Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Last night when I returned home from work I went flipping through the channels. On the NFL station I saw that the network was replaying the Seattle-New England super bowl game of two years ago.  The game was in the second quarter when I joined the audience.  As I started watching I realized that I had forgotten a good deal of what had taken place.

What most people remember from that game is the end. For those who don't remember, what happened involved one of the most controversial decisions in the history of championship games.

The Patriots were leading by four points having scored to take the lead with just over two minutes to go.  Seattle received the kick-off and began to move slowly up the field.  With only a minute plus to go, Russell Wilson, Seattle's quarterback, threw a long pass that seemed to go incomplete. However, on closer inspection the ball had bounced around the receiver, never hitting the ground, until such time the receiver was able to possess it.  This put Seattle on about the five yard line with plenty of time to score and win the game.

Seattle had an almost unstoppable running back that year. On the first play after the miracle catch, they gave the ball to the running back and he came very close to scoring.  The next play involved the controversial decision.

Instead of handing the ball to the running back, Seattle tried to pass. The ball was intercepted by a Patriot rookie. Because Seattle had exhausted two time outs on the drive (neither was really necessary) the Seahawks could not stop the clock once the Patriots gained possession on the interception. Game over. Patriots win the super bowl.  The announcers express their bewilderment at the decision to pass instead of giving the ball to the horse. Chris Collingsworth said "And I'm sorry. I just don't believe the call" or words to that effect.  Al Michaels the other voice in the booth, said "I don't either."  Then Collingsworth repeated himself during the post mortem, joined in by scores of professional and amateur pundits who blamed Seattle's coach for such a blockhead decision to throw instead of pass.

I remembered all that.  However, here is what I did not remember.

Near the very end of the first half the score was 14-7 Patriots. There were six seconds left in the half and the Seahawks were close to the Patriot goal line.  Seattle decided not to kick a field goal, but to try to score a touchdown. Before the play, the announcers were skeptical about this choice, since the clock could expire if a play was unsuccessful.  The play, however, was successful.  Pete Carroll-the head coach--the announcers remarked--had been brilliant and gutsy for passing on that play instead of settling for the field goal.  This situation was not completely comparable to the play at the end of the game, but another was--almost exactly-- so.

In the third quarter, the Seahawks were winning 17-14.  They had the ball down by the Patriots goal line.  On first down, they tried to run giving the ball to the excellent running back to get the touchdown.  The Patriots stuffed the run.  On second down--in almost exactly the same situation as what occurred at the end of the game--the Seahawks did not hand the ball off as everyone expected, but passed to a receiver who was wide open. The announcers--I was reminded last night--were effusive in their praise of Seattle's coaching staff for throwing the ball when everyone in the place thought it would be a run.  This decision, gushed the announcers, reflected the guts and intelligence of the Seahawks.

Well, er, in the fourth quarter when the Seattle Seahawks tried the same exact thing (the pass play was different, but the decision to pass and not run was the same), a Patriot player by the name of Malcolm Butler made an outstanding play and intercepted the ball.  Now, Carroll was depicted as a goofball for having tried to pass.

I am not an apologist for Pete Carroll. When he coached at New England he did only an okay job as far as I was concerned, and while he was successful as a college coach, I just found his behavior and style off-putting.  But the grief he took and has taken because of that fourth quarter decision is inappropriate in light of the fact that what he did earlier in the game was hailed as the stuff of genius. And it was the exact same decision.

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