Editor’s note: This story appears in the special Football Sunday edition of
Sports Spectrum Magazine.
There are many memorable Super Bowls, but Super Bowl LI in February 2017 was one for the ages. New England clawed back from a 25-point deficit — the largest comeback in the championship game’s history — at the only Super Bowl to ever go into overtime. The Patriots clipped the Falcons, 34-28.
Sports Spectrum caught up with Patriots’ wide receiver Matthew Slater a month after the game to hear about that nail-biter of a victory, and the cohesiveness of the team that pulled out the win.
Near the end of the third quarter, analysts estimated that the Falcons had a 99.8 percent probability of winning. What do you think helped the Patriots to overcome those odds?
As I sit here, a month removed from the game, it’s still hard to believe what happened. I think about the latter half of that game, and getting to the fourth quarter. There’s something that we believed as a team all year, that we were family. When I think about family, families get tested and pushed to the limit. And we got pushed to the limit in that game, but one thing that we didn’t do was turn on one another. We stayed true to the belief that we had in one another, and thought, ‘Hey, we’re just going to keep competing, keep trying to make plays, and just see where it gets us.’
When things started to turn around, what were you thinking?
As I think back to that fourth quarter, and the rally that we were able to spark, it’s hard to remember, because there was so much energy, so much focus that we gave each and every play to try and get ourselves back in that football game. At one point you look up and realize, ‘We’ve got a chance. We’ve got a chance to maybe make this a game.’
Was there a point in particular where you did that?
For me, it was when we scored our 20th point (in the fourth quarter). We scored a touchdown, we got the two-point conversion, and you look up, it’s 20 to 28. We were only down by eight! We had been down 25 points, and now it’s only eight. The belief grew. As we looked into one another’s eyes, there was never a time of panic, and never a time of, ‘You need to do this, you need to do that.’
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Everyone just looked internally and said, ‘I’m going to try and do my job the best that I can, and see where that gets us,’ and I think that belief really kicked in. So then we go in there and score our 26th point, and everybody’s excited in the crowd, but we know we still need to get this two-point conversion. So we convert the two-point conversion, and had just come down from being 25 points [behind]. We had a lot of confidence; we really felt like we had a chance to win that game. The final whistle blew, and we went into overtime.
What were your thoughts going into overtime?
All of a sudden, regulation’s over, and it’s time for the coin toss. I don’t even go to Coach (Bill) Belichick. I usually go before the coin toss, and we talk about it. He had to call me over. I go off to the coin toss, still breathing hard, exhausted from having played for 60 minutes against a great, well-coached football team.
I call heads; that’s kind of the Slater thing. My dad did it, so throughout my whole career I’ve called heads. And I watched that coin leave the referee’s thumb and go in the air; I was tracking it the whole way. When I saw it was heads, I had a lot of confidence that we could finish the job. I believed in our team, and in what we’d been able to accomplish all year long. Everything that we had been through, from Week 1 on, to get to that point, I knew we were going to finish this thing.
Did the Super Bowl give you more opportunities to share your faith on camera?
For me, the Super Bowl presented a tremendous platform to be able to share the Gospel. I know going into that week, I had been praying for an opportunity to just let my light shine for Christ and make sure people knew that I believed that I was there solely because of Him. I had been able to do some interviews over the course of the week sharing my faith, and talked about the faith of some of the players on our team. A gentleman who I had visited with several times before has a prison ministry and was asking me several questions. And at one point he asked me if I could look into the camera and tell people what it means to be saved and how I understand salvation. And I jumped at the opportunity! To the best of my understanding, I shared the plan for salvation as the Bible outlines it. I’m so thankful for that opportunity.
As you reflect on that Super Bowl win, what was the best part?
We all know how it ended. The ending was definitely spectacular, but as I look back on it, it was about the journey, the things that we had to overcome. Dealing with Tom (Brady)’s suspension, dealing with some injuries to some key players. I’ve never been on a team that had more faith and belief in one another than this year’s team. I could not be more proud of the team that I’ve been a part of in my career. What a journey it was, 2016-17, and what great things we were able to accomplish.
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