It’s about three AM and there are three minutes and 56 seconds remaining. A game that half way through the third quarter had been 28-3 was now 28-20. The Patriots, powered by sheer will, had clawed their way back to within eight points only to see Matt Ryan drive the Falcons down the field. It’s first and ten on the Patriots 22 yard line. We are stood on the footrests of our bar stools, each play pulling us further out of our seats. This is it, this will finally put the Patriots away. A mainly partisan crowd thinking how good victory will taste. Instead, although we didn’t realise it at the time, this is where the Falcons lost the Super Bowl.
Sunday Night and Monday Morning: Watching the Super Bowl in the UK
Years ago, watching the Super Bowl live in the UK was a cult affair. First of all, you had to find somewhere showing it, then remember to book vacation for the next day, then explain to your boss what it is you were doing staying up until 4am Monday morning. It’s the Super Bowl, you know? American Football?
The game’s increased popularity means all of this is less of a problem, although booking a day off work the next day is still the smart move. Time difference being what it is, the game kicks off at 11.30pm here. The ritual is yearly. Meet up about 10pm, passing the bars and restaurants beginning to close for the night towards one of the now many places staying open to show the game. Our choice – Bodeans American Diner in Soho, London.
First and Ten, NE 22, 4:40 Remaining
The Falcons had run it well all game up to this point, particularly on sweep plays. But the Patriots defense saw this play a mile off, getting into the backfield to disrupt it. McCourty makes the tackle for a one yard loss.
Bodeans is a suitable venue to watch the game in. A fat neon pig hung in the window, the smell of smoking ribs, buckets of Budweiser to greet early arrivals. Sam Adams and Lagunita IPA on tap to prove the Americans do great beer as well as anyone.
The crowd is undoubtably the Patriots vs Everyone Else, and Everyone Else is well represented. Eli Manning jossles next to Patrick Willis, Russell Wilson sits politely next to Ryan Tannehill, Ken Stabler drinking IPA opposite Colin Kaepernick. The NFL is a broad church in the UK, the congregation brought together by a shared desire to watch the Patriots lose.
Second and 11, NE 23, 3:56 Remaining
Our whole table expects a run. The Falcons offense have had no answer to the Patriots in the second half. When they recovered the attempted onside kick, they actually went backwards. But here they are inside field goal range. Don’t risk it. Run the ball. What? What are you doing? Run the ball! Instead Ryan drops back and Trey Flowers blows through Alex Mack. Ryan simply isn’t mobile enough to get out of the way. A sack. 12 yard loss. Disbelief. The stomach churn begins, the Patriots are coming back.
The UK suffered for long enough under their own sporting dynasty, in soccer. From 1992 to 2003, Manchester United won eight of a possible 11 premier league titles. This helped develop a large fan base who had never even been to Manchester, much less seen their team play. The British also have a strange natural desire to support an underdog. Give us something against the odds and we’ll rally our support around it. All this meant that in the 1990s, you supported one of two clubs – Manchester United or the team playing them.
So we recognize a dynastic empire when we see one, which means every person there who wasn’t a Patriots fan was a Falcons fan. We whooped and hollered every Atlanta score. We cheered and screamed during Alford’s pick six as if we had been born in the Georgia dome itself. The underdog, the unfavored, the plucky upstart was winning and we were delighted. Even when the Patriots finally scored they missed the extra point. Everything was going right. Of course, that all changed in the forth quarter.
Third and 23, NE 35, 3:50 Remaining
Suddenly the field goal is over 50 yards. Doable, but significantly harder. Still, we cry out for the run. The Falcons have one of the best kickers in the league. Run it. Run a draw or whatever. Get 4 or 5 yards and kick the field goal.
The Falcons went with the pass again, finding Sanu for a nine yard gain. Back in field goal range. Except of course it wasn’t. It was a hold by Jake Matthews. Ten yard penalty. 3rd down and 33 yards to go on the New England 45 yard line. Out of field goal range.
The Falcons playcalling was like a corner calling for the knockout blow in the 12th, when their fighter is already out on his feet. All they needed to do was hang on, cling to the opponent and reach the final bell. Kick the field goal. Instead they swung for the knockout punch and missed. The Patriots had gained the advantage on both sides of the ball, but somehow the Falcons had got into a position to restore a two score lead. With 3.30 to play, that’s all they needed. Instead, Ryan threw under pressure out of bounds.
Forth and 33, NE 45, 3:38 Remaining
And the Falcons punt, out of options. The Patriots are surging, and there is the overwhelming sense that of they’ll score, of course they’ll get the two-point conversion, they’re the Patriots for crying out loud! And the Pats fans in the bar have taken over now. Every third down conversion is greeted with ever-louder cheers as they take the space over. We’re drooping ever further into our beers, swearing under our collective breath. How did this happen. And then the Edelman catch.
There is collective disbelief. Like you’ve just seen a magic trick, the best Penn & Teller have ever pulled. No. Way. That is just not possible. The Patriots fans are bouncing up and down between the tables as we watch the instant reply over and again. The trick is revealed and the room is just open-mouthed. The skill. The luck. The overwhelming sense that we may as well all go home, this game belongs to the Pats.
This Game Belongs To The Pats
And of course, it did. The Falcons were powerless. Of course Amendola got the extra half foot he needed to cross the goaline for the two point conversion. Of course the Falcons, having wasted their last time out challenging Edelman’s clear catch, couldn’t move the ball in the 52 seconds remaining to them. Of course the Patriots won the coin toss. Of course Brady was almost perfect when they needed him to be. Of course the Patriots scored. Of course the Patriots won.
At the end of the day, that overwhelming sense of inevitability is a sign of exactly how good this team is. The bar is filled with disbelieving, grudging respect. I can’t believe it happened mixed with of course it was going to happen mixed with why oh why oh why did Shanahan not just run it three times and take the field goal.
A couple of shell-shocked Falcons fans are sat like stone, pats on the back as people file past. Good game, good game. We pick up our coats and pay our bar tab. By the time we leave the bar, it’s past four AM and London is quiet. A confused still silence, as if the city itself is paying its respects to a game that will surely be remembered as one of the best of all time.