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From disappointment to disbelief: A Super Bowl Sunday roller coaster

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On Sunday I experienced the lowest of football lows, and the highest of football highs. Writing this two days later, I felt a need to commemorate the ride that cemented multiple legacies.

New England Patriots Victory Parade Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

My first football memory is being allowed to watch the first half of Super Bowl 36, when I was 5 years old. I’ve grown up in the Brady-Belichick era, and have been spoiled with success. Three Super Bowl titles before my 9th birthday. An undefeated season. Watching the greatest head coach and quarterback of all time do their jobs year after year. What that has bred is a sense of confidence, and belief in this team.

No matter how they’re playing, no matter what the score is, I always thought there was a chance for a comeback. 24-0 halftime deficit to the Broncos, no problem. 10 point 4th quarter deficit to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, easy. Even the Kansas City Massacre, I wasn’t ready to concede until Belichick himself conceded by putting in Jimmy Garoppolo. Whether regular season, playoffs, or Super Bowl, I never counted the Patriots out because Belichick and Brady are just too good. Until Sunday.

The Falcons broke me. After Robert Alford’s pick 6 I said it was over. Halftime managed to calm me down, and I entered the second half ready for a comeback. When Tevin Coleman scored to make it 28-3, I was officially broken. It was over, Brady and Belichick were 4-3 in Super Bowls and I didn’t know if I could stomach watching the rest of the game.

I drove home from the Super Bowl party that I was at, missing the first touchdown and ensuing botched onsides kick (I have since seen the full game in its entirety, twice). Instead of going to bed, I decided to ride out one more drive. When Tom Brady got sacked twice and they had to settle for a field goal, any glimmer of hope for a comeback completely dissipated in my eyes...

Holy hell, Dont’a Hightower needs to get paid!

When he stripped Matt Ryan, flying off the edge after Devonta Freeman missed his block, the entire feeling of the game shifted. They were just 25 yards away from a chance to make it a one possession game, and in a testament to how spoiled with success I’ve been in my football life, I was right back in. One big play, one little momentum swing, and even though the deficit was still larger than any that had ever been overcome in Super Bowl history, I could feel it. They might not win, but they were gonna make it a nail-biter.

By this time I was jumping around, trying to tell myself not to get excited, that I couldn’t handle two heartbreaks in the same game, but it was no success. Like I’m sure all of yours were, my heart was ready to jump out of my chest. Then Freeman got left so open no one else was on screen, and Julio Jones went full alien on what should’ve been the play of the game, the one that finally sealed the win.

My heart sunk again. This wasn’t the Tyree catch, it was the Manningham catch on steroids. Great coverage, pressure on the QB, and yet a perfect throw and a catch where the wide receiver allows his lower body bones to turn into rubber. All that was left was to pray for a fumble. There was no way they pass it more than once, right? Either the Patriots were going to have 2 minutes and three timeouts, or 3+ minutes and no timeouts to score twice.

Matt Ryan drops back, holds it...holds it...stays in the pocket...inexplicably doesn’t get rid of it, and Trey Flowers brings him down! Watching this play live felt like Flowers got there in a heartbeat. Watching the replay, Ryan had plenty of time to get rid of it and had no business taking that sack. A chokehold on the next play drives them, somehow, out of field goal range, and I think this is the moment that I got the feeling—they were winning this game.

They get pinned deep, and the first pass was equal parts a near safety, a near intentional grounding, and a near interception. The second down shot to Chris Hogan had me tearing my hair out. There was too much time left, if they fail on third they had to punt on fourth. This was the chance, not the time to take 50 yard shots.

Then Brady hits Hogan for 16 yards, Malcolm Mitchell snags an 11 yard pass for a first down, and all of a sudden they’re approaching midfield. 2:28 left. Brady launches it into triple coverage, it’s tipped, nearly intercepted, falling incomplete, and Edelman makes the catch. The spectacular catch, the David Tyree exorcism catch, the greatest catch in Super Bowl history. Period. End of story.

I was a mess again. I called my dad screaming, watching the replay that confirmed with absolutely no doubt that he made that catch. No controversy, nothing to complain about. It. Was. A. Catch.

The rest felt like a blur. Brady hit Danny Amendola for 20, then James White for 13, then White again for 7 and all of a sudden they’re at the 1. White punches it in, and I’m in full meltdown mode. My mind was a mix of “They can’t fail here, it will kill me”, “They’re winning this game. There’s no way this fails”, and “There’s way too much time left for this Falcons offense.”

They hit overtime, and once they win the coin toss, the celebration started. Atlanta’s defense was very visibly out of gas. They gave it all they had, and still made it tough, nearly forcing a turnover and making James White fight for every inch of his touchdown, but they were on empty. The Patriots won, again. The greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, the greatest win for the greatest quarterback and the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen.

I wanted to write this that same night. I wanted it to just be an all caps rant stating “HOW DID THAT JUST HAPPEN! HOW! HOW! HOW!?!?!?!?” I was in such disbelief, I needed to step back and let it all sink in. I’m sitting here writing this two full days since the start of the game, and I still can’t answer the question “How?”

So I won’t. There will be no Super Bowl breakdown from me, no analysis of the plays that turned it around. I’m just going to enjoy the miracle that was placed upon us by Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the 2016 Patriots. I wrote this more for me than anything else, just as a way to commemorate one of the most incredible moments of my young life.

Brady and Belichick finally got one for the thumb. Time to start on the other hand.