Sometime this summer, Carrie Underwood went into a studio and, at NBC’s behest, sang about how Sunday Night Football is the best thing in the world. ♫ Ohhhhhhhh Sunday Niiiiiiight ♫, she belted, gleeful about what are ostensibly the greatest games in America’s greatest sport.
Sunday night, Underwood’s voice haunted one of the worst NFL games ever. The Seahawks and Cardinals tied, 6–6, in overtime, in a prolonged exhibition of failure that neither team deserved to win. In NFL history, no two teams have ever played 75 minutes of football and combined for so few points.
♫ Ohhhhhhhh Sunday Niiiiiiight ♫, Underwood repeated, over and over again. As the game wore on, her “ohhhhhhhhh” sounded less like the peal of excitement it was intended to be, and more like the groan of somebody realizing they were slowly dying.
Both teams had a chance to win in overtime. The Cardinals had a game-winning field goal attempt from just 24 yards out. Their kicker, Chandler Catanzaro, had never missed a field goal from under 30 yards.
He doinked it:
With three minutes left, the Seahawks could win with a score, but they went all of regulation without a drive of more than 15 yards. How could they possibly put offense together at that point?
But, miracle of miracles, they drove 70 yards. After facing surefire defeat, they put the ball in field goal range, giving Steven Hauschka — the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history — a chance to win with a 28-yarder, right from the middle of the field.
He shanked it:
♫ Ohhhhhhhh Sunday Niiiiiiight ♫, I hear Carrie wailing. I feel as if she is in pain, but I know I can do nothing to help her.
This was about as unproductive of a game as you can get. It was only the third time in NFL history that teams had gone to overtime with a score of 3–3 or worse. One of those two was played by replacement players during the 1987 NFL strike.
It was only the fifth time in NFL history that a game ended as a tie with two teams failing to score a touchdown. The previous four took place in 1972 or earlier, before the league instituted overtime in 1974.
I know, points are not the only indicator of a good football game. Excellent defensive football can be FASCINATING, as 11 incredible athletes somehow sniff out every move their opponent can potentially make. And both teams played excellent defense.
But there was so much crap here that the good defense couldn’t quite wash it away. The Seahawks had 130 yards of offense in regulation and 90 yards in penalties. They essentially went nowhere all game, and literally went nowhere on their only scoring drive of regulation: They got great field position off of a blocked punt, went zero yards, and kicked a field goal.
The Cardinals didn’t shoot themselves in the feet so much as they pointed bazookas downward and fired away. We’ve already mentioned the Catanzaro doink and the blocked punt. But there was a blocked Catanzaro kick in the first half. And there was a fourth-and-inches situation from the 19-yard line in the third quarter in which Bruce Arians went for it and failed — a decision I’d normally endorse, but maybe not in a game where any points could have won the game.
♫ Ohhhhhhhh Sunday Niiiiiiight ♫, Carrie calls. Was it a warning?
I can see why the NFL and NBC thought this was a good idea. The Seahawks and Cardinals have been two of the NFL’s best teams, recent winners of a division that’s been perhaps the most competitive in the NFL over the past five seasons. They’re filled with personalities we care about: Russell Wilson is in commercials, and Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson will make any contest seem like a rivalry game.
But oh boy, it was not a good idea. The NFL’s prime-time games this year have been a cavalcade of boredom, bad games between bad teams inspiring all but diehards (and, um, paid sportswriters) to tune out. Sunday night was the winning float in this gloomy parade, a game of such resoundingly low quality that everybody involved had to feel bad about it.
Carrie signed up for something good. She was permanently linking her voice with the marquee matchups in America’s most popular and beloved sport.
But when I hear her call — ♫ Ohhhhhhhh Sunday Niiiiiiight ♫ — I will remember this night. I don’t want to relive the things I saw, but I know it would be more dangerous to forget.
An earlier version of this piece included an inaccurate tweet about the Seahawks defense spending the most time on the field in NFL history; it was ninth most.