OAKLAND, Calif. — The trend had started. Torches were being passed, along with footballs and, down in the Australian Open, tennis players indiscriminate enough to rush the net.
First, in Melbourne, Roger Federer was stunned by a 20-year-old Greek, Stefanos Tsitsipas. Then in the NFC Championship game, the Los Angeles Rams, led by 24-year-old quarterback Jared Goff, beat the Saints 26-24 in overtime.
So now it was Tom Brady’s time to fall. But for Brady and the New England Patriots, youth would not be served. At 41, Brady and the Pats defeated the Kansas City, 37-31, also in overtime.
Yes, the Patriots are back in the Super Bowl, a third straight year, and a ninth time overall with Brady as the quarterback and the unlikeable but unconquerable Bill Belichick as coach. For the Rams, it is the first Super Bowl appearance since February 2002, when they lost to New England, which had a 24-year-old kid named Brady at QB.
The more things change, well, with the Pats, they change minimally, especially with the guy calling the shots, the unsmiling Belichick, and the guy calling the plays, the unshakable Brady. In a country seeking new stories, the NFL keeps giving us sequels.
Along with the obligatory controversies.
If we are unfortunate enough to get the same old, same old — at least as far as the Patriots winning the AFC, and according to the oddsmakers, probably Super Bowl LIII — we were allowed the same old officiating botches. And player mistakes.
In the Bay Area, we do not forget the wild interpretation of an until-then little known Tuck Rule. It was in the snow at New England, January 2002, the divisional playoffs of the 2001 season and Brady — the man is always there — was buried by the Raiders' Charles Woodson and fumbled, Oakland recovering. No, said the officials, it wasn’t a fumble. Brady was “tucking the ball,” while attempting to pass. The Pats retained possession and won. After that, is anything surprising?
Even the absurd non-call Sunday when, in the closing minutes of regulation, Rams cornerback Nickeli Robey-Coleman smashed his helmet into that worn by the Saints otherwise wide-open receiver Tommylee Lewis as the ball thrown by Drew Brees arrived.
Clunk, wham, contact — either defensive pass interference, or with the most liberal interpretation of the collision, offensive interference. But nothing was called. Nada. The Saints would settle for a field goal, followed by the 57-yard game winner from LA’s Greg Zuerlein in OT.
Over the years, we learn in all sports there are breaks good and bad. The best teams, the top individuals find a way to win. The others whine, not that the NFL does anything about it except pay lip service.
The Saints took the kickoff in OT, and soon after Brees was picked. If he moves the team for a TD, the non-call is a non-issue.
Brady, usually tidy with his throws, had a couple of interceptions himself. But the Patriots hung in there, and when they won the toss at the start of overtime, a Pats-Rams Super Bowl was inevitable. Brady didn’t throw any more picks, but on every third down New England picked apart the Chiefs' defense.
Kansas City, with the NFL’s leading offense, played like a team that hadn’t won a championship in 49 years, totally bewildered in the first half. In the second half, KC scored and scored and scored. But there was the usual problem with defense.
With the Chiefs having gone in front, and some two minutes left in regulation, Brady tossed what seemed to be another interception, which would have locked up the game for KC. But the Chiefs’ Dee Ford had lined up offside — clear to everyone but Ford — and after a Pats touchdown and KC field goal, it was overtime.
It also was the end for the Chiefs, who in OT kicked off and never saw the ball — in a figurative sense — until it was carried into the end zone for the New England winner.
Brady, from San Mateo, and Rams quarterback Goff, a Cal kid from Novato, grew up maybe 50 miles away from each other, if 17 years apart in age. You could say it’s about time for a new guy. But when the other guy is Tom Brady, it’s wise to remain silent.