Normally, I wouldn’t give a rat’s you-know-what about the officials working a pro football game. But when I heard that the crew for Super Bowl XLVI would include Tom Stabile, it made me smile.
He gave me one of my fondest sports memories.
In November 2009, I was in Las Vegas with a group of high school buddies. We liked to schedule our long Vegas weekends around a marquee sporting event, something we could gather for, watch together, and, of course, bet on. That year, the main attraction was Colts vs. Patriots, and the hype was as good as any playoff game. Sunday night, we settled in at a sticky table in the bar area of a dive casino.
Just after kick-off, a group of about eight, wearing Patriots jerseys and other paraphernalia, crowded around a table between the TV and us. The men were big, and some of them, as I recall, had shaven heads. The women were loud and wore a lot of makeup.
After they noticed the Colts jerseys and T-shirts at our table, they threw us wry smiles and a little trash talk. We smiled and nodded. The Colts got out to a seven-point lead. We clapped. Then the Patriots ripped off 24 straight points before halftime. After the first of the touchdowns, the Pats fans in front of us cheered. After the second, they all turned around to look at us with mocking grins. They were drinking beer and shots at a furious clip. By the third touchdown, they were on their feet and whooping it up big time, all facing us full-on, daring us to object. We sat meekly, too shamed by the score to meet the challenge.
Then, improbably, Indianapolis went on a run, and with 2:08 minutes left to play, the Colts were down by only six points. The Patriots held the ball on their own 28-yard line and faced a fourth-and-two. Inexplicably, reputed evil genius Bill Belichick eschewed the obvious play call—punting the ball away—and signaled that he would go for the first down. The Pats fans by our table wouldn’t even look at us now. They were glued to the screen, fretting, groaning. Tom Brady lined up and threw a quick pass to Kevin Faulk. He caught the ball and fell right at the first-down marker.
Tom Stabile—the same Tom Stabile who will be officiating the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5—ruled him short.
When Peyton Manning and company took over an easy distance from the Colts' end zone, the once-swaggering Pats fans by our table dropped their heads, slumped their shoulders, and skulked quietly away. The game would forever be known as the Fourth-and-2 Game, and when Manning hit Reggie Wayne for the game-tying touchdown, they weren’t even there to watch the ending.
I know I should be a bigger person, but that is how I always want to picture Patriots fans: dispirited, dejected, defeated.
And I know hosting the NFL official who, in his small way, delivered that special moment is little consolation for a miserable Colts season. But it’s still consolation.