Don’t worry Deion Sanders, I’m not about to make a case that James White belongs in the Hall of Fame. He made comments recently about how he feels the standard of players being inducted has dropped in recent years. Richard Seymour, LeRoy Butler — hey argue amongst yourselves.
I’m not here to gush over White’s entire career. It means more to the folks of the New England area, Wisconsin, and South Florida than anywhere else. White was a dependable, productive NFL running back and played in the league for eight seasons. Of 300-plus million people in America, at most, there are only 2,500 better athletes than him.
He’s part of an elite group of humans who are athletic enough to earn a living playing professional sports. While that’s an amazing accomplishment, players like him who contribute but don’t make Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams, also don’t get many moments of national recognition. Moments where even among that small percentage of elite athletes, they stand out as the best of the best.
White had that moment in Super Bowl LI. As the New England Patriots stormed back in the second half to overcome a 28-3 deficit, White was their lightning bolt. He scored three touchdowns — all in the second half and overtime — and provided 139 yards of total offense. That final overtime touchdown is the only walk-off TD in Super Bowl history.
I knew once he broke the plane for the final score that he wasn’t going to be awarded the MVP, but that doesn’t make it a just decision. Sure Tom Brady threw for 466 yards, but he also attempted 62 passes. That’s what happens when a team is down by 25 points late in the third quarter. The Patriots had no choice but to air it out for the entire second half. Also, one of the reasons the Patriots were down by so many points was Brady’s pick-six with two and a half minutes remaining in the second quarter that put the Patriots down 21-0 (also, I got a good chuckle when I clicked on the YouTube clip and was greeted by a Brady Hertz commercial.)
That game was White’s Larry Brown moment. His Timmy Smith game. There would never be a moment like that again in his career. Over 100 million people watched that game and saw White slither, stretch, and strongarm his way into the end zone on multiple occasions. He was also the only Patriot with double-digit receptions in that game. White caught 14 passes, and the next closest player was Danny Amendola with eight.
Rob Gronkowski was on injured reserve during the entire postseason. That Super Bowl appeared out of reach by halftime, and even though Julian Edelman did make the most memorable play, somehow squeezing that tipped Brady pass and keeping it inches off of the ground, it was White who Brady rode to a fifth championship.
The second Joe Buck mentioned that Brady had won his fifth Super Bowl after White had scampered in for the game-winning touchdown in overtime, it was clear the MVP was going to Brady. It added to the Brady lore. Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history did the impossible. He overcame a 25-point deficit in less than two quarters to get him to the title that gave him one more than his childhood favorite player, Joe Montana.
But the title was enough. He didn’t need the MVP, too. Brady will forever be the face of that game, but it was White who made it happen. It was White who scored the most touchdowns in that game — Brady only completed two touchdown passes, one of which was to White. It was White who Brady looked to again and again when he needed someone to make a play. White was the best player for the Patriots that day, and he should’ve gotten to go into the history books as the MVP.
It’s the only individual award he would ever be qualified to earn as an NFL player. There were going to be no MVPs or Rookie of the Year awards for White. He’s not that type of a player. However, for one night, with the eyes of the world on him, he was the best athlete in America. White should’ve been rewarded for it.
A bust of his head doesn’t belong in Canton, but he put on a Hall of Fame performance in Super Bowl LI.