We should be reveling and savoring as a football nation today, eagerly awaiting the Two Old G.O.A.T.s Bowl -- Tom Brady, 41, vs. Drew Brees, 40, in the Super Bowl. Literally, a game for the ages.
Instead we get this: A Super Sham. A Super Fraud.
We get half of a legitimate Super Bowl, meaning one cloaked in infamy, one forever requiring an asterisk.
The New England Patriots earned their way into yet another SB on Sunday. The Los Angeles Rams lucked their way in. The New Orleans Saints got robbed as egregiously as any sports team has ever been cheated out of what it deserved. And the befuddling NFL -- King Sport despite itself -- begins the buildup to its 53rd Super Bowl embarrassed, and trying to explain how it could [bleep] up so badly.
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“I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass-interference call,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
Even Rams fans and folks with money riding with L.A. couldn’t deny it. I’ve been covering football since helmets were turtle shells and have never seen a bigger call more inexcusably missed than when Rams cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman plowed into Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis waaay before the ball arrived.
The sports idiom “We wuz robbed!” is usually attributed to fight manager Joe Jacobs, who exclaimed it on June 21, 1932 after his guy, Max Schmeling, indisputably had out-boxed Jack Sharkey only to see the heavyweight title handed to Sharkey.
Google the phrase from this point forward and what should turn up first is Roby-Coleman mugging Lewis without a single flag flying. He was not playing the ball. It was pass interference. It also was an illegal helmet-to-helmet. Nothing was called. The entire officiating crew was deaf, dumb and blind.
More than the Saints “wuz robbed.” So were we, as fans. Robbed of an epic Brady-Brees championship final.
The proper call would have given New Orleans first-and-goal at the five with 1:43 left in regulation. L.A. would have to have used its final timeout. The Saints could have run out the clock and kicked a chip-shot of a last-second winning field goal.
Instead the Saints had to kick a field goal with enough time to allow the Rams to do the same and send it into overtime, and en eventual 26-23 Rams win. Credit L.A. for finishing, but they only got the chance because of The Call That Never Came.
Head referee Bill Vinovich and his entire crew should be suspended, but only because public tarring and feathering is now frowned upon.
And good needs to come of this. The NFL must immediately make all calls reviewable, not just scoring plays or turnovers inside of two minutes. If humans in striped shirts can’t get it right, the safety net of technology must be utilized. Late in a game of this magnitude, a blatantly missed call that is game-changing -- such as the world saw last night -- simply cannot happen.
Rams-Patriots is what we get, though, and so here’s a quick Top 10 Storylines from a Miami perspective:
1. New England, again -- The Ming Dynasty didn’t last as long as Bill Belichick and Brady’s reign over the Dolphins and the AFC East. Sunday might have delivered a symbolic ending of sorts; instead it was Brady doing what G.O.A.T.s do in leading that 37-31 win over the Chiefs and phenom Patrick Mahomes.
2. Brian Flores -- The Pats’ linebackers a coach and defensive playcaller will be the Dolphins’ new head coach after New England’s season is done, which will happen Feb. 3 in Atlanta.
3. Rams lesson of hope -- This franchise had missed the playoffs 12 straight season and was 4-12 just two years ago but is playing for a championship in only its second season under Sean McVay. It gives hope to teams like the Dolphins but also puts the pressure on. Worst-to-first turnarounds do happen in the NFL, and heer’s the latest proof.
4. Ndamukong Suh -- The former Dolphins defensive tackle starts at nose tackle for the Rams, overshadowed by likely Defensive Player of the Year teammate Aaron Donald but still a force who helped L.A. get here.
5. Shula back in Super Bowl! -- It’s Chris Shula, 32, the Rams’ assistant linebackers coach in his second season. He is the son of David Shula, former Bengals coach, and the grandson of Don Shula, a former Dolphins coach of some renown.
6. Pats’ All-Broward backfield -- New England leading rusher Sony Michel played high-school ball at American Heritage in Plantation, and No.2 rusher James White is Fort Lauderdale-born and played at St. Thomas Aquinas. White is an even bigger receiving threat, with 87 catches for 751 yards and seven TDs during the season.
7. Pats’ Hurricanes contingent -- Receiver Phillip Dorsett is a second-level Brady target who had 32 catches and three TDs this season. Other former UM players with New England are defensive lineman Ufomba Kamalu (a reserve), receiver Braxton Berrios (injured) and defensive end Trent Harris (practice squad.
8. Rams’ lone Cane -- He is veteran cornerback Sam Shields, 31, who had 18 tackles and one interception as a backup this season. Shields sees limited action defensively but had a key special-teams play Sunday, catching a 12-yard pass on a fake punt.
9. Mr. 7-Eleven -- Chris Hogan was nicknamed “7-Eleven” because he was always open in 2012, when he was on Dolphins practice squad but never got in a gamer. He caught 35 passe and had three TDs for the Patriots this season.
10. The Almosts -- Close but no for the Chiefs’ backup QB Chad Henne (former Dolphin), running back Damien William (ex-Fin who scored three TDs on Sunday, and defensive end Allen bailey (ex-Cane). South Florida Saints who should be in the Super Bowl but aren’t include backup QB Teddy Bridgewater (born Miami/Northwestern High), receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (former Dolphins No. 1 pick), tackle Jermon Bushrod (ex-Fin) and cornerback Patrickc Robinson ((born Miami/Giulliver Prep).
The non-call that denied the Saints ultimately will shadow and taint this Super Bowl.
We didn’t know until after the fact that Barry Bonds had cheated to rob Hank Aaron of his career home runs record.
It just took a few minutes Sunday night to digest how monumentally the Saints had been robbed and how the wrong NFC team was headed to the Super Bowl.