Imagine a world where the name Scott Norwood evokes awe in Buffalo, not “aww, dude.”
A world where David Tyree is just another former NFL player with a two-sentence Wikipedia entry, not the guy who seemingly magnetized a ball to his helmet and helped spoil New England’s shot at perfection.
A world where Marshawn Lynch gets to go full “Beast Mode” after getting the ball 3 feet away from giving the Seattle Seahawks back-to-back Super Bowl titles instead of serving as the world’s most overqualified decoy on one of the more infamous calls in NFL history.
For five decades, Super Bowl legacies have been cemented or destroyed thanks to a sometimes fluky confluence of luck (good or bad) , hubris (looking at you, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) and the random bounce of a ball that will do and go wherever it well pleases, thank you very much.
A peek into what might have been (Bevell, a pass, really? Really?!?!) if certain epic moments on the last Sunday of the NFL season had gone the other way.
THE GAME: 1991 Super Bowl
THE WHAT IF: Norwood’s kick tucks just inside the upright to give the Bills and their Hall of Fame-laden roster the franchise’s first Super Bowl title, the start of the greatest dynasty in league history.
THE BIZARRO WORLD: The Bills run off four straight Super Bowl wins and Norwood retires with a fistful of rings and later runs for Mayor of Buffalo, where he continues to run unopposed. Giants head coach Bill Parcells decides to stick around rather than take a two-season sabbatical, keeping the Giants competitive in the NFC East (instead of bottoming out under Parcells’ replacement Ray Handley), which keeps the Dallas Cowboys from running roughshod over the NFC East for the rest of the 1990s.
THE GAME: 2000 Super Bowl
THE WHAT IF: Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson wriggles free from St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones (“Mike Jones!”) and Jones’ Pop Warner perfect tackle at the goal line on the final play from scrimmage.
THE BIZARRO WORLD: Contrary to popular belief (warning, rant upcoming), Dyson’s score would have merely tied the game, assuming Tennessee converted an extra point, not won it for the Titans. Tennessee wins the overtime toss and Al Del Greco makes a 52-yarder that just sneaks over the crossbar. Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf never see the field in the extra period.
That leads to the NFL’s competition committee — in a dash of sanity the rest of the world is still waiting on — coming up with a new overtime format that ensures each team gets the ball at least once no matter what. Dick Vermeil decides not to retire and Mike Martz never becomes Rams coach. The Rams remain competitive into the late-2000s — winning it all in 2001 — and voters happily pass a measure for a new downtown stadium to keep one of the league’s most profitable teams.
THE GAME: 2008 Super Bowl
THE WHAT IF : Tyree, he of the 54 career receptions, lets Eli Manning’s desperation pass slip through his fingers after New England safety Rodney Harrison hits Tyree (legally, for once) so hard some enterprising young Patriots fan in Silicon Valley invents the GIF ahead of schedule.
THE BIZARRO WORLD: The Patriots hold on to complete a 19-0 season, forcing lazy sports writers to come up with a new angle instead of calling Mercury Morris and other members of the ‘72 Miami Dolphins every time some team gets off to a hot start. Ralph Lauren begins a Bill Belichick line of signature hoodies — Tagline: “Who cares what you look like when you’re perfect?”.
The Patriots start a new tradition of popping a Sam Adams every year when the last unbeaten team is forced to put a crooked number in the loss column. Michael Strahan stays active for another year, killing his talk show career and forcing Kelly Ripa to eventually co-host with Josh Groban, cutting short his singing career and giving husbands all over the world one less lame anniversary gift idea.
THE GAME: 2015 Super Bowl
THE WHAT IF: The defending champion Seahawks give it to their running back with the ball at the 1 rather than trying to turn Russell Wilson and Ricardo Lockette into Joe Montana to John Taylor 2.0.
THE BIZARRO WORLD: Lynch runs over Malcom Butler to get into the end zone and Tom Brady drops to a mortal-like 3-3 in Super Bowls. Lynch is voted MVP and arrives at Disney World two days later, where he tells wide-eyed kids he’s just there so he won’t get fined. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fines Brady $20 for “Deflategate,” figuring Brady and his team blowing it yet again was punishment enough. Brady responds by suing the league and makes Uggs fashionable courtroom attire.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL