Despair and Euphoria in an Instant

Unbelievable. I have watched sports for my entire life and have witnessed dramatic victories and crushing defeats and experienced the full spectrum of emotions on every level. I learned about heartbreak early, watching the ’86 Red Sox fall apart in Game 6 with family and friends in my living room, then tasted my first glory with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl victory in 2002 in The Louisiana Superdome with my dad. These epic contests ended on singular plays that are eternally enshrined in Boston sports lore: Bill Buckner’s ground ball whiff and Adam Vinatieri’s boot through the uprights. They were certainly dramatic and instantaneous finishes, but in reality, they both came out of ties: had Buckner managed to corral the grounder and step on 1st, the game would have gone to extra innings and had Vinatieri missed his opportunity, Super Bowl XXXVI would have been decided in overtime.

This is why the ending of Super Bowl XLIX was so beyond anything I have ever experienced. It was a battle from the start and the lead changed several times, with the Seahawks taking a 10-point lead in the third quarter that became a 4-point Patriots lead with 2 minutes left in the game. The last two Patriots’ Super Bowls had eerily similar situations that set up game-winning drives by their opponents, and when Seattle completed a miracle catch at the 5-yard line, the absurd inevitability of deja vu (see Tyree, 2008 and Manningham, 2012) and acceptance of a curse on the team seemed logical. One play later and they were 36 inches from delivering that same backbreaking blow. With three plays to get the ball past the goal line, I put the odds of the Patriots winning the game at less than 1%. It could not have been more certain doom for the Pats, and as I watched with my family in the same living room where I had witnessed the Red Sox collapse 28 years earlier, we were absolutely resigned to defeat. It was hopeless to imagine any other outcome. But then, in a flash of Malcom Butler colliding with Ricardo Lockette and intercepting an ill-conceived pass, the Patriots were Champions once again! In all my years of watching sports, I have never seen the tables turn from defeat to victory in an instant like that: I have seen comebacks and last minute drives and clutch baskets and walk-off home runs, but nothing like a game-stealing goal line interception for the win in the biggest single game in sports. It is almost impossible to comprehend just how significant this play was, but I will never forget jumping up and screaming and hugging my dad and shattering his glass in a moment that ran through the entire spectrum of sports emotion and will happily live with me for eternity.

Like the yin and the yang, there are two sides to this moment. As an invested sports fan, you have to accept that either outcome is a possibility. This compilation of reactions to the play shows our culture’s obsession and deep emotional connection to the game. I have been in both camps and can only enjoy this victory with the knowledge that I will inevitably see the dark and depressing side again. No matter what my teams may suffer in the future, past glories will live forever!

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