I stopped checking Twitter with about four minutes to go in regulation—right around the time Matt Ryan got dropped for a 13-yard loss and every single Tweet in my feed became some variation of “the Falcons should’ve campaigned harder in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.” In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, which coincided with the first two weeks of the Trumpocracy, every pundit had been trying to politicize this game. There were the press conference questions for Brady and Belichick about their friendship with the President. There was the speculation about what sort of protest statement Lady Gaga would make with her halftime performance. There was the debate over Budweiser’s pro-immigrant commercial.
But for the first three quarters of the game, our political situation was nowhere to be found. Atlanta was giving New England a thorough ass-kicking. Gaga didn’t rip up a photo of Trump a la SNL Sinéad (although, as fellow columnsist Hanna Sophy Ziss points out, she found less confrontational ways to make a statement). And besides Bud and Airbnb and Lumber 84, the commercials were as unprovocative and lame as ever. (Bieber as the Six Flags guy?) In fact, the only political allegory you could make was just how well-oiled and precise and professional the whole thing was—unlike the new administration so far.
Then the Patriots started coming back, and Twitter started up with the election night déjà vu jokes. And I just had to set my phone to the side. Because whatever might happen in those last four minutes, and in overtime if the game got there, had nothing to do with politics. It was much-needed break from politics—maybe the only break we’d get for a while—and I wanted to savor it. I wanted to appreciate this game and also reflect on what an incredible year it had been for sports. Maybe the greatest year ever. The Cavs coming back from three games to one in the NBA Finals to beat a historic Warriors team and earn Cleveland its first championship in 52 years. The Cubs coming back from three games to one against the Indians to win their first World Series in 108 years. Phelps and Biles and Bolt at the Rio Olympics. Hell, the World Chess Championship going into sudden death. To anybody who’d been watching sports this last year, the fact that the Pats would overcome a 25-point deficit was pretty much a foregone conclusion—especially considering Brady’s suspension earlier in the season at the hands of Roger Goodell and the prospect of Goodell then having to hand Brady the Lombardi Trophy. I mean, the narrative was just too perfect.
The sports gods, in their infinite wisdom, graced us with one more epic entertainment before returning us to our regularly scheduled programming, our indefinite reality of protests and boycotts and legal battles. Last night’s game was proof that while sports can and sure-as-shit should be political at times—from the perseverance of Jackie Robinson, to the raised fists of Tommie Smith and John Carlos, to the hoodies and T-shirts worn by NBA stars in tribute to Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner—its greatest power lies in its its ability to allow us to forget for even just a little while how fucked up the world can be—or if not forget, then at least remind us that at the same time existence can be beautiful and heroic and inspiring.
It was also proof that when you’re in range of a field goal to ice the game, you run the ball instead of calling a pass play and risking a sack.