Just over an hour after his team was triumphant in one of the great games of the 2016 season, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll – the man immediately in charge of the New England Patriots before the Reign of Belichick – walked past me and had a stroll down the Gillette Stadium tunnel, black roller bag in tow and hair slickly gelled, back towards the end of the field where his defense made the decisive goal-line stand to preserve its 31-24 victory. As rare as I believe that behavior was for a coach after a football game (especially an NFL contest), what occurred afterward caught my attention even more. (For full disclosure, I stayed down on the field after we crossed paths to sneak a picture of him on my cell phone.)
He just stood in the corner, stared into the expanse that was Gillette Stadium and, after about 30 seconds, did an about-face and walked back up the tunnel and, eventually, towards the team bus. Not one word was uttered when he locked eyes with the field and everything around it.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What is he thinking?”
Could it have been this: Gillette Stadium, the house that Belichick and Brady built, could have been the house that Pete Carroll built?
Not that Carroll is regretting too much now, with winning multiple national championships at USC as well as a Super Bowl, cementing him as one of the greatest modern-day coaches in football. But from 1997 to 1999, Carroll was head coach of the New England Patriots and, in those three seasons, led the Pats to two playoff appearances. None of his three seasons ended in a losing campaign. None of those seasons took place in the grandeur of Gillette Stadium, which opened its doors to the Patriots in 2002, the first season after the franchise won its first Super Bowl.
None of that mattered, as Carroll was fired after an 8-8 season in 1999. Bill Belichick took over as head coach. Then history took over after that, with the Patriots still in a midst of a run that could surely be described as dynastic.
It could have been Carroll sitting on the throne in this gem of a stadium. Speaking to the media in the postgame press conference, he mentioned how different of an experience it was to coach in Foxboro – the first time he did so after being fired 17 years ago – and doing it inside of Gillette Stadium.
“This stadium is a lot better than that old one,” said Carroll, referencing the Patriots old home field, Foxboro Stadium. “Geez, this place is a lot nicer. It was nice, yeah, what do you think? I liked it.”
The sights and the smells of any stadium are much better after a victory. But, on that same end of the stadium where Carroll stood long after the game was decided, where his defense held the Patriots out of the end zone, I had to wonder, as I said before, what he was thinking.
But the tone to that question needed to be more derisive. This time, it had to do with another questionable goal-line decision against the Patriots that could have proved catastrophic.
Here’s hoping I don’t have to remind you of the previous decision I was referring to. Super Bowl XLIX. One yard away from the win and back-to-back ring. Refusing to run Marshawn Lynch. Malcolm Butler. Yeah, you got all that. Tonight, after Russell Wilson threw his third touchdown pass of the game to Doug Baldwin with 4:24 remaining in the game, the Seahawks, who had already rolled up over 400 yards of total offense by that point, led 31-24.
That was before the extra point. And the scoreline remained the same after a hyper-aggressive Carroll decided to go for a two-point conversion to go up by nine – even though kicking (and making) the extra point would give Seattle an eight-point lead and force the Patriots to go for two if they scored a touchdown on its final possession.
The questionable call was a reporter’s dream, as the possible storyline from this game pretty much would have written itself: another Carroll coaching gaffe gives Patriots win in Super Bowl rematch. It was only a matter of time before the Patriots marched 74 yards in 11 plays to arrive on the doorstep of the Seahawks’ goal line, getting ready to tie the game and send the contest into overtime.
But on that same end of the field that Carroll stood after the game, his defense stopped two Tom Brady quarterback sneaks, a LeGarrette Blount run to the right and, after an illegal substitution penalty before the fourth-down play, caused an incomplete pass on a fade pattern to Rob Gronkowski, with Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor getting physical with Gronk and causing enough of a distraction to prevent the catch and a pass interference penalty.
Carroll probably stood about 10 yards from the Gronk-Chancellor tussle in the left corner of the end zone. He could have been thinking, “Thanks for bailing me out this time around!”
After tonight’s game, and defeating the 7-1 Patriots on the road and holding Tom Brady without a touchdown pass, the rest of the National Football League must surely be thinking that another run to the Super Bowl might be the next stop for the Seattle Seahawks.
Take some time to think about that.