The New England Patriots’ 34-28 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons will be the talk of the stick-and-ball sports world for at least the next month, with memories of the epic game lasting much longer. New England rallied from a 28-3 deficit in the second half to produce the shocking victory.
Any American motorcycle fans who watched the game may have drifted back to 2006, when Valentino Rossi mustered a comeback for the ages in his battle with American Nick Hayden for the MotoGP World Championship.
There are parallels between the two contests.
Like the Falcons, Hayden was the young, inexperienced (at least at GP level) upstart taking a big lead over the established, title-winning veteran. After winning at Assen, Hayden was 46 points ahead of Rossi with nine races left in the 17-race season.
But Rossi rallied, big time, like Tom Brady and the Patriots Sunday night. He produced podium finishes at seven of the next eight races on his Yamaha, while Hayden stood on the box only twice during that span.
Rossi took an eight-point lead over Hayden after Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa dumped Hayden into the gravel at the penultimate race of the season, at Estoril.
All Rossi needed to do was either stay ahead or within reach of Hayden. But he inexplicably dumped his Yamaha into the gravel, picked it up and rode to 13th while Hayden raced to third to claim the 2006 World Championship.
Again, there were parallels to Super Bowl LI. Atlanta led by eight with about four minutes remaining and was deep in New England territory. All it needed to do was call two run plays, kill some clock and kick a field goal to ice its first Super Bowl victory. Instead the Falcons called two pass plays, which resulted in a sack, a holding penalty and a punt.
New England then rallied to tie the game at 28 and won by scoring a touchdown on the first drive of overtime.
Steady nerves and riding by Hayden at Valencia – combined with a brain-fade fall by Rossi – prevented a similar collapse as the Falcons.
Atlanta choked; Nick Hayden did not. That was the big difference between MotoGP’s title showdown in 2006 and the NFL’s big game in 2017.