Let’s say you’re the head coach of a football team down by four points with 40 seconds left in the championship game, but just a half-yard away from the winning touchdown. Your team has the #1 ranked rushing offense in the league, but your passing game is ranked fifth from the bottom. It took nearly twenty-five minutes of game time for your quarterback to make his first completion, but your tailback has 102 yards and is averaging over four yards a carry. With the entire season on the line, what play do you call?
Not this one:
Congratulations, Pete Carroll — you made yourself into a Super Bowl legend with that call, although clearly not the way you intended. Carroll tried explaining the inexplicable:
Ian O’Connor isn’t buying it. He thinks Carroll tried to out-clever Belichick, and ended up with egg on his face:
All Carroll had to do was apply a little common sense to the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX, and no, it wasn’t too much to ask. Carroll had already won it all with the Seattle Seahawks and the USC Trojans. He had earned the unconditional respect of his opponent, Bill Belichick, who knew Carroll as a closer who had inspired Seattle to “compete relentlessly as well as any team and any organization I’ve ever observed.”
Carroll just had to make a decision any Pop Warner coach worth his whistle and drill cones would have made. Lynch was in full you-know-what mode, barreling his way through the New England Patriots and carrying the Seahawks to the league’s first two-peat since Belichick and Tom Brady pulled it off in a different life. Lynch already had 102 rushing yards and a touchdown to his name, and he had just planted Seattle on the Patriots’ 1-yard line. …
Carroll wasn’t only about to prove he could rule a violent game with a sunshiny disposition; he was also about to prove he could take the X’s and O’s game from one of the greats. Seattle snapped the ball and handed it to Lynch for the team’s last rushing play of the night with 1:06 left, and Belichick inexplicably failed to call one of his two remaining timeouts after the 4-yard carry, which allowed the Seahawks to bleed the clock down to 26 seconds before executing the obvious play.
Carroll and his offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, would give the ball to this generation’s answer to Earl Campbell, and Lynch would score the winning touchdown and make the statement he was dying to make to his BFFs in the media: Now you know why I’m here.
But a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a delirious flight back home. It rained on Seattle’s parade. Instead of notarizing his standing as Belichick’s equal, Peter Clay Carroll made the dumbest and most damaging call in Super Bowl history.
Even if you wanted to waste a play here to push the safeties off the line for another Marshawn Lynch run on third down, why throw it inside with a scrape, rather than into the corner for an alley-oop with Chris Matthews? Put the ball where only the receiver can get it — and if it’s incomplete, then run a counter or trap with Lynch, or even a quarterback sneak. Why call a play where Russell Wilson (who was 12-20 at that point, not exactly a hot hand) had to throw it into traffic and thread the needle to find his receiver? Small wonder the Seahawks offense looked confused by the call.
If this isn’t the worst play call in Super Bowl history, it’s difficult to recall one that’s worse. It’s a shame, because the game itself turned out to be excellent — competitive, exciting, and filled with amazing plays. The officials took a light approach and let the athletes play. Even the halftime show wasn’t terrible, although the penultimate set piece looked like the Dance of the Emojis, and the “Firework” finale was notable only for Katy Perry riding an NBC “The More You Know” special effect. The ads were a disappointment for the most part, especially the desire by many advertisers to lecture us on love and home safety. Nationwide Insurance took the most heat, but Coca Cola, McDonald’s, and others simply didn’t commit as much to the bit.
Maybe next year, the ads can stick to selling products and services. And coaches can stick to game plans, too.
Update: Ian O’Connor, not Ian Carroll. All these Irish names … faith and begorrah!