The Ugliest Touchdown

(Click here to see an NFL Films presentation about the Giants’ final drive in the Super Bowl, which culminated in the touchdown discussed below. This space was originally occupied by a YouTube video of the touchdown, but the NFL’s lawyers blitzed whoever’s YouTube account it was and sacked them, so I’m going straight to the source for this link. Sorry for the confusion.)

Yesterday’s Super Bowl featured probably the ugliest winning touchdown ever. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw saw a huge hole and sprinted through it, only to realize as he neared the goal line that it would be better for his team if he DIDN’T score, but rather went down on about the one-yard-line. He tried to stop himself, and did manage to turn himself around, but his momentum carried him over the line, and he ended up scoring by basically sitting down in the end zone.

Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated calls it “a touchdown designed by the defensive coach”:

Then, we had perhaps the strangest play in Super Bowl history — a touchdown that the runner didn’t want to score, a touchdown designed by the defensive coach, the Reluctant Touchdown that gave the Giants a 21-17 victory and capped off a dramatic, exciting and frustrating Super Bowl. What can you say? These are complicated times.

All of the commentators agree that it was perfectly valid for him to try to stay out of the end zone; by scoring too soon, the Giants would give the ball back to the Patriots with too much time, giving the Patriots a chance to score again and win the game. On the radio this morning, however, “Mike and Mike” were reporting that Bradshaw wasn’t told to lay down during the timeout that preceded the play, nor was he told in the huddle. Instead, quarterback Eli Manning told him “don’t score” during the play as he was handing him the ball. So it’s understandable that Bradshaw would look a little awkward as the Patriots parted for him and he saw a wide-open lane to the end zone, while his quarterback is telling him to not score.

I’m struck by two aspects of this. One, if in fact he had managed to stay out of the end zone and the Giants had been able to wind the clock down to a last-second field goal, what if they had missed the field goal? At the time, the Giants were behind in the game. A field goal, even from a couple of yards out, is still not automatic. And had they missed it, the Giants would have been the all-time Super Bowl goats, having passed up a chance to score a winning touchdown in favor of a field goal attempt, and then missing the field goal.

The second thing goes back to the video I linked to in yesterday’s post. Notice how announcer John Madden is saying throughout the first half of the video that he thinks the Patriots should just kneel down and run the clock out and play for overtime. This is with a minute and a half to go in the game! Instead, quarterback Tom Brady marches them right down the field and get close enough to win it with a field goal. Contrast that with yesterday, when the Giants are so terrified of giving  Brady a minute—in which he would have to score a touchdown, not just a field goal—that they almost pass up a gift touchdown. The game has changed so much in 10 years; now a last-minute drive is basically assumed—expected, really—whereas 10 years ago, Madden thought they should just lay down and play for overtime.

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