With less than three minutes to play in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons led the New England Patriots 28-3 – and even then, Rich McKay knew it wasn’t over.
“The longer you’re in it – and I’ve been in it my whole life – no, too many things have happened,” the Falcons President and CEO said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen it all. So no, you don’t get ahead of yourself. Now you being to feel very comfortable in the game and the way the game lays out. But for me, when they decided to kick the onside kick – and we were up by, I think, 16 – to me, that was the big exchange. If we gain 10 yards and kick a field goal, the game is over.”
They didn’t, and it wasn’t.
“When we didn’t (score), now I’m in my nervous mode,” McKay said. “Now it really is a couple plays (away from being a different game) – and a couple can happen at any time. So you never expect it. You do get to (feel) a little comfortable, but you always say (a comeback is) possible.”
The Falcons, of course, allowed 31 unanswered points and lost, 34-28, in overtime.
If given the choice, McKay would take that result over a 40-3 blowout any day of the week.
“No, I wouldn’t want that,” McKay said. “I would never want to say that you didn’t play well. I think you have to look at it this way: It is a very hard pill to swallow. It’s very hard to lose that game – I don’t care what the score is – and especially in the fashion that we lost it. But I learned from my dad a long time ago that if you’re going to sit there and talk about it or you’re going worry about it, it’s not going to make you an inch better. You have got to accept it – don’t deny it – embrace it and move on.”
McKay’s father, John, coached at USC from 1960-75 and led the Trojans to four national titles. In 1974, they went for two and beat Ohio State, 18-17, to win the Rose Bowl. After the game, the elder McKay was asked if that made up for 1966, when the Trojans lost the Rose Bowl in that same fashion to Purdue.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy?’” McKay said, recalling the words of his father. “‘I think about ’66 all the time. I remember those players. I remember that moment. I remember there’s people that didn’t make it to ’67 when we won a national championship with O.J. (Simpson). So don’t say does this make up for it. It won’t. But you got to move on.’ So that’s kind of the way I’ve always looked at it. “
Former Falcons offensive coordinator – and current 49ers head coach – Kyle Shanahan was criticized for his second-half play-calling in Super Bowl LI, but McKay has nothing but praise for the 37-year-old, who lost the Super Bowl one day and became an NFL head coach the next.
“You talk about a run of emotion,” McKay said. “I think you have to be in that moment where it’s true elation. You’ve finally gotten the job. In his case, he’s been working for it since he was 1 year old. He’s the son of a coach. He’s been down that path. And yet, at the same time, your mind is wandering.”
What if I had done this? What if I had called that?
“That’s the nature of the game,” McKay said. “But I hope for Kyle – because he did a fabulous job for us – I hope for him that as hard as it was, that he still got to enjoy the moment of being a head coach and getting that gig – because they are hard to get. They’re not easy.”