Perception Is Everything

Original publishing date: February 2, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX will go down as one of the greatest games not just in Super Bowl history, but in NFL history. That game had everything, from miraculous plays to major coaching decisions to just the mood of the game. It was amazing, a game that will be hard to ever match. In reaction to the game, however, people’s viewpoints are entirely skewed. The difference between just a couple of plays can change the perception of one person from an over the hill star to the greatest of all time. It can change one man from a genius to a goat. Perception is everything, and that is not a fair way to approach this game.

First, I must start out by saying that my prediction was wrong. I was convinced that Seattle was going to win and that they were going to be fairly dominant, or at least they would control the game. It looked for a while like I would be right, but alas, not so much. Just like it did for MacBeth, over-confidence leads to a downfall. I was wrong, Seattle lost, New England won.

In the wake of this year’s Super Bowl, there is widespread conversation about Tom Brady being the best quarterback of all time, many people and pundits not even leaving room for the debate. They are speaking as if there is no chance that anyone could have been better. They’re speaking as if Brady wasn’t one play call, 6 inches, 30 seconds, etc. away from being the guy who couldn’t get it done again. Patriots win, Brady is a four time champion. Patriots lose, Brady leads his team to three Super Bowl losses and the questions arise about him being overrated, not being able to get it done, etc. How can so little change so much?

There were approximately 30 seconds left in the game when Russell Wilson was intercepted at the goal line, effectively sealing a New England Patriots victory. It was second down, the Seahawks still had one timeout left. If Seattle runs the ball from the one, they are likely going to get in the endzone in three tries, considering their running back is a freak. He is a strong, bruising runner who has made a career of running guys over and pulling them up field. You can’t rely on the “What If?” game, and as we have clearly seen, anything can happen, but odds are Marshawn Lynch gets into the endzone on one of those three tries. The odds are Seattle scores if Lynch gets the ball on the goal line. Instead, New England takes the ball away and wins.

Russell Wilson played decently on Super Sunday. He made a throw in the endzone that got intercepted. He threw the ball just a bit too high and a bit too far outside and it cost them. Could Ricardo Lockette have fought for the ball more? Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel sure thinks so. He doesn’t have to if Wilson brings that ball down a bit, or throws to the backside of Lockette instead. In that situation, you have to make a throw to a spot where only the receiver will have a shot at making a catch. Wilson did not make a good throw and in the end, New England ended up with the ball.

I’m not trying to say every single throw should be perfect. It won’t be and that’s alright. I’m not trying to say every play call should be perfect and leave no room open for criticism. Not at all. My point is that these small but powerful decisions can make all the difference in perception. Now Tom Brady is apparently the best quarterback ever. I know that you can’t point to one play as the difference in a game (Seattle isn’t even in the redzone without one of the luckiest catches in Super Bowl history, by Jermaine Kearse), but there are so many little things that can completely change how a player is perceived, things that are out of their control.

Just imagine what people would be saying about Brady had New England lost again. Is he overrated? Can he not win the big one? Does defense carry him? Instead, a few things go his way and he’s the best ever. He is undeniably one of the best ever, but to immediately jump to the conclusion that he’s the greatest is a blatant demonstration of recency bias and allowing a few plays to determine a legacy.

Jim Kelly should be considered one of the best quarterbacks ever. From the legendary 1983 NFL Draft, filled with multiple Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Kelly had a fantastic career with the Buffalo Bills, leading them to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 90’s. The Bills didn’t win any of them. How often do you hear Jim Kelly in the discussion of the greatest quarterbacks ever? Almost never. Not even in the discussion of the top ten ever. Imagine what his legacy would be like if he had even won one of those game. If Scott Norwood doesn’t shove a kick at the end of Super Bowl XXV, the entire discussion, and Jim Kelly’s legacy, are completely changed. Why does he not get the credit and respect he deserves just because of events somewhat out of his control? Why is he not perceived as one of the greatest?

Tom Brady is one of the greatest players in NFL history, that cannot be argued. I have my own personal feelings about him, but he’s a great player. If the Patriots lose to Seattle, he’s not being crowned the greatest ever with no contest. Perception is everything. The Patriots losing results in plenty of smack talk about Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the organization, about how they can’t win under the bright lights, etc. etc. Instead, New England won and Tom Brady is the undisputed GOAT. Fair or unfair, perception is everything, and now thanks to a few breaks that went his way, Brady is the best ever. Such is like in professional sports.


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