Ahmad Bradshaw’s short touchdown run in Super Bowl XLVI – actually, it was more of an awkward flop – will go down as the strangest game-winning scoring play in Super Bowl history.
But Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s strategy to concede the go-ahead touchdown generally was considered sound, or at least defensible, by football experts who have debated each side over the past several days.
The situation brought to mind the other time a Super Bowl was won on a touchdown against a defense that wasn’t trying – only on that occasion the coach who made the decision did so based on a faulty assumption.
It’s a surprisingly little-remembered incident in Super Bowl history, and surprising that it hasn’t left more of a blot on the legacy of then Packers coach Mike Holmgren.
Let us return, shall we, to San Diego in late January of 1998, and the Broncos’ 31-24 victory over the defending champion Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
Here was the situation: The score was tied at 24 with 1:47 left and the Broncos had the ball at the Green Bay 1-yard line. Holmgren ordered his defense not to try to stop running back Terrell Davis in hopes of preserving time for Brett Favre (with two timeouts) to drive back down the field and re-tie the game.
So, sure enough, Davis scored uncontested to give Denver the lead. Favre got the ball back with 1:39 left and drove as far as the Broncos’ 31-yard line before the drive stalled, giving the Broncos their first Super Bowl title.
But wait: As reporters waiting to interview Packers at their hotel the next morning did the clock management math, they wondered about the strategy. It was second-and-goal at the 1. Green Bay theoretically could have stopped the Broncos twice, held them to a field goal and still had enough time for Favre.
Several reporters, mostly from New York, found the Packers' bus at the side of the hotel, ready to leave for the airport. The Daily News’ Gary Myers saw Holmgren already sitting on the bus and asked him to come out and answer a few questions.
(I was a few feet away from Myers and two other reporters, being held back by security guards and threatened with arrest. In fairness, I did not have my media credentials around my neck at the time.)
As Myers questioned him about the strategy, he mentioned it was second down. Holmgren corrected him, telling him it was first down. Myers insisted, correctly, that it was second down, at which point Holmgren admitted he and his staff had made a mistaken assumption.
Here is what caused the confusion: The Broncos had a first-and-goal from the 8, after which a holding penalty on Shannon Sharpe moved the ball back to the 18, where it remained first-and-goal. Davis then ran 17 yards to the 1.
The Packers evidently got confused by seeing a 17-yard run and thinking it had produced a first down, when it fact it had not.
The strategy to let Davis score made more sense on first down, given that the Broncos could bleed more time off the clock, than it did on second down, especially with two timeouts remaining.
It might not have made a difference in the end, but it remains one of the most shocking coaching blunders in Super Bowl history.