In 2008, in Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots 17–14, in what is widely regarded as one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports.
The Patriots entered the game as 12-point favorites after becoming the first team to complete a perfect regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and the only one to do it since the league expanded to a 16-game regular season schedule in 1978. One more win to cement themselves in sports – and cultural – immortality. With 59 seconds left in the game, and his team down by four, David Tyree hauled in the now legendary “helmet catch” at the Patriots 24-yard line. 24 seconds later, the Giants scored a touchdown and won the Super Bowl.
Fast forward nine years later (9 years and 2 days to be exact), and the Patriots are on the other side of history. Furiously mounting a comeback from 25 points down against the talented Atlanta Falcons, they are within striking distance of pulling off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Adding to the drama, with a win, Patriots QB Tom Brady will be cemented as the greatest quarterback in NFL history with a record 5th Championship. With just over two minutes left, Julian Edelman collides with three Falcons players at the their 41-yard line, somehow managing to catch a batted ball – inches from the ground – that had no business being caught. 90 seconds later, the Patriots scored a touchdown, converted a 2-pt conversion, and were on their way to the most epic comeback in the history of winner-take-all Championship games.
This is why sports are so awesome.
And it’s why I always turn to sports for lessons in everyday life. Winning and losing is measured in seconds and inches. Passion and belief must persevere through the most daunting of circumstances. Years of work, for a single shot at success. No one sees the thousands of hours of practice and countless rituals of sacrifice that go into the chasing, building and reaching of that dream. No one understands how many times you’ve pictured that setting and imagined that scenario. No one knows the details and no one cares about the detours. All that matters is the moment.
And all the while, most of the world is against you. Thousands – millions – seated safely on a superficially-sliding scale of indifference and opposition, while never even once stepping between the lines. For some reason, the chorus of boos and the hoarseness of hate are always easier to hear. Listening to that noise is the quickest path to mediocrity. Learning to tune it out is the making of a champion. A warrior with a full heart and focused mind, wrapped in graciously-thick skin.
There’s a few who do understand. Those who’ve been there before appreciate both the toll, and the triumph. People who’ve competed know that losing hurts, but the sting doesn’t stay as long if you’ve left it all on the field.
The singe of your regret is directly correlated with the size of your effort.
And, those fighting with you – your teammates, your family – they are the ones you’re doing it for, because they have felt the piercing power of every high-high and every low-blow, and they are STILL there… punching with you.
Sports teaches us all that. And it does it with unrivaled emotion and unbridled intensity. It does it without judgement, without discrimination, and without playing favorites. How bad you want it, and how much you’re willing to work for it becomes the ultimate equalizer… It reminds us to never give up, no matter the odds or the score. And it reminds us that – whether you call it luck, fate or divine intervention – in order to succeed, something bigger than us has to be on our side.
And, as a couple crazy catches timed 9 years apart showed us, sports reminds us that everything comes full circle when you’re following your passion.