There may be a few moments in worldwide sport that truly and unreservedly grab the attention; Sunday’s Super Bowl had one. A narrow four point lead, 25 seconds on the clock, and with the Seattle Seahawks ominously perched on the one yard line, the New England Patriots had to find something special to keep the Seahawks from taking the lead with a six point (seven with a PAT conversion), potentially game-winning touchdown.
They take the snap, quarterback Russell Wilson holds the ball in his hands, and goes for the short pass to Ricardo Lockette. The run is quick, the pass appears accurate, when Malcolm Butler, a rookie, free-agent acquisition for the Patriots, grabs the ball from mid-air for an interception to win the game.
It was a productive finish for the Patriots season, and a potentially career-defining moment for rookie Butler. It also provided a interesting opportunity for the Patriots, and the sport in general, to move on from “deflategate” – the Patriots demonstrated that they deserved to reach the Super Bowl, and with the season over the saga now may quietly fade from memory over the off season. Equally significantly, it also offered the opportunity to restore the reputation and ensure the legacy of a central figure in “deflategate” and one of the finest quarterbacks in NFL history: Tom Brady.
Going into his sixth Super Bowl, making him the most featured quarterback in Super Bowl history, Brady picked up his fourth Championship win and third title of Super Bowl MVP. While perhaps a predictable selection even ahead of the game, Brady’s MVP status was beyond question, orchestrating a comeback from a ten-point deficit purely on his own merits, amidst a stuttering running game, faced with a notoriously loaded defence. Now third in the all-time holdings of game winning drives, fifth in passing touchdowns and tied for most Super Bowl wins, Brady approaches the latter stage of his career (John Elway is the oldest ever Super Bowl starting quarterback at 38, Brady is 37) ensured a place as one of the greatest players in NFL history. An encouraging example to others, Brady’s quality and consistency continue to produce results.
While the owner of a startlingly effective skill set, it is perhaps Brady’s decision making prowess that has seen him, as demonstrated by his aforementioned list of achievements, so consistently excel. Seahawks fans quickly took to the forums to question the decision for an aerial pass in what proved the decisive play, with running the ball the more obvious decision. Pundits and commentators too challenged the selection – victorious Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner later asked “what were they thinking?” – though Seattle head coach Pete Carroll attempted valiantly to explain the move, declaring that “the matchup” was ill-suited to a run and, as a result, they opted to throw the ball in a hopeful attempt at a touchdown. “If we score, we do” was the Seahawk’s coach’s attitude to the play, confident that in the eventuality of an uncompleted play “then we’ll run it on third and fourth down.” Due to the fast reactions and faster hands of Butler, the Patriots instead intercepted and ensured there own victory.
While the USA remains very much the home of American Football, increased efforts in globalising the sport have resulted in the Superbowl reaching new heights in foreign markets. In the UK particularly, a fanbase has steadily grown, culminating in Super Bowl XLIX reaching the sports highest estimated UK viewership, with Channel 4 declaring figures of 2.5 million (a 4.2% share) as just one of four providers of the game. Similarly, sports research firm Repucom concluded from their Britain-based research that 12.3% of people have an interest in the NFL as of 2015, an exponential rise from the 8.1% recorded in 2011 equivalent to an additional 1.86 million fans.
As the off-season approaches the NFL finds itself well placed for future accomplishments. Reaching a more diverse and globalised set of fans than ever before, putting “deflategate” behind it and ensuring the legacy of a true great, Super Bowl XLIX has brought the sport continued success.
How might the NFL continue to build their global brand?