake. We didn't apply the proper discipline. I'm not sure how much we can continue to keep talking about that particular …”
Whoa. This is like Sarah Palin not being able to tell Katie Couric what newspaper she read—because she apparently read none. It’s bad enough to not have read the Mueller report. It’s worse to act like you shouldn’t have—like the report was useless, when it clearly was not.
* * *
The end of an era … a Giant era.
Ann Mara, with Eli Manning in 2012 (Bobby Bank/Getty Images)
Sad news Sunday morning with the death of Ann Mara, 85, the matriarch of the Giants’ family, wife of former Giants owner Wellington Mara for 51 years, mom to Giants’ president and CEO John Mara and Giants executive sons Chris and Frank and eight other children, grandmother to actors Rooney Mara and Kate Mara and 41 other grandchildren, great-grandmother to 16 children. What a life she had. She met Wellington Mara at a Manhattan church when an old lady fainted and Ann and Wellington came to her aid. They dated at sports events, including Giants games, and married in 1954. One of her last public highlights was dressing down FOX’s Terry Bradshaw on the podium following the Giants’ Super Bowl victory three years ago … for not picking the Giants to win. She fell on the ice during the big ice storm in New York two weeks ago, hit her head, and died from injuries resulting from that fall. “Mrs. Mara was a tower of strength, dignity and inspiration for her family and all of us in the NFL," commissioner Roger Goodell said Sunday. “Her family and the Giants organization have always reflected Mrs. Mara's competitive spirit, integrity and wonderful sense of humor."
I first met the Mara family in 1985, covering the Giants for Newsday. I met Ann only once or twice. But she and Wellington drilled humility into their children, and it showed (and continues to show) every day, to the administration of John Mara. As Michael Eisen of Giants.com wrote Sunday, “Ann Mara liked to say, ‘I tell John, ‘Just remember, you’re an employee.’ ”
The Giants had a game in Foxboro 20 or so years ago, and afterward it was so foggy in the area that the team couldn’t fly home. Instead, they’d just take the team buses on a four-hour drive back. One of the team trainers, Mike Ryan, told me Sunday: “So sort of late in the trip, I notice all the buses pull over on the side of I-95, at an exit ramp. We didn’t get off the highway, but we stop for maybe 30 seconds, then keep going, and I notice when we drive on that Mr. [Wellington] Mara and Frank are walking up the exit ramp, which was right near their home. I find out that Mr. Mara didn’t want to inconvenience the team by getting off the road to drop him off at his house. He would just walk home from there."
And there’s an image of the Mara family you should remember. Ann Mara would be pleased if you did.
* * *
On the Man of the Year
An award that should get more attention than it does, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, tabbed a deserving winner Saturday night: Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. A very good player in his own right—he’s the Panthers’ second all-time leading tackler, and he has come back from three ACL tears—Davis continues to be a bigger factor off the field than he is on. Which is saying something.
Thomas Davis (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
This is the seventh season for his Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation, which provides free programs and services for more than 2,000 underprivileged children and their families. What I really appreciate about Davis is he never has forgotten his rural Georgia roots. He grew up in Shellman, Ga., a needy town without a playground for its children. So in 2013 he built one, in partnership with benefactors and the local community. But make no mistake—it wouldn’t have happened without Davis’ generosity. His Youth Leadership Academy is a 14-week after-school mentoring program for low-income middle-school students. He provides two college scholarships annually for low-income kids. He gives book bags with school supplies to the needy every August. And he hosts a two-shift Thanksgiving dinner at a Charlotte restaurant, treating every resident at a local women’s shelter to a sit-down holiday meal. He has a football/life skills camp for 350 kids each summer.
You want a hero? Look to Thomas Davis.
As he told me last season: “It was never about starting a foundation and letting somebody else run it. It was about being involved with something I believed in, and touching as many lives as I can. I call it the Defending Dreams Foundations because these kids have dreams and aspirations, as I did. But so many of them, like me, financially can’t get things done. I was that way, growing up in a small city of 900 or 1,000, Shellman, Ga. Kids there don’t have much. They don’t feel they can achieve their dreams. The poverty level is high there. My mom struggled. She was a single parent. We’d have Christmas without getting a gift. It was tough. That’s one of the things we do—we get gifts for at least 300 kids now. In Charlotte, as soon as I leave practice today, I go out and purchase all of the gifts with my board members, and we put them in a U-Haul, five board members, and try to help those kids. We do it for the kids in Shellman too. I couldn’t go this year, but my wife, who is the executive director of the foundation, drove there and helped four or five families in dire need.
"Every summer we do a book bag giveaway … 300 kids. We go out and buy the book bags and all the supplies: pencils, rulers, papers, crayons, all the school supplies you can think of, and we put them together in my living room. At Thanksgiving, we took the 160 women at the Salvation Army Center of Hope, rented a bus, and took them in two shifts to a restaurant that closed down so we could give them a real Thanksgiving dinner. We take them out of their circumstances for a few hours and try to put smiles on their faces. All they are thinking is enjoying a real meal at a restaurant and getting out of their circumstances for a few hours. It is so good to see.
"What am I proud of? … Well, Shellman, Ga., never had a playground when I lived there. Not even a simple, tiny playground. That really was disappointing to me. So we decided to go back and put in a huge playground—swings, slides, monkey bars, grills—and the city put in a drinking fountain. So now they have somewhere the kids can go and play. The city is divided by railroad tracks, and I think the playground, which is used by all kids, has helped bring some parts of that city together. Driving by, I get so excited for the kids, having something I never had. I do things like that because I love to see kids have smiles on their faces. As a young kid, I knew my circumstances, I didn’t have the opportunity. I know as a leader of the community, I can give back. I want to be part of the solution.”
That’s a Man of the Year.
No trash talk this time. Just a handshake between Richard Sherman and Tom Brady. (Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
The Super Bowl Awards
Offensive Player of the Week
Tom Brady, QB, New England. Obviously, there were a couple of throws he’d love to have back. But in setting the all-time record in Super Bowl touchdown passes and tying Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl wins ever by a quarterback, Brady clearly is in the discussion for the best quarterback in NFL history. He threw for for 328 yards and four touchdowns, and his 37 completions (on 50 attempts) also set a Super Bowl record.
Defensive Player of the Week
Malcolm Butler, cornerback, New England. Butler spent most of the postgame in a daze. He seemed unable to comprehend what just happened. The 5-11 undrafted free agent rookie—from noted football power West Alabama—broke up three passes in New England’s Super Bowl win. And it was his interception at the goal line with 20 seconds left in the game and Seattle driving for the winning touchdown that gives Butler a spot in New England sports lore forever. Just as Dave Roberts’ stolen base ignited the Red Sox to four straight wins over the Yankees in the ALCS in 2004, Butler’s interception always will be remembered from Bridgeport to Bangor.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Ryan Allen, punter, New England. There wasn’t a tremendous special teams performance on Sunday night in Super Bowl 49, but Allen punted four times for a 49-yard average and had one booming 64-yard punt. Allen has turned into a good weapon for New England, and only once on four punts did Seattle have better field position than its own 30.
Coach of the Week
Bill Belichick, New England. In the middle of Deflategate, Belichick did what he always does: He kept the focus on the field. “ One of the things that he was able to do this past week,” said offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, “is make sure that nobody ever thought about anything other than what would win this game. He’s always like that." Belichick now takes a unique place in the coaching pantheon. He’s won four Super Bowls as a head coach and two as a coordinator (Giants). He certainly is in the discussion for the greatest coach ever.
Goat of the Week
Darrell Bevell, offensive coordinator, Seattle. For years to come, fans of the Seahawks and just plain fans will ask one simple question about Super Bowl 49: What in the world was Seattle doing throwing a slant pass on second and goal from the 1, with one of the game's best short yardage backs in the backfield? It’s a question that will torment the Pacific Northwest for years and will make it difficult for Bevell ever to fulfill his dreams of becoming an NFL head coach. It simply was an incredibly wrong call.
Quotes of the Week
"Yeah, I've seen two of them."
—Bill Belichick, when asked if he'd ever seen a catch like Jermaine Kearse's on-his-back sideline reception that set up Seattle, first and goal, with 70 seconds remaining. Belichick was referring to David Tyree's helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII and Mario Manningham's sideline snare in Super Bowl XLVI.
“No. I’ve got a lot of football left.”
—Tom Brady, asked if he understood what a fourth Super Bowl title means for his legacy.
"I’m just here so I won’t get fined."
—Marshawn Lynch, at Media Day on Tuesday.
Lynch made a deal with the league: appear in media sessions (scheduled to be at least 45 minutes daily) for at least five minutes, or risk a heavy fine. So Lynch went and said silly things over and over.
"I’m only here so I won’t get fined."
—Katy Perry, at her pre-Super Bowl news conference on Thursday.
"I’m just doing this so I don’t get fined."
—Tiger Woods, after shooting an embarrassing 82 Friday and missing the cut at the first tour stop of the year, the Waste Management Phoenix Open, on meeting with the press after the round.
“I have recently spent time with them both and communicate with them on a regular basis. I have witnessed nothing that warrants the actions that are currently being taken. I am brokenhearted that other family members have chosen to publicly harass and humiliate the patriarch of our family—the very person who is responsible for giving them everything they have. During this difficult time I would ask that you pray for the entire family, especially for my grandfather, Tom Benson.”
—Dawn Jones, a granddaughter of Saints owner Tom Benson, on Benson and third wife Gayle, who are in the midst of a family feud after Benson said he would leave the Saints and NBA Pelicans to Gayle upon his death—and not to the daughter and grandchildren who had been active in his business life. Benson’s daughter Renee and grandchildren Ryan and Rita sued him last week, legally challenging the new will that purports to change the terms and remove the three from most business interests Benson will leave to his wife.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Number of enshrinees in the past nine Hall of Fame classes, including the 2015 class elected Saturday: 60.
Number of quarterbacks enshrined in the past nine Hall of Fame classes: zero.
First 24 minutes of the Super Bowl:
Accepted penalties: zero.
Completed passes by Seattle: zero.
Russell Wilson said the other day if he hadn’t been good enough to be a football player or a baseball player, he’d have been a veterinarian.
Katy Perry has 64.3 million Twitter followers, more than anyone else on Planet Earth.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Observations from a week in the Valley of the Sun (and, as it turned out, rain):
1. The NFL had 32 GMC sport trucks in front of the media center during the week. One day, security came out to discover the two front tires on the Patriots’ truck had been deflated.
2. Walking in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday morning, I saw a 30ish man in a crisp blue business suit get off a commuter bus from the ’burbs, put a backpack on, drop his skateboard to the ground, then roll down Third Street.
3. The NBA teams stay in the Ritz Carlton Hotel north of downtown. On Thursday morning the Washington Wizards were checking out and heading home, and I noticed one of their players boarding the team bus wearing the free terrycloth Ritz Carlton slippers left by the bed. Must be comfy. Which leads me to …
4. Marshawn Lynch went through the Seahawks’ casual walk-through practice Saturday morning in slippers.
5. Huge number of Packers’ fans in downtown Phoenix on Friday and Saturday. Maybe more Packer fans than Patriot, just from the eyeball test.
6. Every couple of minutes downtown, when I was there Friday and Saturday, you’d hear someone start the: “sea-HAWK! … sea-HAWK” chant. The city had a real Seattle feel as the week went on, as did the stadium Sunday.
Tweets of the Week
The former wide receiver, tweeting what America was thinking after the Seahawks threw on the goal line instead of running to win the game.
Being a Browns’ fan must really hurt sometimes.
The former NFL scout and current Bay Area talk show host, watching Darrelle Revis shut down Seahawks receivers early in the second quarter.
The smart officiating site, watching Katy Perry and dancing sharks during halftime of the Super Bowl.
The son of the Giants’ CEO and one of 43 grandchildren of Giants’ matriarch Ann Mara, who died Sunday morning. Ann and Wellington Mara, the longtime Giants’ owner, were married from 1954 until his death in 2005.
Shane Vereen, who caught 11 passes in the game, celebrates. (Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Super Bowl week, and the game:
a. Great anthem by Idina Menzel (2 minutes, 4 seconds) and an even better flyover. Really, really cool.
b. Darrelle Revis’ takedown of Russell Wilson on a late-first-quarter scramble. Instinctive tackle.
c. Michael Bennett, one of the most underrated defensive linemen in football, continually harassing Brady in the first half.
d. Russell Wilson rebounding from a bad start—again—to be very, very big when it mattered, except at the very end.
e. Cris Collinsworth’s point that the early Jeremy Lane interception could have been the best thing to happen to New England … because it ended with Lane getting knocked out of the game with a wrist injury and forced Tharold Simon to play too much, and the Patriots picked on him a lot.
f. Robert Turbin’s change-up 19-yard run on the last drive of the first half. Good call, good run.
g. Pete Carroll’s pregame line on the impending birth of Richard Sherman’s son: “Can’t wait to see little Petey.”
h. Doug Baldwin wisely using umpire Bill Schuster as an unofficial but obvious pick, rubbing off Darrelle Revis and getting open for a big third-quarter touchdown.
i. This note Sunday from well-plugged-in Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston, on the relationship between Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell: “My sense is that Kraft feels stung by Goodell, who he had backed in the wake of the mishandled Ray Rice domestic violence case, and the longstanding relationship between the two is not in a good place based on the league’s handling of the team’s underinflated footballs and specifically public leaks. For perhaps the first time, I sense Kraft is doubting Goodell’s leadership, and if Goodell loses one of his top supporters I wonder how much it could threaten his hold on the job. Then again, maybe it’s something that just requires a little time to smooth itself over."
j. Shane Vereen, great on swing routes out of the backfield. Eleven catches Sunday.
k. Fifty throws by Brady. Didn’t seem that many, but he was fast and efficient, a 74 percent passer against the greatest defense of the day.
l. McDaniels’s offensive game plan. Get rid of it quick. Let your backs make plays. The one thing he didn’t expect is for the running game to generate only 2.7 yards per carry, but he adjusted with a ton of short passes in space.
m. Phoenix. The city and the region do a great job putting on the game. Scottsdale is one of the great areas in America.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Super Bowl week, and the game:
a. The missed roughing-the-kicker call by referee Bill Vinovich on the first New England series of the game, costing New England a first down. As the rule book says, it is “roughing the kicker if a defensive player contacts the plant leg of the kicker while his kicking leg is still in the air." Ryan Allen’s plant leg was hit by Seattle rusher Jeron Johnson, and Johnson was not blocked into Allen. Running into the kicker, a five-yard infraction, was called—not the 15-yard roughing call.
b. Tom Brady’s bad decision on the rushed interception in the first quarter.
c. Doug Baldwin, Stanford man, getting a 15-yard infraction in the biggest game of the year for simulating pulling down his pants in the end zone and simulating something else while the simulated pants were pulled down.
d. What possesses a human being to do that? In the Super Bowl, knowing all eyes are on you—and the eyes of the officials too? Just really dumb. He’s really got to do something about this everybody-hates-me mentality he has. It’s worse than Steve Smith.
e. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams dropping in coverage on Julian Edelman on a snap in the third quarter. Uh, no.
f. Jermaine Kearse’s late third-quarter drop … which could have made the difference between punting with a 24-14 lead (which happened) or scoring to make it 31-14 early in the fourth quarter (which could have happened).
g. The missed fourth-quarter interference flag on New England’s Malcolm Butler for tripping Ricardo Lockette with his arm. An obvious call, missed—and it could have bled valuable time off the clock with seven minutes left in the game.
h. The game degenerating into a late brawl. I blame Seattle's players more than New England's, and Bruce Irvin got tossed because of it.
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3. I think you can add Bill Belichick to the list of those who have not been interviewed by the Ted Wells/Jeff Pash committee, according to
Pro Football Talk’s
Mike Florio. No Belichick. No Tom Brady. But 40-plus people have been talked to. Seems Wells and Pash and the investigators want to know as much as they can about everything before talking to the two most important people in the case.