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In one of those emotionally exhausting, once-in-a-generation, where-were-you-when-it-you-saw-it games that will assuredly be the subject of its own breathless 30 for 30 by Labor Day, the New Orleans Saints beat the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday, 40-34. After two weeks of hearing pundits relentlessly warble about the matchup between 12-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees and second-year quarterbacking wunderkind (and reigning MVP) Patrick Mahomes, more than a few fans nervously wondered whether the final product could ever live up to the relentless hype. Today, it can be said unequivocally: This Super Bowl did not suck.
After a quiet first half for two offenses as prolific as these, both teams roared to life in the second, combining for four touchdowns over the final twelve minutes of regulation. Mahomes was unbelievable down the stretch, dazzling the Mercedes-Benz Dome crowd with scrappy broken-play heroics and no-look laser beams, none better than the jaw-dropping, how-the-hell-did-he-do-that 87-yard touchdown pass—70 yards in the air!—that he uncorked to open the fourth quarter. Poor Tony Romo, who by then had lost his voice for good as both teams delivered dream play after dream play, could manage only a hoarse wheeze of pure glee. “Legendary Super Bowl,” he croaked. “So blessed.”
But there was still time on the clock, and both these teams—neither of which, it must be said, are helmed by a trio of vapid MAGA drones—had more up their proverbial sleeves. Brees, ever unflappable, surgically dissected the Chiefs defense all night, which nobody minded because defense in the Super Bowl is boring. His 46-yard touchdown to Michael Thomas in the third quarter, on a perfectly-executed stop-and-go that transformed one Chiefs cornerback into a living meme, was vintage Brees—the sort of ho-hum brilliance that inspires bad takes from sportswriters about Brees being underrated when literally no one thinks this.
But Brees’ best play of the game? The throw he lofted to Alvin Kamara for the go-ahead score, a result of the do-everything back streaking up the sideline on a wheel route as the ball dropped down into the sliver of airspace between the corner and safety, as if gently placed there by God Himself. It’s a Brees-ian highlight that will appear in NFL Films montages for decades to come; YouTube it now, and find some measure of comfort in knowing that your commitment to watching a flawed league managed by sinister shadow figures at least offered a moment of pure joy and awe in exchange, which is exactly the point of the Super Bowl.
Mahomes, of course, did not find comfort in any of this; instead, he strode on to the field with 1:26 remaining, the ball on his own 14, and no evidence of first-time nerves in his megawatt smile despite facing a three-point deficit. Spencer Ware plowed through the line for 24 yards, then took a screen pass 18 more—but couldn’t get out of bounds. With no timeouts left and the clock ticking, Mahomes found himself scrambling to his right, the offensive line disintegrating before his (and our) eyes.
A glimpse of Travis Kelce running free on the opposite side of the field, however, was all he needed, and he fired a missile off his back foot as two Saints linebackers converged a split-second too late. What happened next became instantaneous Super Bowl lore: Who among the living could ever forget the sight of the All-Pro tight end galloping upfield, three Saints on his back, each of them punching wildly at the ball in the hope of separating it from their beefy steed? A quick spike and a Harrison Butker field goal as time expired knotted the game at 31.
BUT THEN. All these heroics turned out to be merely a prelude, like when you see an amazing fireworks finale and begin clapping, but then it starts up again, bigger and louder and with even more precise route-running than before. Both the Chiefs and Saints managed field goals on their opening possessions, sending the contest into the first sudden-death overtime in Super Bowl history. And as has been true during each of Brees' 18 magnificent seasons, he showed up, marching his team down to the Chiefs' two-yard line with 23 seconds to go. On third and goal, Brees cemented his legacy by finishing off the game himself, leaping over the pile and into the end zone, where he was mobbed by jubilant teammates celebrating—at last!—the franchise's second championship. Also, the refs made all the right calls and none of the wrong ones, eliminating the tedious post-game yeah-but take industry altogether.
The final score, though, was perhaps less important than what the game signaled for a once-compelling league that had grown stale and predictable of late. Its 32 franchises combined to shatter offensive production records in 2018, stuffing box scores and producing seemingly-endless touchdown montages at the conclusion of each week. Super Bowl LIII, then, served as a fitting final act to a season which, for many dispirited fans, reminded them why they loved football so much in the first place.
Brees politely demurred when asked about retirement, pledging only to talk about it with his family once the Super Bowl MVP's customary trip to Disneyland is over. Should he elect to bow out, it is clear after last night that in the capable hands of players like Mahomes—who appears poised to dominate the sport for the foreseeable future—the NFL's best days are, somehow, still ahead of it.
Also, the Migos-Springsteen halftime show ruled.