HOUSTON — I’ll never forget that it’s a privilege to have experienced that, all of that, every ridiculous and perfect play of the Patriots’ affirming and magical win in person. I’ll never forget a moment of what I saw.
But I have to say, I can’t wait to watch, or rewatch, the game the way I imagine so many of you did. Beverage in one hand, remote in the other, jaw power-dribbling off the floor. Because there are things I did not see that I want to enjoy.
Plays, moments, plot twists — they can sometimes get lost in the vortex and dizzying swirl when you’re covering a changing game live and trying to write at Taylor Gabriel speed to file as soon as possible after the game ends. Covering a Super Bowl live is like being transported into the loudest Madden game your ears can bear. The aural onslaught causes your senses to surrender. And because you’re trying to write in between plays, sometimes key things escape.
Have I ever mentioned that I did not see Malcolm Butler’s interception happen, even though I was in the house? It’s true. I was looking down at my computer screen, not expecting the play to commence for a few more seconds. I heard a roar, and I thought, “That did not sound like the roar of a Seahawks touchdown.” It was more of a combo groan/holy cow/gasp kind of roar. I looked up and through the high-fiving sportswriters in front of me (yep), and saw the Patriots defense, led by Devin McCourty, bounding and high-stepping off the field. I should note I have seen it many times since. Al Michaels’s call was lovely, and I got a unique memory out of missing the whole damn thing.
I bring this up because even after covering a game such as this, an all-timer among all-timers, there are things that dawn on you the next day. You realize there are important turns you didn’t recognize at the time, important performances that were tucked away behind greater performances but deserve acknowledgement in their own way.
I think I touched most of the bases in my postgame thoughts column, which I should note was strikingly different than the draft I had running after three quarters. But here are a few more observations the day after, while I wait to get home, crack that beverage, and fire up the DVR:
■ What is it with Patriots Super Bowl opponents that refuse to run the ball when they’re a couple simple plays away from securing victory? In Super Bowl XLIX against Seattle, rather than handing off to that Tasmanian Devil ballcarrier Marshawn Lynch, they decided to make Malcolm Butler famous. In Super Bowl LI, after Julio Jones’s beautiful toe-tapping 27-yard catch brought the ball to the Patriots 22-yard line with 4 minutes and 47 seconds left, the Falcons — who could have kicked a field goal to go up 11 points (31-20) — instead took a 12-yard sack and a 10-yard holding penalty to stumble back to the Patriots 45. That’s inexcusable. Matt Ryan should have drop-kicked the ball before he taking a sack there.
■ I’m not ready to look ahead and consider all of the personnel decisions the Patriots must make in the offseason. (Honestly, many have probably already been made in the minds of Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio.) Why rush to move on so soon from this, a masterwork that demands reliving, retracing, and reconsideration? This one was made for lingering. But — there’s always a but — I will say this: I really hope Dont’a Hightower is in this team’s long-term plans.
■ Belichick was effusive in praising Hightower Monday morning, saying that Nick Saban promised the Alabama product could master whatever was asked of him, and Hightower has. It should be noted that this is twice now Hightower has made a defensive play that essentially saved the Super Bowl. His shoestring tackle — with a damaged shoulder — of Lynch in Super Bowl XLIX set up the Butler pick, and his strip-sack of Ryan with 8 minutes and 31 seconds left and the Patriots down 16. The strip-sack was the exact play the Patriots were desperate for at that point.
■ I never thought the Patriots were dead, but I was writing some stuff that sounded vaguely like their last rites as the third quarter wound down. I just could not fathom how the clock was going to work out in their favor when they were down 28-12 with 9 minutes remaining. The math didn’t work. But then Hightower got the ball back, the ensuing drive took just 2:28. That swing is the one that made me go, “Hmmmm.” When the Patriots made it 28-20 with just under 6 minutes remaining, suddenly it seemed like they had all the time they needed.
■ As much as it turns out Belichick hated the vindication/revenge storyline, especially when it was “insultingly” implied that Brady was working harder than he usually does in order to get payback on Roger Goodell or whatever, it’s impossible for fans not to see it this way, even if vengeance was not the fundamental driving force of the Patriot themselves. But such vindication does not only apply to the two-year Deflategate ordeal. In a way, there was vindication for how last season ended. Can you imagine if two straight seasons ended on failed two-point conversions?
■ I knew James White was having a terrific game as the second half unfolded. It felt like Shane Vereen’s 11-catch performance two years ago. But I had no idea until I looked at the final stat sheet that he had 14 catches on 16 targets, and it eluded me that he had three touchdowns until colleague Jim McBride pointed it out on the way out of NRG Stadium. The Patriots have a fine history of huge big-game performances by their third-down back-types — J.R. Redmond, Kevin Faulk, Vereen. But White’s stands alone in it brilliance. To me, Brady deserved the MVP. But White deserves the truck.
■ So as I write this, there’s a Falcons fan in a No. 2 jersey sitting a couple of rows away from me here Terminal C, Gate 31 at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He’s talking to someone on the phone about the game, deconstructing how it all fell apart. He seems nice enough and devastated, and I just heard him drawl, “The impossible became possible, and then it became inevitable.” A cliché? Maybe, if you’re more familiar with the saying yet. I have not heard or read a better description of the fourth quarter yet and overtime. Perhaps there’s no greater tribute to the power of Tom Brady than the absolute belief that when the Patriots won the overtime coin flip, that football game was over. All we were waiting for were the details.