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Whitlock: 'Don’t Stop Believin’' bogus Super Bowl ending was 'Made in America'

Op-ed
Jason Allen/ISI Photos / Contributor, Nick Cammett / Stringer, Cooper Neill / Contributor, Tim Nwachukwu / Staff, Mitchell Leff / Contributor, Cooper Neill / Contributor | Getty Images

Let’s call it “The Sopranos Bowl.”

Super Bowl LVII, Kansas City’s 38-35 victory, unseated "Made in America," the finale of the iconic HBO mob series, as the worst ending in television history.

With a little less than two minutes to play and the score tied at 35-35, a would-be Super Bowl classic cut to black, leaving more than 100 million fans pondering what could have been.

Would Philly capo Jalen Hurts rally the Eagles from a three-point deficit and win the game or force overtime? Or did Kansas City underboss Patrick Mahomes and button man Harrison Butker whack the Eagles?

We’ll never know because a referee flagged Philly corner James Bradberry for defensive holding on third and eight at the Philadelphia 15-yard line. The penalty gave the Chiefs a first down, allowed them to drain the clock, and set up a game-ending 27-yard field goal with eight seconds to play.

The unnecessary and unjustified call ruined the Super Bowl.

I don’t care that Bradberry defended the ref.

“It was holding,” Bradberry told reporters. “I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide.”

No dice. No way.

It was a horrible call. I’ve watched the replays a dozen times. Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster never broke stride. Bradberry’s contact never impeded Smith-Schuster from getting into his route. The refs stayed out of the game for 58 minutes. There were no mystery holding calls in the secondary or along the line of scrimmage. It was a clean game. It was a great game. Until the bogus holding penalty on Bradberry.

I’m not a bitter Eagles fan. I’m a happy Chiefs fan. I lived and worked in Kansas City for 16 years. My mother moved to Kansas City in 1984. I moved there in 1994. The Chiefs are my favorite football team. I bet money on Kansas City winning Sunday’s game. I’m thrilled with the outcome.

It’s the same way I feel about “The Sopranos.” It’s one of my two or three favorite shows in the history of television. It’s right there with “The Wire” and “The Shield.”

But more than anything else, “The Sopranos” is remembered for its trash ending. The screen cut to black. Sopranos fans have spent years arguing whether a hit man in a Members Only jacket clipped Tony Soprano as he ate dinner with Carmela, Meadow, and A.J. as “Don’t Stop Believin’” played on the jukebox.

Endings are important. They can taint the memory of an otherwise perfect story. “The Sopranos” might be the undisputed king of television if not for its blown final episode.

A perfect ending can elevate a TV show. “The Shield” pulled off the greatest finale in history. "Family Meeting," “The Shield’s” final 72-minute episode, is flawless. Dirty cop Shane Vendrell poisons his wife and kid and then blows his own head off. Dirty cop Ronnie Gardocki is dragged off to jail seconds after finding out his trusted leader, Vic Mackey, snitched to save himself. Mackey forfeits his kids and career, is exposed as a cop killer, and is trapped at a desk job surrounded by federal agents who hate him.

The ending enriched all seven seasons and the 87 preceding episodes of “The Shield.”

Sunday’s Super Bowl was a bitter reminder of what’s wrong with the NFL. Referees have too much influence over the outcomes. They have too many judgment calls to make. The officiating is uneven and inconsistent. Sometimes the games feel manipulated. Calls of pass interference and roughing the passer determine outcomes more than the players.

I don’t believe the NFL is rigged. Nor do I believe former NFL running back Arian Foster’s outrageous suggestion that the games follow a script.

What was scripted was the reaction to Sunday’s game-deciding penalty.

I believe the NFL persuaded Bradberry and the Eagles not to whine about the costly penalty. I believe the league persuaded its television partners to downplay the penalty on Sunday. I don’t blame the NFL for this. It’s smart business. The league’s showcase event botched the ending. Roger Goodell wants fans talking about the magnificent performances of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, and Nick Bolton, the Kansas City linebacker. It’s better to discuss the coaching brilliance of Andy Reid than the fact that NFL referees are in an impossible position.

Remember the Saints-Rams pass-interference no-call that sent Los Angeles to the 2019 Super Bowl?

The refs swallowed their whistles and let the players decide the game. The refs were ripped. Saints coach Sean Payton whined for months. He wore a Roger Goodell clown T-shirt. A New Orleans fan filed a lawsuit against the NFL (and later dropped it).

The “Nola No Call” in the NFC Championship is more memorable than the Patriots’ 13-3 Super Bowl victory.

Whelp, this time a ref didn’t swallow his flag. He threw it. He directly influenced the end of the game.

The NFL is a television show. Its goal is to create television stars. Its biggest star, Tom Brady, just retired. Patrick Mahomes is the next man up. The NFL is determined to stop a bogus penalty from tainting Mahomes’ second Super Bowl title.

The final episode of “The Sopranos” aired in June 2007, well before the social media matrix distorted truth with controlled narrative. Sixteen years ago, we were all free to rip "Made in America." Now algorithms and partnerships determine criticism and dissent.

They want us to “fuhgeddaboudit.” That’s Sopranos slang for “forget about it.”

Whattayagonnado?

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