Super Bowl 51 & Situational Irony

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What happens when the Cinderella’s slipper fits on the girl that everyone hates? That’s what happened to the New England Patriots Sunday night at Super Bowl LI. The NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons entered the third quarter up 28-9 on the Patriots, and the franchise needed fifteen minutes of mistake-free football to wrest its first Super Bowl victory from the football gods.

That didn’t happen. Nope. Tom Brady happened.

Fifteen minutes later, the Patriots won the coin toss in overtime, and Brady paraded his team down the field to score, wresting the Super Bowl away with a 34-28 win. Their 25-point comeback was the largest in Super Bowl history (the previous was 10 points). Brady became the first quarterback to win five super bowls, as well as setting the record for most passing yards in a super bowl with 466.

It wasn’t supposed to go down this way.

As a Steelers fan, I scrambled onto the Falcons bandwagon for a night. While I don’t have any particular hatred for the Patriots like a lot of my fellow yinzers do, I just wanted to see the Falcons get their first super bowl win in franchise history.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, the NFL MVP this season, seemed to be destined for Philip Rivers-territory—being a good quarterback on a ho-hum team—but this year’s super bowl run catapulted him and his team into a made-for-hollywood opportunity. The headline was there: Ryan and Falcons triumph over perennial winner New England Patriots.

That headline never made it into the papers. Atlanta’s defense wilted in the second half and their offense tanked. Brady resuscitated his golden arm and led the counterattack, winning his fifth super bowl in seven appearances.

Belichik, Brady, and the Patriots made history, but I there was a strange twisting in my gut. Sure, I respect Brady and the Patriots’ accomplishments, but when David starts smacking Goliath around, no one wants to see Goliath get up, dust himself off, and murk David.

If you’ve made it past the stats and football talk, here’s the literary payoff. Good stories have endings that yank you out of emotional equilibrium. The Falcons had the glass slippers on their feet going into the fourth quarter, but the Patriots, or the evil stepsister if you like, wrestled those slippers away and took off.

Super Bowl LI illustrated situational irony. With fifteen minutes left in the game, everyone expected that the Falcons to strut onto the victory podium. But the football gods decided to tug on our heartstrings and give some grace to the guys who alway win.

In the same way, as writers, we can shock our readers by creating endings of stories that scatter the reader’s expectation. Take common archetypes the you see in literature and riff  off them. The plot twist doesn’t have to be as gruesome as last night, but give your audience something worth talking about.

One solid technique for situational irony is making the familiar seem strange or the strange seem familiar. Just like last night, football fans thought the script had been written by the fourth quarter, but as Tom Brady showed, the evil stepsister can do some last minute edits.


Author’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series of articles that will chart the progress I’m making on writing a short story. The story will be part of a larger Geneva College project in which students from Dr. Williams’s ENG 344 Publishing compile their short stories into a published collection for the campus. Check us out on Facebook under “Geneva Inklings.”


Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @RunFree_KC, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at kevincochrane316@yahoo.com.

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