Luck or skill? Dissecting Super Bowl LI
Super Bowl LI was one for the ages. The New England Patriots completed the biggest comeback ever, defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime in Super Bowl history. But as the adrenaline high from digesting the unbelievable result has worn off and the recaps and breakdowns have been consumed, I've started to wonder what, exactly, we witnessed on Sunday.
Was it a triumphant comeback or an epic choke job? In the end, the legacy of every coach and player on that field was decided by a coin toss and a goal-line stretch. Were the Patriots really better than the Falcons, or just luckier?
Friday before the Super Bowl, Will Leitch wrote a piece for The New York Times entitled "In Defense of the Blowout." He argued that while we may all believe we want a close game, the better result is a rout, because it lets us know, with certainty, which team deserves to be remembered as champions. "Life is confusing and uncertain," Leitch wrote. "The blowout gives us something definitive. The blowout gives us an answer."
"In the case of a blowout," he continued, "a great team is no longer being judged against its peers, for a great team has no peers. It is being judged against history."
As a Chicago Bears fan who hasn't had much to cheer for lately, (they've made just one [losing] Super Bowl appearance in the last three decades), it's nice to look back at the 1985 Bears team and gloat about their dominance. Their 46-10 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots was never in doubt -- and neither was their might. But I was too young to watch the game back then, so all I've got are the tales of their unambiguous greatness.
In the moment, I could never imagine hoping for a game without suspense. Forget legacies and clear-cut narratives, give me a tight game with a crazy finish. Or at least that's what I thought before Sunday's game. But after a day or two listening to talking heads break down whether the Falcons blew it or the Patriots won it, I'm not so sure.
The win adds to the legacy of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and this Patriots dynasty, while the Falcons become a footnote, the team on the other side of the box score. If Atlanta hadn't been so great, hadn't dominated the game for so long, that result might feel OK. But as close as it was, coming down to the luck of a flip and the reach of a run, it's hard to know for sure if the better team won.