Nine seasons later, Malcolm Butler’s interception of Russell Wilson in Super Bowl XLIX still stings in Seattle.
It’s a play that changed the course of two franchises, short-circuiting a potential dynasty while reigniting another in New England. Two of the central players on the losing side sat down recently to hash things out.
Pete Carroll joined Richard Sherman for an episode of Sherman’s podcast that was released Tuesday. They discussed several topics, but none more compelling than Carroll’s decision to throw the ball instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line with the Super Bowl on the line.
“You guys were so mad at me and so pissed,” Carroll said.
They were. They being Sherman and the rest of the Legion of Boom. Resentment over the play and Carroll’s perceived preferential treatment of Wilson ultimately poisoned the well in Seattle. Sherman and fellow Legion of Boomer K.J. Wright have discussed the topic on Sherman’s podcast as recently as last season.
“We were hurt,” Sherman responded to Carroll.
Why did Carroll let Russ throw?
Carroll then explained the thought process behind the decision. He pleaded a philosophical case that incorporating one throw in a series of red zone plays was an optimal strategy to allow the Seahawks as many shots at the end zone as possible.
“That play just happened,” Carroll continued. “That play got called. It just happened. It wasn’t by design. There was no foreshadowing, no intent, no agenda. That play just happened.
“When we got down there, we had one timeout. As soon we got there, I said one of these plays, we’re gonna have to throw it to get all four plays — make sure we have a chance to get all four shots.”
Carroll then explained that the decision to pass on second down was made after the Patriots sent their goal-line defense in.
“That’s what led them to throw it on that down,” Carroll said. … “I was rock solid on the philosophy of it. It just was the worst play that could ever happen.”
“He made a heck of a play,” Sherman said of Butler’s end-zone interception.
“It turned all of that so dark, so instantly,” Carroll responded. … “There’s nothing that you can say that’s gonna put it in any other place. It was just as catastrophic as any moment can be.”
The Seahawks returned to the playoffs for two straight seasons after losing that Super Bowl. But the chemistry that the franchise rode to a Super Bowl victory a season before was gone. Bitterness played out publicly, and the Legion of Boom that changed the way defense was played in the NFL ultimately dissolved via defections, age and injury. They didn’t make it past the divisional round again.
Wilson remained until his own unceremonious departure culminated in a chorus of boos from Seahawks fans in his return to Seattle last season as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. It was his first NFL game not wearing a Seahawks uniform against a team he quarterbacked to its lone Super Bowl victory.
Carroll believes that a win over the Patriots would have launched a dynasty that would win at least three Super Bowls.
“Had we won that game, we would have won again,” Carroll said.
“We would have won another one,” Sherman said.
Maybe they would have. Maybe they wouldn’t have. But two would have been sufficient for the Seahawks’ legacy to launch them into the rarified air of back-to-back Super Bowl champions.
Instead, the second wind of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era was underway as they won their fourth Super Bowl together 10 years after claiming their third. They would famously go on to win two more together and cement their status as the leaders of greatest dynasty in NFL history.
It adds up to a lot of what-ifs in Seattle laced with regret. But nothing can take away the Super Bowl they did win and the impact Seattle’s defense made on the game. And nine years later, Sherman seems somewhat at peace. He even conceded to Carroll that he agreed with the philosophy behind the ill-fated decision.
“It was more more hurt than anger,” Sherman told Carroll. “Hurt comes out as anger sometimes. … The philosophy is solid. You’re totally right under those circumstances.”
Given the chance to linger on the bitter subject, Sherman quickly moved on. He instead heaped praise on his former coach for what he described as “coaching optimistically,” an approach he contrasted to the hard-nosed style of Belichick.
As the 45-minute conversation concluded, the two appeared to genuinely be at peace.