I know the highlight show is supposed to be dead. But suddenly, I cannot get enough of some high-quality NFL highlights from yesterday. It reminds me of when I would watch the SportsCenters in college on a loop to hear Craig Kilborn deliver a line (between classes of course).
I’ve watched the same plays over and over again. I’ve seen them on websites like ours, clips on social media, and yet, I also wait like a child on Christmas Day to see them on the old-fashioned television. I gathered my kids around to watch again on Sunday Night Football halftime before sending them to bed. I’m up this morning watching and waiting.
I’m talking, of course, of the big Dolphins touchdown to upset the New England Patriots, and the Pittsburgh Steelers missing a game-winning field goal. And I know you may say I shouldn’t revel in such things. Here’s the thing, though. There is a whole generation of fans who have seen nothing but the Steelers or Pats winning. In fact, over a 15-year period, only the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger, the Patriots with Tom Brady, or a Peyton Manning team have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl, other than a lone “Is Joe Flacco elite?” miracle playoff season. Well, Manning is now doing jingles, but the Steelers and Patriots are still here.
And both those games yesterday set up like classic “oh, the games are close, but we know how this game ends” situations. That’s what make the writing reversals so compelling.
I didn’t see the Kenyan Drake touchdown live, as I had gone full screen on the Chiefs-Ravens game to watch how that one ended. Someone in our internal chat–who shall remain nameless–had already declared the Pats winners so I assumed it was over. Then, the chatter began about a Dolphins win on a lateral. But, whoa buddy, that doesn’t even capture it.
It’s a thing of art–granted not nudist art but art nonetheless. You can find new things upon every viewing, just as if you were studying the strokes of an Impressionist master.
You see the initial alignment, the Patriots with no one else up besides the front four, as if they are expecting the deep Hail Mary. You see the completed pass and Jonathan Jones of the Patriots hitting the ground and missing the initial tackle that could have de-railed things. You admire the subtle quickness with which Parker immediately passes it off to Kenyan Drake, who is going full speed, rather than slow things down and waste that opportunity.
Then you see that moment, after Kyle Van Noy attempts a diving tackle on Drake from behind, when things change. J.C. Jackson, #27, does some weird skip maneuver where he seems to be hanging back as Drake drifts past him. Drake slows down to evaluate the situation, contemplating another pitch. And some Patriots defenders forget that the most dangerous person is the one with the ball in their hands. Stefon Gilmore and Trey Flowers have their hips turned and are moving away from Drake, expecting another pitch. Drake, meanwhile, sizes up the situation, sees Rob Gronkowski straight ahead, and the switch goes off. (“Well, if they aren’t going to take me …”)
And throughout this, there’s Ted Larsen of the Dolphins, getting 40 yards downfield ahead of everyone. One of the truly amazing things about this play is that it took only two pitches, required no truly wild, desperate laterals, and really needed only one key block. And there was Larsen hustling his butt to make it on Patrick Chung.
Sometimes you may find yourself questioning whether there is a God, whether there is truly a plan in this world. Then, you see a nice 69-yard play where Rob Gronkowski is in the back, hoisting Bill Belichick on his own strategic petard of having Gronk in to knock down a Hail Mary that was not to come, stumbling and bumbling as he realizes an elite athlete is running right at him. You see Gronk and his body armor flailing at Drake down the sideline.
Everything was setting up for the Patriots. The Chiefs have a tough schedule and as this was getting ready to unfold, were down by 7 with Patrick Mahomes facing a 4th and 9.
Then, hours later, the team that has seemingly been there when the Patriots have not in the AFC, went on the road at the worst team in the conference. They were in a tight one, but came back to take the lead in the 4th quarter. Then, things looked desperate when the Raiders scored on fourth-and-goal with 21 seconds remaining. But the Steelers, in a great bit of thematic writing, broke out their own hook-and-ladder play to seemingly perform another miracle. Juju Smith-Schuster broke around the edge untouched and carried it all the way for a field goal attempt. “Ah, so this is how it is to be done,” you say.
Except, well, that infamous Oakland turf, which will leave us soon enough when they depart for the greener pastures of Las Vegas, jumped up and got Chris Boswell. The kick went straight into the line. These photos capture compelling drama.
I know, you may say that I’m being petty. Hey, I’ve lived as much sports heartbreak as anyone. I’m fully aware of the angst that comes. I’m willing to share in that today. Judging by the traffic numbers, and the fact that there are way more fans who are not Patriots and Steelers fans than are, I am not alone. Now, there’s a sliver of hope that things may work out for someone else for once, a little more hope than there was a day ago.