GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the next three months, all eyes, as they are every year, will be on the NFL draft, with over-the-top hype regarding the first round.
Yet, on a wild Sunday night in the desert, it wasn’t high draft picks who stole the Super Bowl XLIX show, but rather late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents who helped the game go down as one of the most memorable in Super Bowl history.
No play was bigger than the game-sealing interception by New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie free agent who sensed a pick play was coming on second-and-goal for Seattle from the 1-yard line.
Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (yes, an undrafted free agent) was slanting from right to left underneath undrafted free agent receiver Jermaine Kearse, who was engaged with Patriots undrafted free agent cornerback Brandon Browner. Butler was behind that latter duo, and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson never saw him.
Kearse, of course, scored the winning touchdown in the Seahawks’ improbable NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers, and he helped put Seattle in position to go ahead with a remarkable catch at the 5-yard line while lying on his back.
In the game, four undrafted free agent receivers — Kearse, Lockette, Chris Matthews and Doug Baldwin — combined to catch 11 of Wilson’s 12 completions for 216 yards.
Matthews, who recovered the crucial onside kick in the win over the Packers, had four receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. He might have been the MVP if the Seahawks had won.
For the Patriots, two of quarterback Tom Brady’s touchdown passes were caught by undrafted free agent wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, both in the fourth-quarter comeback.
Edelman had two catches for 42 yards on the scoring drive that cut Seattle’s lead to 24-21. His first 21-yard catch came on third-and-14 on a play that started at the New England 28-yard line. The other was on third-and-8 from the Patriots 25. Amendola then scored on a 4-yard play.
On what turned out to be the winning touchdown, Edelman scored on a 3-yard pass. He had nine catches for 109 yards with six for 68 coming in the second half.
Wilson’s other touchdown pass went to Baldwin on a 3-yard play in which umpire Bill Schuster picked Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis.
However, on this night, Butler’s pick was the biggest of them all.
— Before Matthews scored on an 11-yard pass against New England, only one other receiver in history scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl after having no receptions for the entire season.
In Super Bowl X, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Percy Howard scored on a late 34-yard pass play to make the score 21-17 in a Pittsburgh Steelers win. Howard was in the game because of an injury sustained by Golden Richards.
Howard was hurt the following two years and never played again in the NFL. That 34-yard touchdown was the only reception of his career.
— Some impressive streaks went by the wayside in New England’s 28-24 victory.
Prior to the game, teams trailing by 10 or more points entering the fourth quarter of Super Bowls were 0-29 all-time. The Patriots became the ninth team to win a Super Bowl when trailing after three quarters, but none of the others were behind by more than seven points entering the fourth quarter.
Over the last three seasons, including the playoffs, Seattle had been 18-0 when leading by at least 10 points after three quarters.
In addition, New England tied a Super Bowl record for coming back from the largest deficit. In Super Bowl XXII, the Washington Redskins came back from an early 10-0 hole to defeat the Denver Broncos 42-10. In Super Bowl XLIV, the Indianapolis Colts led New Orleans 10-0 early in the game, but the Saints came back to win 31-17.
The Seahawks are now 0-7 in the last three seasons in games in which their opponent scores more than 24 points.
Finally, in the last 24 Super Bowls, there have been only three with scoreless first quarters. The Patriots won all three.
— The win for the Patriots pushed coach Bill Belichick’s postseason record to 22-9, a winning percentage of .710.
There are only four other head coaches in history with postseason percentages at .700 or better: Vince Lombardi, 9-1, .900; Tom Flores, 8-3, .727; Bill Walsh, 10-4, .714; and Joe Gibbs, 17-7, .708.
Belichick earned his fourth Super Bowl win, tying Chuck Noll of the Steelers for the most in history. He broke out of a tie with Walsh and Gibbs, who have three apiece.
— Wide receiver Percy Harvin, traded by Seattle to the New York Jets in October, still qualified for a half-share of the Seahawks’ playoff money because he was with them for five games.
Harvin will receive $58,500. He would have collected $82,500 had Seattle defeated New England.