It was all there for the taking in the final minute of Super Bowl XLIX. The Seattle Seahawks were poised to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions, against the New England Patriots, ironically since the Patriots had accomplished the same feat a decade earlier.
All they had to do was ask the heart and soul of their offense, running back Marshawn Lynch, to rush for one more yard with the game on the line.
After a 3-yard touchdown pass added to Tom Brady’s all-time Super Bowl record for touchdown throws (13) and put New England up, 28-24, with 2:02 left, in Arizona on Sunday night, Lynch immediately gave Seattle hope with a 31-yard catch-and-run, to the Patriots’ 49-yard line, on the Seahawks’ next play.
Five plays later, right after a miracle 33-yard reception by wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, Lynch moved over 100 yards (102, to be exact) on his 24th carry, a four-yard rush to the Patriots’ 1-yard line.
However, rather than sticking with the back who already had a 3-yard, second-quarter touchdown run that tied the game, 7-7, and who earlier, tied Dallas’ DeMarco Murray for the 2014 regular season lead with 13 rushing touchdowns, head coach Pete Carroll — with a time out still remaining — opted for the questionable play call of throwing a quick inside slant to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, only to see quarterback Russell Wilson’s pass intercepted by safety Malcom Butler to seal Seattle’s fate.
The Patriots ran out the clock, completed the largest fourth-quarter comeback ever to win a Super Bowl and secured their fourth league title, while the Seahawks were left to forever wonder what might have been.
Carroll tried to offer a reasonable explanation, pointing to the goal line personnel New England put on the field before the turnover, and the idea that with only one time out left, the Seahawks felt that throwing on second down, if incomplete, would allow them to run on third down and still use their final time out before a run or pass on fourth down, if necessary.
That attempt at clarification failed to escape criticism, whether from his own players or analysts.
Dejected linebacker Bruce Irvin, who instigated a near-brawl as the game wound down, said, “I don’t understand how you have the best back in the league… and you throw a slant… this one hurt because we had it. It felt like it was meant to be.”
Former NFL great and current television analyst Deion Sanders labeled Carroll’s choice “the worst play call in Super Bowl history” on the NFL Network’s Super Bowl post-game show.
Speaking with Sanders and Sanders’ fellow analysts about the play, Patriots owner Bob Kraft joked, “I’m very happy about the call and whoever chose it.”
Taking responsibility for a decision that will be second-guessed until the beginning of next season, Carroll said, “I hate to learn the hard way, but there’s no other way to look at it.”
Yet for many others, there is another view about the play call. It’s the one that showed that sometimes, what goes around comes around.
As tough as the loss was for Carroll, Irvin and the rest of the Seahawks, it might have made Lynch the most frustrated of all, since he likely had more belief than anyone that he would add to his touchdown total with a potential game-winning score and perhaps a Most Valuable Player Award.
Given his penchant for purposely shunning the media, having Lynch interviewed while accepting a Super Bowl MVP award on national (even global) television might have been somewhat of an embarrassing and awkward moment for the National Football League.
Instead, the NFL had one of its most polished and best ambassadors in Brady handle that role in the classy way that was expected of one of the sport’s all-time greats.
That’s not to take away from Lynch’s talent on the field at all. He indeed is one of the best — if not the best back, as Irvin suggested — in the league.
But the ending of Super Bowl XLIX was also poetic justice for the seemingly ungrateful, spoiled and self-centered Lynch, who had acted like an obnoxious brat with his one-word or sarcastic answers, intentionally offering no value or substance for reporters countless times in the past, before he later took that stance to another level by repeatedly telling the media no less than 29 times, nothing more than the fact that he only showed up at media day last week because he didn’t “want to get fined.”
Carroll and Lynch’s teammates, however, all insist that Lynch is a great team member, and he clearly speaks to them. So, supposedly being shy with the media doesn’t cut it as an acceptable excuse.
Nor does coming from a difficult environment growing up, when there are many other examples of professional athletes, even stars, hailing from similar backgrounds, who in contrast, exhibit class and gratitude for the fortunate positions they are in with respect to recognizing the ability to play a professional sport as a privilege, whereas Lynch unappreciatively considers it an entitlement.
Of course, Carroll might be able to influence Lynch’s view on that, but by all accounts, has refused to do so. Instead of encouraging Lynch to be cooperative with the media and give a few minutes of his time with straight answers, the way so many of Lynch’s peers do, Carroll has allowed Lynch to do whatever he pleases in that regard.
Thus, after Lynch’s most notorious snubbing of the media to date last week, it’s quite fitting that with a chance to make Lynch a Super Bowl hero, Carroll was the one who silenced Lynch on the field the same way Lynch muted himself to the media.
In a way, it all came full circle for Lynch and Carroll, in an anguished moment that will haunt them forever.
For a great back possessing an unnecessarily lousy attitude with the media, not even a miraculous play which might have otherwise been remembered in football lore as the “Kearse of Tyree” (recalling the way the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to the New York Giants on the same field) could keep some Super Bowl karma from paying Lynch back.
And maybe, the way Carroll said it was tough to learn his lesson the hard way, perhaps Lynch finally did the same.
Asked by ESPN’s Jim Trotter if he was surprised about not getting the ball prior to Wilson’s interception, Lynch actually opened up and gave a surprisingly selfless answer in support of his coaches which indicated he should be more willing to speak to the media in the future.
“No,” Lynch said. “Because we play football. It’s a team sport.”