The play featured an undrafted rookie who hadn’t caught a touchdown pass since his high school days in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and a punter from Canada who’d never thrown a touchdown. Of course Carroll had to call it.
With less than five minutes left in the third quarter and everything going wrong for the Seahawks’ offense, Steven Hauschka lined up for a field goal attempt. Seattle had to get something going; the Seahawks trailed 16-0 and were on the verge of getting run out of their own stadium. Ryan, the holder, pulled the ball out, ran left, and lofted a 19-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Garry Gilliam.
The fake field goal ignited the Seahawks, who finally found their groove, scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and beating the Packers 28-22 in overtime.
Seattle had mustered up just 120 yards of offense before the trick play, and Russell Wilson was sacked and harassed and looked a shell of his usual self. He threw four interceptions for the day.
But Wilson prevailed, and more than an hour after the game, he walked over to Ryan and softly said, “Love you,” before heading to the podium for his postgame interview. Wilson knew how important that fake field goal was for the Seahawks, who advanced to their second straight Super Bowl with the help of an onside kick and the third-quarter trickery.
“We have quite a brotherhood here,” Ryan said. “When guys are down like some of us were earlier in the game, other guys pick them up and bring them along. That speaks volumes to what kind of a close-knit team we have.”
The Seahawks put the play into their game plan after studying video and seeing how the Packers rushed hard off the edge on field goal attempts. Ryan was initially supposed to run for the first down, but when A.J. Hawk approached, he was able to find Gilliam open in the end zone.
The throw seemed to hang in the air forever. Gilliam said the ball seemingly spun in slow motion. Ryan’s younger brother Steve, who was watching in a seat somewhere near the nosebleed section, initially panicked when the play unfolded. He thought it was a botched snap.
Maybe it was because many people don’t know what the punter looks like, but Steve Ryan, who was sitting at his brother’s locker after the game, had a throng of reporters around him after the game. Hauschka took a picture of the spectacle with his phone. The younger Ryan said his brother has been preparing for this moment since he was 7 years old, kicking a ball in the streets of their hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan. Jon Ryan also played goaltender on his hockey team as a kid, so he’s used to pressure.
It’s safe to say neither Ryan nor Gilliam had ever been in a situation as big as this. Gilliam is a right tackle who played tight end at Penn State before moving to the offensive line his senior season. He said he was happy to score a touchdown “for the fat guys.” He knew the play got the crowd back into the game. After he scored the touchdown, Carroll found him on the sideline.
“I told you I was going to call it,” Carroll said to Gilliam.
Ryan was swallowed up in a wave of high-fives and hugs.
“It was a moment I won’t forget,” he said, “even though I don’t remember it all right now.”