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The eminently punchable quarterback of the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, had just orchestrated the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history — leading his team to 25 unanswered points, sending the game into overtime at 28-28. His team’s victory in overtime seemed inevitable after the toss of the coin; NFL overtime rules are needlessly complicated, completely arbitrary, and absurdly unfair. With a touchdown the Patriots would end the game and the Falcons wouldn’t even touch the ball. Of course, the Patriots scored a touchdown, and after a hilariously awkward handshake between Tom Brady and the commissioner who had suspended him for the first four games, the Patriots were crowned SB champions, their prodigal son awarded the game’s MVP.
For Falcons fans this was a particularly painful loss. They were the firm underdogs who had raced to a seemingly unassailable lead. Fans had reason to hope, and hope always makes the loss harder. But unlike maybe any SB before it, this game seemed to be about more than just football.
Neutral observers were rooting for the Falcons not just because of their underdog status. Two months prior the US elected Donald Trump, and during Trump’s campaign Brady had left a Make America Great Again (MAGA) cap in his locker for all the reporters’ cameras to see. The Patriots’ SB victory was salt on the election wound. A metaphor for the white establishment’s inevitable victory.
Of course, the retort is that I am making something out of nothing; that the game was played outside of the bubble of politics. It’s a lazy, and now typical, silencing tactic post-election for people to tell sports writers to “stick to sports,” and there may in fact be little to say about Brady and his MAGA cap. But there is no way to ignore the relationship, or the symbolic significance of the game in the current political climate, and I believe I would be a worse fan for doing so.