A subtle link between The Last Dance and Super Bowl XLIX

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Before going all in on football nearly 20 years ago, after realizing that there was a way to make money (eventually) by writing and talking about the sport, I paid plenty of attention to other sports, too, including basketball.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the NBA was a major draw for me, despite my father’s lifelong belief that watching anything more than the last four minutes of a basketball game is a waste of time. So The Last Dance provided a great reminder of an era in which far less time was spent obsessing over the news and rumors and transactions of the NFL offseason and far more time was devoted to enjoying the sports that actually were, you know, playing games.

While the documentary focused heavily, and appropriately, on Michael Jordan, the genius of coach Phil Jackson periodically came through. One particular moment from the final episode made me think of the controlled chaos of the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLIX.

After Jordan read the Utah offense and snuck behind Karl Malone to steal the ball as the clock was ticking in the final minute of Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals and the Bulls trailed by a point, Jackson didn’t call a timeout.

“If we could do something without them talking about it, working against a set defense, we’d rather go with a live-ball situation,” Jackson said.

So Jordan dribbled the ball up the court, the Bulls settled into their offense, his teammates knew that Jordan would take the last shot (Scottie Pippen said his plan for the play was to “get the hell out the way,” and Dennis Rodman knew that Jordan “is not gonna pass this f–king ball”), the Jazz had one player defending Jordan, he drove, he pushed (a little), he stepped back, and he hit the championship shot.

Most coaches would have yielded to the knee-jerk of the moment, calling the timeout. Jackson was able to process the situation and to do the unconventional thing, with a trophy on the line.

It reminded me of the final moments of Super Bowl XLIX. After Seahawks receiver Jermaine Kearse made a “he did what?”-style catch to put the ball on the New England five with 1:06 to play, the Seahawks opted to run. Tailback Marshawn Lynch made it to the one, with the clock ticking and the Patriots holding two time outs. Surely, Patriots coach Bill Belichick would call one of his two remaining time outs.

He didn’t, forcing the Seahawks to call their next play without the benefit of time to talking about it.

“I thought about the timeout,” Belichick later said, “and when I looked over there, I don’t know, something just didn’t look right. [Defensive coordinator Matt Patricia] said, ‘Do you want the timeout?’ . . . I said, ‘No, just play goal line.'”

Belichick’s senses, the product of a lifetime in coaching, spoke to him in that moment. And to the extent he perceived chaos coming from the other sideline, the dysfunction (possibly stoked by Belichick not calling a timeout and giving Seattle time to talk it over) would prompt the Seahawks to grab for the closest and easiest crutch. And when the offense sent out a multiple-receiver package, that happened to be the same formation and decision that Patriots human computer Ernie Adams had spotted while studying the Seahawks’ goal-line tendencies. It was a play that the Patriots had practiced and prepared for, and it was a well to which the Seahawks were going without an opportunity for talking about it.

Like Jackson in the ’98 NBA Finals, Belichick did the unconventional thing, trusting that his players would respond better to the curveball than the opponent would. It underscores the value of a coach keeping a cool head even in the most stressful of situations, and of ensuring that his own team has the ability to roll with whatever happens, without getting flustered or confused or hesitant or in any way affected by an unexpected turn of events.

For more, we’ll have to wait for the inevitable 10-part documentary on the New England football dynasty.

12 responses to “A subtle link between The Last Dance and Super Bowl XLIX

  1. That was some masterful coaching. Very counter-intuitive, and the results speak for themselves.

    I’m looking forward to the doc on New England, and all of the other upcoming retrospectives. Should be some fascinating stuff w/ BB. Also, I love the idea of everyone talking about how good the Patriots USED to be….

  2. Most people over look the facts about this, and just subscribe to the Cris Collinsworth, dumbest play call in history thought process.

    Passing was the correct choice, and here is why.

    First, it was second down, and the Seahawks had one timeout. If they run the ball, and fail, it forces them to have to pass on 3rd down (because a failed run on thrid with no timeouts means you lose the super bowl). But if they pass the ball on second, that gives them both pass and run options on third (if third down happens). If they run and fail, they call timeout. And then on fourth down (if fourth down happens) you have both options again.

    So throwing on second was the correct call, that particular throw, was not good. Wilson didnt read the play, he made an assumption. Should have just thrown it out of the back of the end zone.

  3. Most basketball coaches will tell you that if they have the best player on the court they won’t call a time out at the end of the game scenarios. That just gives them time to identify where the best player is and better cover him. Trying to run down the court and locate him makes it much harder to do a double team.

    As for the Super Bowl. Bad comparison. The Seahawks where awful on short yardage situation that year despite the reputation of their RB. It was only 2nd down and they had a timeout. The play call was fine. Russell is suppose to throw the ball down so his WR is the only person that has a chance at it. He throws it up around the chest area which gave the defender his chance to make the game winning play.

    The similarity is that in both cases the talent on the field had more to do with the victory than the coach.

  4. Mike am right there with you pn Basketball in the eighties and 90’s.
    Down to one of my friends….a great shooter, think Steph, in hos own right….never tuning in to a game before yhe last few minutes of the fourth.

    But eventually, all real men know Football is King and the real man’s game.

    I recall at the height of Jordan’s….the GOAT of Sports period…dominance a segment on the Sports Reporters where sonepne said Basketball was going to eclipse football because you can see the faces of stars and sit closer to them…not just marketing, actual overall social acceptance and interest.

    It might have been Wilbon.

  5. I’m a Big Pats Fan, but the Pat’s need to rebuild, also like Brady, Belichick does not need to be around for this, Bill needs to move on to a team with more talent, as he chases Don Shula, unlike the Bulls, the rebuild may take 5 years, and when I say rebuild, I mean blow it up!

  6. It was more than “a little” push. But no way are the refs calling a foul on MJ in that situation.

  7. The last play of the Pats v Seahawks SB has been unfairly blamed on coach Carroll. Belichick did out coach Carroll by not calling one of his two time outs leaving the clock running and making Carroll to make a quick decision, which Belichick himself said wasn’t a bad one given the situation. 2nd and goal on the 1yd line,1 time out, 29 seconds and running. There are many who thought that just giving the ball to Lynch was an automatic TD, but during the regular season Lynch’s record on the one yard line was 1 in 5, 20% success rate.
    During the 3rd quarter the Seahawks tried a run on 3rd and 1 in the Pats redzone. The Pats DL didn’t budge an inch in the center and both DEs penetrated and knocked Lynch back 4 yds forcing a FG instead of a TD, the 4 point differential being the final score. A similar failure in the 4th would have left 3rd and goal on the 5 with about 15-16 seconds and the clock running.

    The play called was suppose a bang bang,one read and pass. Don’t dance around risking a sack or worse a holding call setting them back 10 yds. It was suppose to be a bangbang 1 read and throw. If it’s there throw it, if not throw it away, stopping the clock at ~22-23 secs without using their last timeout, two more downs on the 1 and time to decide.

    That 2nd down pass play wasn’t a bad call, it was bad execution. If Wilson had scanned the field instead of staring at his receiver, he’d seen Butler in position reading his eyes doing what the Pats had practiced for this situation for an hour two days earlier. Being a Pats fan, Hurray!

  8. actually belichick first said “no I got it” when his assistants and everyone else were expecting him to call timeout. watching that video of his demeanor under pressure is incredible. he lured an excellent experienced coach into calling the goal line play that his defense had repeatedly practised defending. knee-jerk media response of course was to call him lucky – again I suppose. Undisputed GOAT.

  9. and thank you again mike florio for recognizing and emphasizing belichick’s coaching genius. the old guard boston press hates you for it though.

  10. It was more than “a little” push. But no way are the refs calling a foul on MJ in that situation.


    Jordan actually says in the show that Russell played on his toes and once you got him going a certain direction, he had a hard time stopping or changing direction. Russell was already cooked as he bit on the fake so bad, there was no way he was going to be in position. That push made no difference at all.

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