American Football: Heroics of Brady rise above hype and showbiz

Super Bowl: Patriots quarterback guides team to stirring win over plucky Panthers but tacky half-time show leaves sour taste
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Against almost all predictions, Super Bowl XXXVIII was stupendous, and with a little bit of luck it will be remembered as such, but then, the way things are these celebrity-crazed days, don't bet on it. There is, unfortunately, a very good chance that it will go down not as the game of Tom Brady's arm but Janet Jackson's breast.

That latter piece of anatomy was exposed during the hugely hyped half-time show by the megastar's singing partner Justin Timberlake, who later apologised for what he described as a "wardrobe malfunction".

By that he meant, presumably, the material of her dress should have been strong enough to resist what appeared to be a quite deliberately ripping tug. Maybe a boiler suit might have done the trick.

National Football League officials were, naturally, apoplectic, and the switchboard of CBS television was swamped with complaints, but, who knows, perhaps at some point someone might just reflect that it is the kind of thing than can happen when you turn your nation's most revered sporting event into an orgy of tacky showbiz. Nor, just as certainly, should serial British streaker Mark Roberts have happened at a pivotal moment of a Super Bowl which was settled for a second time in three years in favour of the New England Patriots by kicker, and descendent of the late General George Custer's bugler, Adam Vinatieri - this time with four seconds left on the clock.

Despite unprecedented security, with cleared airspace and anti-terrorist snipers at full alert in the eves of the magnificent Reliant Stadium, the streaker was able to explain cheerfully to the booking sergeant in the downtown precinct house how he had simply bought a ticket, dressed himself as a referee and walked past stewards before disrobing and running on to the field.

This was apparently another commercially inspired wardrobe malfunction. The streaker's naked chest advertised a Las Vegas casino. He was knocked down contemptuously by the Patriot linebacker Matt Chatham and according to a police spokesman his immediate future depends on "the mood of a judge". Sentence was unlikely to be severe. He is charged with the Class B misdemeanour of "criminal trespassing".

Much of America, though, should join in the dock a man who claims to have pulled off similar stunts at a number of major sporting events, including Wimbledon and the Open Championship - not, though, for a misdeamour but the Class A crime of dismissing the potential of the Patriots and the Carolina Panthers to make a match that, at least among aficionados of gridiron, will surely linger down the years.

The Patriots beat the Panthers 32-29. They won their 15th straight game and took a long stride towards something that is not supposed to happen in these days of huge dollars chasing dwindling talent. They acquired the look of a dynasty, and if an empire does emerge from Sunday's victory, and their triumph over the St Louis Rams in New Orleans two years ago, there is no doubt about the identity of its most likely inspiration - and guiding hand.

It is Tom Brady, a quarterback who may after all be of the ages. Brady is certainly already more than a marvellously accomplished young sportsman of fine nerve and smoothly delivered ability. At 26 some now see him as a surviving American dream. He grew up worshipping the great Joe Montana and though comparisons have previously been dismissed as absurdly premature, they are harder to resist now after his election for a second time as the Super Bowl's Most Valuable Player.

He is the youngest quarterback to win the honour twice and is just one off Montana's record mark of three. American sport drenches itself in statistics, of course, but sometimes they tell a story with some precision and here Brady's growing status was augmented by an avalanche of them. He passed for 354 yards, throwing three touchdowns and if there was the rare blemish of one interception, redemption for that came on a flood tide - notably when he danced his way through the fearsome defensive line of the Panthers and made a crucial first down.

None of this would have mattered, however, if Brady hadn't done what all the great quarterbacks do as the clock ticks down. In six plays, he moved the Patriots downfield after the Panthers had tied the game at 29-29 with just 68 seconds left. Finally, he threw to his favourite receiver, Deion Branch, for a 17-yard gain that brought the posts within range of Vinatieri at 41 yards.

Clinically, the kicker did his work and in his achievement was the second element of the three-fold greatness of this Super Bowl which was supposed to bring on nation-wide coma. Vinatieri had earlier missed two easier opportunities, firing wide on the first occasion and having his kick blocked on the second. Freakishly, the fact was that Vinatieri's only other failure in an enclosed stadium had come here in Houston last November and there was a draining sense that the glory he had achieved in New Orleans two years earlier would be blighted for ever.

Vinatieri said: "I get paid to push aside all the pressure and get the job done, but you want to know how I feel? Give me a little time - maybe a year or two."

The feelings of the Carolina quarterback, Jake Delhomme, were rather more accessible. You had only to look into the face of the man without whom we could not now be talking of one of the great Super Bowls. Delhomme, an unlikely hero from the Bayou country who had spent most of his career struggling for a chance to prove himself in the big league, may have lost the game, but some time in the middle distance he might just be consoled by a poignant glory. It is that few quarterbacks have so spectacularly emerged from nightmare to the verge of an astonishing triumph.

At one point, when the game was following its pre-ordained script of bone-jarring, impregnable defence, Delhomme's situation was so pitiful it was hard to look. He had completed only one of nine passing attempts. His entire offensive effort was grimly registered at minus eight yards. He had been sacked three times, one of them a withering blindside shot by the linebacker Mike Vrabel, a blow that came while he was attempting to make 12 yards for a third down. But what followed was breathtaking. Delhomme floated an exquisite 37-yard- touchdown throw into the path of receiver Steve Smith to complete the second longest drive in Super Bowl history - and then, in the fourth quarter, he sent in Muhsin Muhammad for an 85-yard touchdown that broke the big-game record.

He threw another touchdown pass to the veteran tight-end Ricky Proehl with one minute, 43 seconds left, and he believed he was more or less home then. How could you come back from so far and still be denied? He knows now. What happens is that that ball is handed to the new Joe Montana.

"I knew the clock was going, but Deion ran a great route and it all fell into place," Brady said. "The way it happened was incredible. It makes you feel you can win anything, do anything. Winning the Super Bowl again, winning 15 straight games, well, it's just awesome."

America, a little chastened, perhaps, might just get around to saying the same... but not before recalling what the Super Bowl was originally supposed to be about.