Last night, I re-watched Super Bowl 49 in its entirety on YouTube. In the months following that game, I probably watched the DVR recording at least 25 times. It was pretty much a weekly thing during that entire offseason.
When your team wins a championship, that’s how you spend the offseason leading up to the next season (Boston fans have experienced this plenty of times over the last 17 years). You revel in the glory over and over again, simply because it was such a memorable experience when it happened, and you just can’t get enough of it. And Super Bowl 49 took that to another level because it was such a wild game. But then as time goes on, you move on. The team comes back for the next season, and the championship glory is placed in the past because everyone is now focused on the new task.
It’s safe to say it’s been awhile since I’ve thought back to Super Bowl 49. Of course, the Pats won the title again last year – thanks to the most dramatic comeback in Super Bowl history. And like always, I celebrated and reveled in the glory of Super Bowl 51. But when I think about it … when I compare the two victories … Super Bowl 49 definitely meant more to me than Super Bowl 51. And last night, when I sat down and re-watched the entire game, I was reminded why.
First and foremost, I think the biggest reason why I’ll always put 49 over 51 is because it was the year when the Patriots finally broke the “playoff curse.” It sounds weird associating the Pats with the word “curse” because they have been nothing but successful since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001. But after the trifecta in Super Bowls 36, 38 and 39, the Patriots experienced a nine-year period in which something went wrong in the playoffs every single year, keeping them from continuing the championship dynasty. They came close a number of times, but ultimately fell short consistently for nine straight seasons.
A few examples: Peyton Manning leading the Colts back from down 18 in the 2006 AFC Championship game, capped by Brady throwing a game-ending pick … the Helmet Catch in Super Bowl 42, followed by Brady’s last chance Hail Mary that missed Randy Moss by about five inches, sending the 19-0 dream up in flames … Brady’s ACL injury in 2008 … the Pats just straight up choking at home in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs … the dropped pass by Wes Welker in Super Bowl 46 that would have given the Pats a chance to put the game out of reach, followed by the Manning-to-Manningham connection, and then followed by Brady’s Hail Mary to the end zone as time expired, which Rob Gronkowski missed by about a foot … and finally, getting shut down in Denver in the 2013 AFC Championship game.
Nine consecutive years of near-misses. How did that happen to the Brady-Belichick Patriots? After all, in their first 10 playoff games together, Brady and Belichick went 10-0 with three Super Bowl titles. Now, they found themselves coming up short every single year. Were they just out-of-this-world lucky for those first few years? We’re they now showing their true colors as postseason chokers? These were actual questions being asked by fans and the media.
So those were the stakes heading into Super Bowl 49 against the Seahawks. If the Patriots lost, it would’ve officially been 10 straight years in which they couldn’t close the deal – an entire decade of “close but no cigar” conversations. They would continue to be labeled as a regular season juggernaut that seemed to catch a tremendous amount of bad breaks in the playoffs before ultimately running out of gas.
And when the Pats fell behind 24-14 in the third quarter, it seemed like it was happening again. But Brady rallied the team in the fourth quarter, cementing his status as one of the greatest leaders and comeback artists in the history of sports. He strung together a pair of touchdown drives, hitting Danny Amendola for one and Julian Edelman for the other, to put New England back in front 28-24 with just over two minutes to go.
In Super Bowls 42 and 46, it was about this time when Eli Manning and the underdog Giants crushed the Patriots with miracle drives to steal the victories. Manning connected with David Tyree’s helmet in Super Bowl 42, and he connected with Mario Manningham’s fingertips along the sideline in Super Bowl 46. Two freaky catches, and two unbelievably unlucky breaks for New England, that put the Giants in position to win.
And in Super Bowl 49, the Seahawks did the exact same thing. Russell Wilson and Jermaine Kearse joined in on the fun. Wilson heaved a long pass down the right sideline that bounced off every part of Kearse’s body as he landed on his back, before finally snagging it out of midair. It was the most unreal thing I had ever seen in my life – like I was living in the Twilight Zone. The Seahawks were one or two runs away from taking the lead and delivering the knockout punch to the Patriots … again. For the 10th straight season, they had caught a bad break, and we’re about to fall short.
And then before I even had time to analyze my feelings, Malcolm Butler came out of nowhere to intercept Wilson’s pass at the goal line. Just like that, the “curse” was broken. After nine years of bad breaks in the playoffs, the 10th time was the charm, and the Patriots had caught the greatest break of all time. Butler had sealed the deal with arguably the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history, and the Patriots were about to be crowned champions again. After 10 years, they were back on top.
It took a minute or two for my brain to comprehend the fact that Malcolm Butler had just clinched the Super Bowl for the Pats, but once I finally did, it was just pure euphoria like I had never felt before. To win that game in the manner that they did, given the stakes surrounding the game, to erase 10 years of falling short … I just can’t even describe it. It was a special feeling that, as a fan, I can’t imagine ever being topped.
Sure, I greatly enjoyed the 28-point comeback in Super Bowl 51. Some people may say that was the greatest Patriots Super Bowl win of all time. But not to me. For me, it will always be Super Bowl 49. I’ll never forget where I was or who I was with when Butler made that interception. I’ll never forget that feeling of just pure bliss and joy that followed, and I’ll never forget celebrating for several hours after the game ended. I’ve never been more on Cloud Nine than I was on that night.
Hopefully, there will be more Super Bowl memories to come. (I mean, Tom Brady is still young, right?) But Super Bowl 49 was special. It was definitely my most satisfying sports fan moment, at least at this point in my life. And 40 years from now, it might still be.
To the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots teams of the future: you have some serious work to do if you hope to top it.