Is there anything better than witnessing a great sporting event that features an uncertain outcome until the last play? Such was the case with last fall’s seventh game of the World Series, in which the game and the World Championship could have been claimed by either San Francisco or Kansas City until the final pitch resulted in a pop up to the Giants third baseman, leaving the potential tying run at third base.
And such was also the case until almost the last play of the game in Sunday’s Super Bowl, in which the Seattle Seahawks seemed on their way to an improbable victory until a clutch interception of an ill-advised pass from the one yard line secured the win for the New England Patriots. It was a remarkable game from start to finish, but what a finish!
The game was a back and forth affair, largely dominated by both teams’ defenses, throughout much of the first half. The Patriots seemed on their way to a first score when QB Tom Brady threw an interception at the Seahawk’s goal line in the first quarter. Then, towards the end of the second quarter, he led his team to a second touchdown to break a 7-7 tie that appeared to leave Seattle with little time to match the score.
But Russell Wilson led the Seahawks on a furious drive that ended with a surprising touchdown with two seconds left in the half. And so the teams were tied 14-14 as the half-time extravaganza (featuring all kinds of technical wonders around the singing of Katy Perry and a hundred or so dancers and assorted “extras”) dazzled the TV audience.
I know little about Ms. Perry, but she seems talented. But for my money, I’d rather see highlights of the first half, peppered with in-depth analysis, for my half-time entertainment. NBC allowed about six minutes for that kind of programming, with another six devoted to commercials (which were sold for $4.5 million per 30 second spot). Ms. Perry and her cohorts got the remaining 15.
The third quarter was all Seattle, as they first took the lead on a field goal and then scored a TD later in the quarter after Brady had thrown another INT. As that quarter ended, I thought the die had been cast: Seattle had figured out how to stop the Patriot’s offense and seemed to be controlling the line of scrimmage when their offense was on the field.
But things turned dramatically in the fourth quarter (or at least in the first 13 minutes of it) as Brady found some magic in his 37-year-old arm, completing pass after pass in leading his team to two TDs, the second coming with just over two minutes left, to give the Pats a 28-24 lead. And that’s when two plays made this Super Bowl memorable.
Each play in a football game can be exciting, what with all 22 players potentially involved in the action. On every play anywhere from ten to fourteen players are engaged in mano-a-mano strength and agility battles as half try to get past the other half at the line of scrimmage to tackle the player who has the ball.
The other eight to twelve players are normally involved in attempting to do something with the ball or are attempting to stop the player who has the ball from that pursuit. Thus every play can result in amazing offensive gains or remarkable defensive stops. And that’s what captivates the millions who have made American football the country’s number one sport.
Contrast baseball, in which only ten players must be on the field at any one time. Nine of those players are trying to prevent the team that sends the tenth player to the batter’s box from scoring. But of those nine, only two, the pitcher and the catcher, are guaranteed to be involved in each separate play. Those plays consist of pitches, thrown by the pitcher to the catcher, which the batter is assigned to try to hit past or over the other seven defensive players.
Those pitches can result in nothing more than a ball or a strike, or they can result in a ball that is hit into the field of play. In a typical game well over half of the pitches are not hit into the field of play. And of those that are, many are of no great consequence, being easy plays on which the defense will record an out. Thus is baseball considered “slow,” or the games too long. To the casual fan, nothing happens a lot of the time.
But baseball has one big advantage over football. Football has a clock that controls the ability of a team to mount a comeback or to overcome a sizeable lead. Thus, many football games are “over” long before the full 60 minutes of play have been completed. Not so in baseball. Baseball games aren’t over until the leading team has secured 27 outs. And so a team can be behind by five runs (the equivalent of a couple of touchdowns and a field goal in football) with only three outs left and still win the game, or at least threaten to do so. Hence, baseball games can become dramatic even when they don’t appear headed for that kind of script for most of the contest.
Football games don’t normally feature the kind of dramatics that occurred last Sunday, certainly not with the ending that this one produced. First there was the amazing catch by Jermaine Kearse of a hail-Mary pass by Wilson that had been tipped by Patriot defender Malcolm Butler and thus never should have been caught.
Then, with Seattle on the one-yard line, and everyone expecting the unstoppable Marshawn Lynch to power his way into the end zone, Wilson instead threw a pass that Butler intercepted at the goal line. It was the equivalent of a Kirk Gibson home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Two plays later, the Patriots were the champions.
It was the kind of finish that a baseball fan could fully appreciate.