III Years Makes It a Tradition

Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler (21), a little-known, little-thought-of player, makes the biggest play of the NFL season. I have some thoughts about how he did it.

Confession time: I hate Super Bowl Parties.

When it comes time to watch the biggest football game of the year, I want to WATCH the game. I do not want to be in a room with people who “are just here for the commercials.” I do not want to be in a room with people who are “most excited for the halftime show.” I want to see and hear the game. I want to watch the replays. I want to debate the strategy.

You see, I have a bit of a Super Bowl obsession, groomed through hundreds of hours of watching John Facenda-narrated Super Bowl highlights films on ESPN. I haven’t missed the game since the first one I watched: XIII, when I was VI six years old. I have memorized the matchup, winner, MVP, and location of each of the 49 Super Bowls. (Gee, does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe that apple didn’t fall so far from the tree.) Yesterday, I amazed Riley by successfully recalling 21 of the 22 starters for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, my favorite team, in their lone Super Bowl appearance (XXXVII, in Jan., 2003).

I was lucky enough to attend that game, and while I was gone, Veronica shot a video of Ryan, then a little more than two years old, and Riley (eight months) playing together and laughing. It was the first time they ever played together. Ryan was diagnosed a few months earlier and that was a difficult time. When I returned from my wildcat trip to the West Coast, Veronica told me she had something to show me and put on the video. That laughter! It rolled out of Ryan in delicious waves. I will never forget the sound of his laughter on that video.

Super Bowls came and went, with no interest from Ryan. Even after he became a dedicated hockey fan, he had no interest in the Super Bowl. I continued my obsession, watching the game annually at home with Veronica while the kids went about their business. Riley began to show interest a few years later. I remember Veronica waking her up, at her request, to watch the end of Super Bowl XLII, where the Giants prevented the Patriots from finishing a perfect 19-0 season.

It would be 10 years after my trip to the Super Bowl before Ryan showed any interest. That was the year he picked a favorite team (the Jets) and we went to a couple of games. He knew all his peers were talking about the Super Bowl that year (XLVII, between Baltimore and San Francisco) and was determined to watch. He made it until halftime, an achievement I celebrated.

Then last year, we watched as a family, from start to finish. Ryan hung in there despite the game being a dull blowout.

Which brings us to yesterday. When I asked Ryan if he was going to watch with us, he was incredulous.

“DUH, OF COURSE I’M GOING TO WATCH. IT’S THE SUPER BOWL!”

He rooted for the Seahawks. I asked why.

“DUH, I CAN’T ROOT FOR THE DEFLATE-RIOTS!!!”

Pretty clever, kid.

And so we watched. Ryan and I on one couch. Riley and Veronica on the other.

Every snap.

Every commercial.

OK, he skipped the halftime show to take a shower. And because he doesn’t care for Katy Perry.

But other than that, we were together for almost four hours on that couch. We experienced the ridiculous, surreal ending together. We screamed in astonishment at the turn of events that had the Seahawks look like they had lost, won, then lost again in the space of about five plays.

A complete aside, but one that I think is fitting in this space: The whole world is aflutter today with talk of the Seahawks’ decision to throw the ball on the half-yard line, leading to the game-clinching interception by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler. Many are calling it the worst play call in the history of the Super Bowl, if not the NFL.

I saw the play differently. I saw a remarkable individual defensive play by Butler. He read the play and reacted instinctively. He beat the Seattle receiver to the spot, stole the ball, and clinched a Super Bowl win. How did Butler, a rookie free-agent who wasn’t drafted by any of the NFL’s 32 teams in any of the seven rounds of the most recent NFL draft, make such a play?

Teammate and all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis knows how he did it.

“He must have been on his studies,” Revis said after the game, while admitting he, like the rest of the world, expected Seattle to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch.

In other words, Butler — a guy who was a little too small, a little too slow, and from a college program (West Alabama) with zero pedigree — made the biggest play in the biggest moment in the biggest game of the year because he studied. He recognized a pattern, in the formation, and the way the receiver broke towards the end zone, and reacted.

Not that Ryan is ever going to play in the Super Bowl or the Stanley Cup Final, but I have told him many times there lots of ways to make oneself into a valuable contributor on a team. If you’re not as athletic or as talented, you have to be better prepared. And then I watch him go out in the freezing cold and stick-handle for an hour. When he was a peewee, I watched him go to the net instinctively and score five times, simply by translating the thousands of hours of hockey he’s watched into a knowledge of where to be and when.

Yesterday’s game was terrific. It was amazing. It was everything I imagined watching the Super Bowl with my family would be.

And we’ve done it III years in a row now. I think that officially makes it a tradition.

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