By Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press on February 9, 2024.
For Luke Willson, there’s no bigger high than winning the Super Bowl and no larger disappointment than losing it.
Willson experienced both with the Seattle Seahawks.
The 34-year-old LaSalle, Ont., native held the Lombardi Trophy in 2014 as a rookie tight end after Seattle’s 43-8 win over the Denver Broncos. But that euphoria turned to despair the following year when the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Seahawks 28-24.
“When you get that moment where you win it, it’s just pure jubilation,” Willson said via telephone from Las Vegas, where he’s covering this year’s Super Bowl with TSN. “It seems like forever ago but it also doesn’t seem like 10 years, if that makes sense, and it’s pretty special.
“But it was the polar opposite the next year.”
After dispatching Denver and starter Peyton Manning, Seattle appeared poised for a second straight title against New England. The Seahawks took a 10-point advantage in the third before the Patriots went ahead 28-24 with just over two minutes remaining.
What happened next will forever remain part of Super Bowl folklore.
Seattle drove to New England’s one-yard line in the dying seconds. But instead of handing off to running back Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks opted to pass and Patriots cornerback Malcom Butler intercepted Russell Wilson in what’s considered one of the worst playcalls in game history.
A win would’ve made Seattle the first team since the 2004-05 Patriots to win consecutive Super Bowls. On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs will look to accomplish that against the San Francisco 49ers.
Nearly a decade later, the loss still resonates with Willson.
“I think about it quite a bit,” he said. “I’d say that was the thing we never got over as a team.
“We had some good years after that, I think the next two seasons we lost to the eventual NFC winners in Carolina and Atlanta. But it just wasn’t the same.”
New England’s Tom Brady had a Super Bowl-record 37 completions to earn a third MVP title. He retired for good Feb. 1, 2023 having won a seven Super Bowls and five MVP crowns – both records – over his illustrious NFL career.
But after winning their first three Super Bowl appearances with Brady, the Patriots dropped their next two – in 2008 and ’12 against the New York Giants – leading up to their showdown with Seattle. And the Seahawks had Brady and Co. precariously close to a third straight loss if not for Butler’s heroics.
“What’s fascinating to me is he (Brady) wasn’t involved in that play (Butler’s pick) but it changed the complete narrative for him,” Willson said. “If we run the ball in, you’ve got to think the next day it’s ‘Tom Brady is now 3-3 in Super Bowls, including being 0-3 in his last three.’
“Now, he threw for 328 yards (and four TDs) and did a ton of great things. But at the time, I remember thinking to myself, ‘It’s so fascinating that would be the MO and it was a play that didn’t even involve him.’ It’s just a different experience in that sense.”
This week, the six-foot-five, 255-pound Willson is in Nevada looking for interesting storylines, crucial matchups and trends leading up to the big game. Its in stark contrast to how he tackled Super Bowl week as a player.
“I was wildly shielded, both intentionally and unintentionally, from a large amount of media during my Super Bowls,” Willson said. “Part of it was the (team) schedules were very, very jam packed “¦ we ran a regular week and I’d spend most of my (off time) with family and friends, who’d come into town later in the week.
“You’re just so focused and Pete (former Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll) did a great job of trying to not create this event that makes things bigger than what they are for us as players. I never got to the point where it (Super Bowl) was this big circus “¦ it was a very different experience for a player.”
Shockingly, Carroll was removed from Seattle’s sidelines last month despite being the winningest head coach in franchise history (137-89-1). The Seahawks said Carroll wasn’t being fired, rather his role was evolving from head coach to adviser.
“Pete Carroll was one of the greatest mentors of my life,” Willson said. “I’ve never been around someone who just had so much zest for life, for football, and had such a positive and unique attitude.
“He just lived this lifestyle of working away, it’s going to be special and we’re going to make the play at the right time and more times than not it seemed like we did. If we lost or played badly “¦ it was never like, ‘Man, we’re not playing very good football.’ or ‘Let’s put pressure on these guys from a negativity standpoint.’ It was, ‘Challenge guys to grow, be great athletes, be great men, great leaders,’ in a different way than I’ve ever experienced.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.