Let me get some qualifiers out of the way-the playcall was really, really, bad. Throwing it on the one yard line with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield? A man who has been stopped for no gain or negative yardage just 7% of the time in the 2014-15 season? So yes, bad. Unwise. Perhaps even incomprehensible. But not the worst playcall ever.
The stage that the call was on and the national exposure is what made this playcall so reviled around the country. The 2015 Super Bowl was the most watched program in television history, 49.7% of America tuned in. That’s incredible. We’re talking 150 million people watching one of the biggest mishaps in sports history.
Let’s put it in perspective, though. During the 2014 season, the 49ers lost a home game to the Rams in a terrible way. After a sloppy, messy, game against an inferior opponent, the 49ers drove the ball down the field in the closing minutes of the game down to the goal line of the Rams-without an insanely lucky catch that must have brought back bad Super Bowl memories for Patriots fans. Not again. (Note: Tyree Catch was a great job by Eli of escaping pressure and finding Tyree, fantastic catch by Tyree, and great job by Tyree holding onto the ball. The Jermaine Kearse catch was just luck. Lying on your back and the ball falls right into your hands after four ricochets? Come on. Reminiscent of that Vikings-Packers Monday Night Football Game I’ve seen replays of with Antonio Freeman. Good defense, better luck.)
Anyways, the 49ers are down three with the ball on the five yard line. This is a critical difference from the Super Bowl, where the Seahawks were down four and needed a touchdown. A simple chip shot field goal would have done the trick and put the game into overtime. So instead of a conservative handoff to “The Inconvenient Truth”, the ever reliable Frank Gore, Greg Roman dials up some read option hoopla for Kaepernick, who, in typical fashion (he played terrible that game/part of the season), fumbled the ball and the Rams recovered. Ball Game. Gut wrenching loss at home to an inferior team in a bad way, but it wasn’t given the national exposure of the Super Bowl. I’d argue a quick slant against a stacked front is a better play than the trickery Greg Roman tried to get too fancy with. I understand that it’s a quick slant and there isn’t a lot of time to make a read, but Russel Wilson could have done anything else and gotten a better result, so some blame has to go on him too. And hey, what about giving Malcolm Butler some credit for making a heck of a play?
Sticking with the Niners theme, how about how in the 49ers-Ravens Super Bowl, the 49ers threw three straight incompletions to Michael Crabtree. On the exact same play. Didn’t try anything else, didn’t get it in. Season over in an equally heart breaking fashion because they got so close.
It gets better.
Soooo, the next year, the sting of the Super Bowl loss still fresh, the 49ers use the loss as fuel to return to the NFC Championship game. After taking an early lead, the 49ers fell behind. Kaepernick led an energetic, revitalizing drive at the end of the game and brought the 49ers to the goal line. (Sound familiar?) Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh, in all of their collective offensive genius, decided to run guess what play? Fade to Crabtree? Never would have guessed. But Richard Sherman must be smarter than the average bear, because he was positioned perfectly to tip the ball and it was picked off by Malcolm Smith. Season over. Aaagain.
In a non-football example, how about the decision to hold the runner at third in the 2014 World Series? Gregor Blanco had already misplayed the ball badly, and he is a great defender but doesn’t possess a cannon arm. In all honesty, I thought that he would have scored if he was sent. Trusting your hitter to deliver in the clutch against a guy that had been pretty much untouchable for the last month and turned in one of the greatest postseason performances of all time? In doing so, the Royals third base coach denied the Kansas City their first championship in 29 years. Most of the credit has to go the the Giants, though. San Francisco delivered in the clutch.
On a simpler level, what about the numerous managers or pitchers that decided to pitch to Barry Bonds instead of intentionally walking him and got burned by it?
And while it will be a playcall that will live in infamy, it falls fall short of the worst off-field blunders of all time. Pete Carroll may have cost Seattle a Lombardi trophy, but come on, they won one last year. The Red Sox traded Babe Ruth for $100,000. The greatest slugger of all time for cash considerations? The 10 year-gazillion dollar A-Rod contract isn’t looking too good right now, either. So don’t feel too bad, Pete Carroll. It was a great game that Seattle really did not play well enough to win. Without Kearse’s miracle catch or the bizzare 80 yard-30 second drive at the end of the half, this one wouldn’t even have been close. I’ve heard two College Football Championships and one Super Bowl Victory is great for the healing process.
If this play was in the Super Bowl, 49ers fans would never hear the end of it.
Credit for the images goes to: http://espn.go.com/blog/nflnation/post/_/id/160713/super-bowl-xlix-photoblog-jermaine-kearses-incredible-catch