I felt like Mike McDermott at the beginning of “Rounders” when he’s certain he has Teddy KGB trapped in a monster hand.
“I want him to think that I’m pondering a call, but all I’m really thinking about is Vegas and the Mirage.”
When Jermaine Kearse came down with that falling, juggling pass at the 5-yard line (which I thought was great, but not as remarkable as some – I am a Giants fan), it seemed inevitable that Seattle was about to punch the ball into the end zone. It was the 9 of hearts on the turn that gave Mike McD a full house and an apparent lock on the hand.
Then Marshawn Lynch pounds a run to the 1 and the Seahawks have three plays from three feet to repeat as Super Bowl champs. Everything was set up perfectly. While I didn’t want to see Tom Brady and Bill Belichick earn title number four for some noble reasons, like karma and fairness and just being a decent human, I must admit that I had also scattered a few friendly wagers around. All on Seattle. After the Kearse catch, my mind had already moved on to the collection process. I was focused squarely on the Mirage, both figuratively and literally.
So when I saw Russell Wilson in the shotgun formation and then actually starting to bring his arm back to throw (!?!?) the football, I could hear KGB slyly comment “You’re right, I don’t have spades.”
Wilson squeezes the ball into a tight window. Malcolm Butler jumps the route.
“Aces full, Mike.”
It happened just that fast. I was sick to my stomach. I can only imagine what actual Seahawks fans were thinking, feeling, cursing in that split second.
When I was driving home from the Super Bowl party, I thought that it was the single worst play call I’ve ever witnessed in a sporting event, given the circumstances and the personnel. Trying to make a logical case for throwing the ball, especially over the middle, would be like trying to explain what the color red smells like.
So here we are five days later. I thought maybe my emotions would have tempered and I’d take a less harsh stance.
I heard Pete Carroll try to rationalize it afterwards. I heard Belichick try to lessen the criticism levied upon his opponent. But, no. Just, no.
Some have said that had it worked, it would have seemed brilliant. But, no.
I’m sorry, there was no positive way to spin that. Wilson has to take some of the blame for a less than perfect throw, but look at the position he was put in. With 45 seconds left and one timeout when they were about to line up before the fateful INT, Seattle could have handed to Lynch and called timeout if he was stopped short. They can call two plays during the timeout, run the ball again on third down and still have plenty of time – about 30 seconds – to line up for their fourth-down attempt if he was stopped a second time.
And if they were so set on throwing the ball once, then go with the (overused) fade or flare Lynch out in the flat. Those are still pretty dumb, but they’re at least safe. Instead they went with a quick-hitting timing route into the teeth of a desperate defense.
I wasn’t shocked to see Wilson in the shotgun because I assumed, like a functioning human being, that they were running either the read option or a quarterback draw. But as Wilson’s arm began to come forward with the football, even before the interception, I felt like everything I knew about sports must be wrong. The negatives so outweighed the positives. And for that reason, their punishment was sort of deserved.
It’s like in the Madden football video game when you’re up by 28 points in the final minute and try to tack on another score for your stats. A lot of the time, the game punishes you. Your running back may break his collarbone or your quarterback gets a herniated disk. Know what? You deserved it. In this case, the punishment was that they merely lost the Super Bowl.
Five days later and I still haven’t come up with a worse decision in such a critical game. Mike McD says that it wasn’t bad luck, that he got outplayed when KGB took everything from him. It wasn’t bad luck that Seattle lost, but they essentially moved all in and then threw away the winning hand. I’m not over it yet and I’m sure Seahawks fans will remember this bad beat for the rest of their lives.
And yes, the New England Patriots are Teddy KGB, a brutal, aloof Russian mafioso in this long-winded metaphor. And yes, I’m totally fine with that.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.