At halftime, the New England Patriots down 21-3 in Super Bowl LI, I told the Bostonian sitting next to me, “The biggest comeback in Super Bowl history is 10 points,” and motioned to a tweet on my phone.
He pointed across the field to the scoreboard, where off in the corner was a box labeled “Trivia”. Underneath, it read: “In Tom Brady’s previous six Super Bowl appearances, he has never trailed the game entering the half.”
The Pats fan looked at me and then back to my phone. “That’s because Tommy’s never had to do it.”
Turns out, he was wrong. That 10-point comeback? That was Brady’s doing, two years earlier against the Seahawks. Surely he could come back from 18; they just had to start the second half with a statement.
The Falcons, in the opening drive of the second half, marched down the field and scored again. 28-3. “No way he comes back from this,” I told the fan.
“Just you wait,” he said. “Just. You. Wait.”
Turns out, he was right.
Over the next half-hour that Tom Brady marched up and down the field at will, I was witness to the greatest display of quarterbacking anyone has ever seen. He was flawless in those last quarters, every throw on point, every decision perfect. The Pats’ third quarter included a missed extra point and a botched onside kick, but there was never a sense of panic out of the Patriots—or their fans. There was just a sense of anxious waiting, like that moment the lights dim at a movie theater, and you wonder, “What’s going to come next?” Every fan in the stadium knew something special was one cut away, and they knew it was going to be spectacular.
To me, that’s why Brady’s fifth Super Bowl is also his most impressive. Not because of the individual throws or the size of the comeback, but because it was the culmination of a decade spent rising to the moment. The debate before the game centered around whether a win would cement Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time. The game provided an answer: in the eyes of his peers, he already was. Every man on his team knew they would win, because they’d seen him do it before. Every Falcon knew there was no stopping him. New England didn’t end up hoisting the trophy last night because the Falcons didn’t run the ball or because Atlanta spectacularly choked the game away. They didn’t even win it because of Tom’s arm. No, the Falcons just ran into the idea of Tom Brady last night, an enduring belief that no deficit is too great, no feat too unbelievable for number 12. That is more impactful than any throw or read he could ever make. It’s why that for everybody who follows the Patriots, Tom Brady is Paul Bunyan. He’s Superman. Last night, he lived up to that legend, and when James White punched the ball in to end the game, that fan next to me grabbed me and hugged me, jumping up and down.
“TOMMY!” he screamed. “I told you about him! I told you…”