By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer
Gratitude and brotherhood were on display at the Super Bowl, where Travis and Jason Kelce tussled for the Lombardi Trophy in a classic back-and-forth clash and Damar Hamlin received a rousing ovation during a pregame ceremony honoring the men and women who saved his life.
The feel-good vibes didn’t last as long as the NFL would have liked, however.
After the NBA encroached on the NFL’s biggest week by moving its trade deadline from late March to smack dab in the middle of Super Bowl week, the Kansas City Chiefs rallied past the Philadelphia Eagles 38-35 after the game took on the flavors of both MLB and the NHL.
The NFL’s biggest stage looked too much like a hockey rink when State Farm Stadium lived up to its reputation of slippery fields with players from both teams having a hard time keeping their footing.
The waxy grass neutralized the vaunted pass rush for both teams, helping Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts rack up points like pinball wizards at a vintage arcade.
Yet, just days after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell declared the league’s officiating better than ever, a debatable holding call just after the two-minute warning ensured there would be no chance for a fantastic finish to an otherwise scintillating Super Bowl 57.
The flag — just the ninth penalty of the game — was akin to an umpire suddenly expanding his strike zone in the ninth inning, and it drew condemnation far and wide.
The Chiefs faced third-and-8 at the Eagles 15-yard line with 1:54 remaining when Mahomes threw incomplete to JuJu Smith-Schuster. But officials flagged James Bradberry for defensive holding, which negated the incompletion and, more importantly, gave the Chiefs a first down.
Replays showed that Bradberry made light contact with Smith-Schuster, though it didn’t appear to affect the play that much.
Referee Carl Cheffers said it was a “clear case of a jersey grab” and added that nobody on his crew disagreed with the penalty.
There was plenty of bickering from fans and commentators. Former NFL tight end Greg Olsen wasn’t happy with the decision on the Fox broadcast and ESPN and Amazon analyst Kirk Herbstreit also was critical on social media, as were several current and former NFL players.
ESPN commentator and former NFL QB Tim Hasselbeck said it’s too much to ask officials to suddenly swallow their whistles in crucial moments because fans want to see a more climactic ending to the Super Bowl.
“That to me, in a regular-season game on third-and-7, that’s a flag. I don’t want the officials calling it any differently because it’s a tie game in the Super Bowl,” Hasselbeck said. “The job is hard enough. Let’s not have them all of a sudden call it differently based on, ‘Hey it’s a tie game, everyone at home would like a close one.”‘
Kansas City was able to essentially run out the clock after the flag, giving coach Andy Reid his second Super Bowl title, this one against the team that once fired him after he couldn’t win the big one in Philadelphia.
After Harrison Butker kicked a 27-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining, the Eagles got the ball back with only the chance for a desperation heave from Hurts that didn’t get anywhere near the end zone.
Despite all the consternation surrounding what many considered a ticky-tack flag, Bradberry acknowledged he committed a penalty on the pivotal play.
“It was a holding,” Bradberry said. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”
Sliding was the theme of the afternoon, after all.
The Eagles’ pass rushers didn’t record a single sack in the Super Bowl after piling up an incredible 78 sacks on the season, including 10 in the playoffs. Hurts and Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert were among the players who changed their cleats at halftime to get better traction.
“It’s not like we were playing on the on ice and they were playing on grass,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “We all had to play on it, we all have to figure out our shoes.”
Indeed, the Chiefs were just as bothered by the slippery field.
Mahomes slipped while trying to make a cut, receiver Skyy Moore lost his footing on a jet sweep and both running back Isiah Pacheco and tight end Travis Kelce slipped during touchdown celebrations.
The grass at State Farm Stadium is on a giant tray that is rolled in and out of the retractable-roof stadium. The field sits out in the Arizona sun on warm days and is brought back inside when it gets cold.
The Chiefs also had problems with the field in their season opener against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium when first-round pick Trent McDuffie tore a hamstring and went on IR and Butker got hurt.
This time, they kept their footing enough to pull out another 10-point second-half Super Bowl comeback.
While Mahomes and Travis Kelce and Pacheco and Chris Jones were still celebrating in the confetti, running back Melvin Gordon, who never suited up for the Chiefs after signing with Kansas City’s practice squad following his midseason departure from Denver, tweeted: “talk about a long year … y’all gave me something to smile about. Forever grateful. I’m a champion.”
True, but it was like a kid signing his name to a group project just before it got turned in and getting full credit like his classmates who did all the work.
Somehow that seemed like a fitting end to a Super Bowl Sunday equally filled with cringe-worthy points and memorable moments.