Brady handed place in history as Butler shuts door on Seahawks
Tom Brady was leaping up and down on the sideline like an excitable eight-year-old schoolboy. He was digesting the reality that not only had he just won his fourth Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, elevating him to the company of his idol Joe Montana, but that it had come courtesy of one of the most boneheaded opposition play calls that he or anybody else had ever witnessed.
With 24 seconds remaining, this was Seattle Seahawks' title to lose.
True, they trailed by four points, but the quarterback Russell Wilson had three chances from only one yard out to help his men bulldoze into the end zone for the winning score. So, what he does he do? Hand off to Marshawn Lynch, the most lethal running-back in the game, the gold-cleated wrecking ball who would probably run clean through the Hoover Dam if you asked him to?
No, Darrell Bevell, Seattle's offensive coordinator - a man paid handsomely for his strategic genius - deemed it a stellar idea to instruct Wilson to throw the ball instead to Ricardo Lockette, who, sure enough, was flattened by the Patriots' Malcolm Butler for a brilliant interception.
It would be fair to say of Butler that he was not the player many envisaged as most likely to deliver Brady's historic quadruple.
This shy cornerback was an undrafted rookie prior to this season, only included on New England's 90-man roster out of curiosity by head coach Bill Belichick. Four years ago, he was still working at a fast-food restaurant in Alabama.
While the superstar Brady seized his third Super Bowl most-valuable-player award, Butler was by some distance the cult hero of an extraordinary night.
Even when he returned to the madness of the New England locker room, he looked bewildered at the fact that he had just cemented a Patriots dynasty, with a stroke of wonderfully reflexive inspiration that brought a fourth Super Bowl to Foxborough in 14 years.
At that point, Robert Kraft, the franchise's diminutive billionaire owner, walked through the door to ask that they pose together for a picture with the Vince Lombardi Trophy. "I'm so glad you're on our team," he told Butler, now more sheepish than ever.
Nobody expected New England to win like this. But then nobody quite believed that the veteran Brady still had it in him, at 37, to galvanise the largest fourth-quarter comeback in Super Bowl history.
One statistic that passed all but unnoticed amid Brady's blizzard of records was that he passed Montana's mark for the most touchdown passes on the sport's greatest stage, with 13. "If you fight to the end, great things happen," he said, with that trademark bashful smile. "We were down by 10 in the fourth quarter, but we never gave up. It never broke our will."
Brady had been waiting a decade for this glorious coronation. That it should have come in Arizona, scene of the Patriots' gut-wrenching loss to arch-rivals the New York Giants in 2008, was doubly gratifying. The quarterback was a mere 27 when he won his third Super Bowl ring, and yet none of them - not even the emotionally charged triumph of 2002, with the country still in profound trauma over 9/11 - was as cherished as this.
The indomitable Brady had taken on his detractors, never more numerous than when the Patriots collapsed to a 41-14 defeat to Kansas City in the fourth week of the regular season, and spectacularly prevailed.
The question now is how much longer he can continue. He is already the third oldest Super Bowl-winning quarterback, after John Elway and Johnny Unitas, and his body is held together through what he admits are unconventional therapy techniques. But he offered little hint of wishing to step aside.
His gilded existence - married to supermodel Gisele Bundchen, with properties that include a Malibu mansion and a Manhattan penthouse on Madison Avenue - will continue to remain secondary to the pleasures of his football.
"I love doing it, so I don't want it to end any time soon," he said. "A lot of the decisions that I make in my life are about how to sustain it, and that takes a commitment in itself."
Belichick, Brady's inscrutable mentor, must take some of the plaudits in ensuring such longevity. His attention to detail is forensic, and his success in moulding different offensive systems around his main man has been astonishing. In the fanfare around Brady, it ought not be forgotten that the understated Belichick has himself just joined Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers as only the second coach to claim four Super Bowls.
The festering controversy over 'Deflate-gate', where Belichick and Brady are accused of knowingly using under-inflated balls in New England's conference championship game, must be deferred to another day.
For the verdicts offered last night upon Brady's place in the sport were absolute. Julian Edelman, the Patriots wide receiver who, like Brady, spent part of his formative years in the small Californian town of San Mateo, said simply: "Tom's the greatest." (© Daily Telegraph, London)