Alexander Rossi had more anxiety watching Sunday’s Super Bowl LI than when he won last May’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by Penn Grade Motor Oil.
A diehard New England Patriots fan, the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver couldn’t help but fear the worst when his team trailed 28-3 in the third quarter at Houston’s NRG Stadium. But he learned a long time ago not to count out quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick.
Rossi watched from fellow driver James Hinchcliffe’s Indianapolis home as Brady led the Patriots to a 34-28 overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons for the largest comeback victory in Super Bowl history.
A day later, Rossi conceded his stress level was higher with his eyes glued to that television than when he was driving his No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda to Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I think I was (more nervous), actually,” Rossi said today. “I was pretty stressed and concerned. I would never not watch the game, but I definitely had my doubts, for sure.
“As we all were kind of reminded pretty viciously last night, you can’t ever bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and what they’re capable of doing. He’s always been known as the ‘Comeback Kid.’ He’s not a kid anymore, but his execution was pretty unbelievable and it’s something that I think a lot of people forget.”
Brady passed for a Super Bowl-record 466 yards and two touchdowns to be named the game’s MVP for a fourth time. Brady and Belichick won their fifth Super Bowl rings together.
“You see the stats and see the huge numbers, but he’s led more fourth-quarter comebacks than any quarterback in playoff Super Bowl history,” Rossi said. “I think handling that pressure and delivering is pretty applicable to racing and my line of work, just amazing and it’s something I have huge respect for.”
Like Brady, Rossi grew up in Northern California. But the 25-year-old driver’s affinity for the Patriots came from when he was driving in Europe.
“I’ve been a Patriots fan really since 2009, solely because of when I was living in Europe, the only NFL games I could watch on the television package they had at the time was Patriots or (Green Bay) Packers games,” he said. “I was originally a (San Francisco) 49ers fan, but then considering I didn’t watch any of the games for about seven years, I switched to being a Patriots fan despite not being from Boston.
“I just have a huge amount of respect for that organization and the quarterback. Sunday was pretty chaotic, but I think it was one of the greatest sports stories in history. The fact we were all able to witness it was pretty special.”
Rossi’s Twitter feed, @AlexanderRossi, displays several tweets, retweets and pro-Patriots comments before, during and after the game. The latest retweet this afternoon was from an NFL tweet with a picture of a screaming Brady covered in multi-colored victory confetti while holding up the Vince Lombardi Trophy with the words, “THE LARGEST COMEBACK WIN IN SUPER BOWL HISTORY.”
I'm about to pass out. #sports
246 yards in the fourth. What in the world.... 🙌🏼 https://t.co/AIZ7khrF1W
Don't call it a comeback.
Call it THE comeback. 🙌 #SB51 pic.twitter.com/EVF7l8DzSe
When Brady led the Patriots to their first touchdown in the third quarter, Rossi was reassured his team still had a chance.
“When they got the first touchdown and then the defense was able to continue to make stops, I was thinking, ‘OK, there’s a shot at it,’” he said. “I was concerned about having to do two two-point conversions because those are harder than scoring touchdowns. That was my biggest concern.
“I wasn’t stressed on the final drive to tie it up, or to get to 26 before the two-point conversion, because I knew Brady had three minutes and two timeouts and that’s all the time in the world for him. But I was not at all comfortable that they would be able to get the two points. So I was almost expecting there would have to be an onside kick to have a shot at it, but then they got the two-point conversion.”
When the game headed to overtime, Rossi had no doubt the Patriots would win when they won the coin flip with a call of “heads.” New England took the kickoff and promptly and efficiently drove the length of the field for the winning touchdown.
“When they got the two-point conversion, then won the coin toss, I think all 112 million people who were watching knew exactly what was going to happen,” he said. “It was pretty clear that when they won the toss, they were winning the game.”
Brady drove the Patriots 75 yards in eight plays in overtime, with the deciding play a James White 2-yard touchdown run.
Rossi said Hinchcliffe was also pulling for the Patriots.
“He was going for the Patriots mostly because he just wanted to see history,” Rossi said. “He’s not a Patriots fan being an Indianapolis Colts fan, but he wanted to see Tom (Brady) get five. There’s a lot of guys from an athlete’s perspective who can relate to that because they want to see such a high level of excellence.”
After Super Bowl LI ended, Rossi was too excited to head to bed.
“I didn’t go to sleep until 1:15 or 1:30 last night because I was waiting for all the articles to come out and highlight videos and stuff,” he said. “I was refreshing the NFL app for quite a few hours last night.”