Some of you may have noticed that on Sunday there was a game called the Superbowl played in the United States. It’s American football, not to be confused with the football that the rest of the world plays. In any case, the teams were the New England Patriots — the team I was rooting for, since I live in New England — and the Seattle Seahawks — the team my nephew and some other good friends were rooting for, since they live in Seattle. In any case, the last two minutes were extraordinary. First, a receiver named Jermaine Kearse made an extraordinary catch on a play on which the ball was tipped, and it then bounced off both of Kearse’s legs and several other body parts before Kearse was finally able to collar it. This was reminiscent of the famous “helmet catch” made by Davie Tyree in the 2008 Super Bowl that allowed the New York Giants to ruin the Patriots perfect season. After a five yard run by “beastmode” running back Marshawn Lynch, the ball was on the 1 yard line without about 26 seconds left. The Seahawks were going to break the Patriot’s hearts again. There was no way they were going to lose this game. Then, their head coach Pete Carroll called for a “slant pass” instead of trying to run the ball in. On that play, unheralded rookie Malcolm Butler of the Patriots read the play and managed to intercept the ball. It was almost a miracle. (Butler, to his credit, did not invoke Jesus after the game and claim that God had somehow intervened.)
Seattle Coach Pete Carroll has been vilified since making that call. People were incredulous that he did not call another running play for Marshawn Lynch. Some commentators derided it as the “worst call in Super Bowl history.” The Monday Morning Quarterbacks piled on. The pundits were not kind.
Pete Carroll came forth with a perfectly reasonable explanation for why he had called the play that he had called. It turns out that his assessment, much more than our collective reaction, was much more reasoned. Some of that was shown by the FiveThirtyEight website — the site created by Nate Silver, the man who has been uncanny at predicting the last two U.S. Presidential Election results — which bothered to actually do some statistical analysis. It turns out that trying to get one yard on a run when the other team absolutely knows that’s what you’re going to do is very hard. Even for Marshawn Lynch. It turns out that Lynch converted just one of five attempts at the 1-yard line during the 2014-15 season, twice losing yardage. He is just 15 of 36 for his career. In addition, during the 2014-15 season, NFL teams had thrown 66 touchdowns times from the 1 yard line, and not a single time had the ball been intercepted. Given the additional issues related to clock management, it turns out that Pete Carroll actually made a good decision. It just didn’t work out because of a sensational play made by an undrafted rookie. (And to give credit where it’s due, part of the reason Butler recognized the play so quickly is because he had been so thoroughly schooled by the New England coaching staff.)
But we all think we know better than Pete Carroll. Yes we do. Even though he is a professional head coach. Very smart. Very successful. One of only three coaches to win a National Championship in college and a Super Bowl in the NFL, which he did last season. No, we all know better than the coach.