Sunday’s Super Bowl LI victory may have cemented Tom Brady’s legacy as the greatest quarterback of all time.
But even with Brady’s heroics in the New England Patriots’ remarkable 25-point comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons — which included 62 pass attempts, 43 completions, 466 yards and two touchdowns — not even he felt deserving of the game’s MVP award that was handed to him following his fifth championship.
That honor, Brady said, belongs to former University of Wisconsin running back James White.
White, 25, a third-year pro and fourth-round draft pick, caught a Super Bowl-record 14 passes for 110 yards and scored three touchdowns — the final one on a 2-yard toss play in overtime that gave the Patriots their second title in three years.
“I think James White deserves (the MVP award),” Brady said Monday. “James White is like my oldest son. He just does everything right and you can never get mad at him. If he doesn’t make the play, he feels worse about it than you do. He’s just the best teammate.
“He’s an incredible player. He assumed that role in our offense when Dion (Lewis) got hurt last year. I’m so proud of him and everything he’s accomplished. I’ve seen him grow from being a rookie working his tail off to really becoming a big factor.”
Working his tail off as a rookie in 2014 certainly didn’t pay off for White right away.
He played in only three games that season and was inactive for Super Bowl XLIX, when New England defeated the Seattle Seahawks.
“It wasn’t disappointing,” White told the State Journal last week. “I was glad to have the experience. And if I ever got an opportunity to play or whatnot and find a role on this team, I would just work hard and try and help this team get back to this point. I’m just happy to be back here and be contributing.
“I’m excited to have this opportunity, and I’m not going to take it for granted.”
White sure took advantage of his increased role against the Falcons.
Lewis was healthy once again, but New England opted mostly for White on Sunday, and the Patriots’ pass-happy attack after falling behind early kept starting running back LaGarrette Blount off the field for much of the night.
White, who also rushed for 29 yards on six carries, caught check-downs and screens out of the backfield while also making plays from a wideout position.
White caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady late in the third quarter to start the Patriots’ rally and scored on a 1-yard run with 57 seconds remaining to help send the game to overtime. White, who turned 25 on Friday, also ran in a 2-point conversion earlier in the fourth quarter that was vital to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history.
Said Brady: “That particular role in our offense, in the Kevin Faulk mold, in the Danny Woodhead mold, in the Shane Vereen mold and ultimately what Dion and James have done has been incredible for our offense. They’re tough matchups. They can run, catch and pass protect, too.”
Along with breaking the record for receptions, White tied another Super Bowl mark by scoring three touchdowns, and his 20 points scored were more than any player in the game’s 51-year history.
MVP or not, White went from relative unknown to Super Bowl hero overnight.
The difference Sunday didn’t come from a change in White’s approach — simply the opportunity provided to him.
“It’s still a football game,” White said last week. “You’ll probably be nervous the first snap before you hit somebody, but after that, it’s just football. You go out there and execute the game plan and give it all you have.”
Just as he did two years ago with cornerback Malcolm Butler for his game-sealing interception on the goal line in the final minute against the Seahawks, Brady said he plans on handing over the keys to the new car that comes with being Super Bowl MVP to someone else — White.
White was in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, celebrating in a “Going to Disney World” Super Bowl parade with Mickey Mouse at Magic Kingdom Park. He also spent some time riding some of the park’s more popular attractions.
“It still feels surreal to me. I mean I really haven’t wrapped my head around it,” White said earlier in the day on “CBS This Morning.”
“Once I get home to my family and everything, it’ll be a great joy to be around them. Just, probably re-watch the game and whatnot. I can’t put it into words.”
White also heaped praise on Brady.
“With a guy like Tom Brady, you can never lose hope. Anything can happen,” White said. “We played a complementary football game. Defense came out, and the second half, they played unbelievable, the special teams played unbelievable. The offense, we just tried to score points.”
— Associated Press contributed.