SUPER BOWL STUNNER
The Super Bowl was on the line, and I had a feeling I would remember the next thirty seconds for the rest of my life.
My eyes were on my boss, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, frantically pacing in front of me, chewing a wad of pink Bubble Yum. Even in the incredible noise of the crowd, I could almost hear Coach's brain whirring. As far as what he was thinking, no one really knew, which was what made Coach Carroll, well, Coach Carroll.
As his special assistant for the previous seven seasons at that point, my job at the end of every game was to craft a bullet-point outline for his postgame speech, and I was already formulating how the key themes would lay out, since it seemed obvious the Seattle Seahawks were on their way to a second straight Super Bowl win. Down by 4 points, second down on the 1-yard line, and twenty-six seconds to go, we simply needed to advance the ball a distance I could
easily cover with one giant step to secure the game-clinching touchdown and claim back-to-back championships.
Typically I would have been in the locker room by now, roughing out Coach's speech, but there was no way I was going to miss the end of Super Bowl 49 and the chance to celebrate as the navy and neon green confetti rained down to blanket the field, exactly what we had experienced just one year earlier at Super Bowl 48.
Every person in University of Phoenix Stadium on that cool February night had risen to their feet as the anticipation quickly built to a crescendo, the sound of the crowd a near-deafening roar, a cacophony. Circling the field was a sea of media personalities, security personnel, and photographers jockeying for position to get the perfect shot when we crossed the goal line and won the game.
With my journalism background, I had been trained to always anticipate the ending of a story before it happened so I could get a head start on writing it. The story lines of this particular postgame speech were going to be magical: the defending champion Seahawks had won eight consecutive games to reach Super Bowl 49 and now stood on the precipice of history. Winning one Super Bowl is an incredible achievement, but winning back-to-back Super Bowls is
nearly impossible. Only seven teams have ever done it in the history of the game. At that time, we were moments from stepping into the pages of the NFL record books, and the weight of that was monumental.
Coach Carroll knew what the Patriots were expecting. In fact, the whole world knew where the ball was going: right into the hands of running back Marshawn Lynch. Why not? The Seahawks had been the most efficient rushing team in the NFL for five straight seasons, and up to that point in the game, Lynch had run the ball twenty-four times and gained at least one yard on twenty-two of those carries. It was a no-brainer, right?
I watched the orange fluorescent numbers on the scoreboard clock steadily tick down with less than thirty seconds to go. The pressure building in my head from the anticipation was bordering on painful. Snap the ball already and take it in! Let's go! I had no doubt as to the outcome; I simply wanted to get it over with so we would be Super Bowl champs once again.
I couldn't hear the snap count in the roar of the stadium, but the ball passed perfectly from the center into Russell Wilson's ready hands. With smooth poise, he took three measured steps backward, scanned the field, and cocked his throwing arm to fire the winning touchdown pass, which would smack wide receiver Ricardo Lockette squarely in the center of his navy jersey.
But as they say, the rest is history.
In a split second, I saw Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler angle in from the right and obscure Lockette. As the two men merged into one before you could say "Lombardi," the silver and white image blurred, and I experienced one of those moments when you can't believe what just happened and your heart stops beating.
The stadium erupted with a muddled sound I had never heard before and will probably never hear again. As the gasps from the Seahawks fans mixed with the cheers of the New England Patriots fans, I stared blankly ahead in horror. I had imagined a hundred different ways the game would end, but not one of them looked like this. This was beyond belief. While my mind frantically searched for an explanation, I looked back and forth from the officials to the coaches, reading the agony etched on their faces.
Wait! This has to be a mistake. There must have been a penalty. It can't end this way.
It was one of those situations where you long to have the last few seconds of your life back, like when you get a speeding ticket or impulsively spout off something foolish or hurtful and desperately wish you could get a do-over.
The pain of that moment was crippling, as if Muhammad Ali had just hit me with a brutal gut punch. It nearly dropped me to my knees, and I could hardly breathe.