BRISTOL, R.I. — When junior Matt Sutton woke up at three in the morning in his Scarborough, Maine home the Friday before Super Bowl LI, it was not because of the ending of a bad dream; the dream was actually about to begin.
He woke up early to get dressed and pack the car for a trip to the Providence airport. His mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins were all on their way to Houston. Near the tail end of the flight, the captain spoke over the public address system that the plane would make its final descent to Atlanta. Sutton realized that he would be in enemy territory trying to catch his connecting flight.
He disembarked the plane from Providence and hopped onto the one headed to his final destination. He saw the color red take over the plane, as loads of fans boarded wearing their Atlanta Falcons home jerseys. He finally felt a sense of relief when he saw blue Patriots jerseys accompany him on the flight.
The wheels of the plane touched the tarmac of Houston, where the festivities have already begun for the weekend. After collecting their bags, the Sutton party called for a cab to bring them to the Weston Hotel in downtown Houston. After dropping his belongings off at the hotel, he walked through the city to see dozens of catering companies fill the streets, offering free pictures and handing out free champagne to those who stopped by. After a long drive from Maine to Providence and the flight to Atlanta and Houston, Matt began to feel the exhaustion build up from the day. He grabbed some food at a local restaurant and fell asleep in his hotel bed.
Sutton found it difficult to stay asleep, as he knew what was at stake. He crawled out of bed at around eight in the morning with the pure feeling of excitement. He pulled his blue Rob Gronkowski jersey over his head and he and his family were ready to head to NRG Stadium to watch the final football game of the season.
Outside the stadium, he was welcomed into a catering party hosted by world famous Guy Fieri. Sutton recalls Fieri working over a hot grill in order to satisfy the hunger of all of his guests. Fieri was not the only celebrity at the barbecue. Odell Beckham Jr., Dak Prescott, and former Patriot Matt Light, were just some of the players who would walk up to spectators and hold a casual conversation with them.
“It was insane. It’s not something that you could duplicate,” says Sutton.
After eating and drinking at the catering event, the Sutton party decided that it was time to find their seats inside the stadium. Their seats were located on the Patriots side, so lots of blue jerseys surrounded him. He did note, however, two Falcons fans seated directly in front of them.
With Atlanta leading by a score of 21-3, the Falcons fans seated in front of Sutton were already in celebration. Sutton sat heartbroken in his seat and could not begin to think about the halftime show. Seeing the lone Falcons fans in his section smile with anticipation, the game became unbearable for him to watch.
“They were doing a victory chant at halftime,” Sutton recalled.
The Falcons would start the second half by scoring again to make it 28-3. Instead of burrowing even further in sorrow, Sutton knew that there was a comeback to be had by the team he loves. The Patriots quickly scored to make it 28-9 and lined up for the extra point. The Patriots kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, hit the right upright with the extra point, and at that moment, Sutton began to think that the comeback was not meant to be. He remembers what happened the year before, where the same kicker missed an important extra point, which ultimately cost the Patriots a trip to the Super Bowl.
When Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower recorded the strip sack against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Sutton claimed that that was the true turning point of the game. The Patriots went on to make it a 28-20 game and any doubt that Sutton had simply vanished. The Patriots side of the stadium was rocking, and Sutton states that New England fans had overpowered the Atlanta side of the stadium.
At 28-26, Sutton felt confident that the Patriots would be able to cross the goal line for the two-point conversion. When Patriots receiver Danny Amendola was able to propel his body across the goal line to tie the game, the sound of the crowd became deafening inside the stadium. At that moment, Sutton says: “I was getting teary-eyed.”
Awaiting the coin toss for overtime, Sutton waited patiently with his family by his side. Patriots captain Matthew Slater called heads and that is what the coin showed when it settled on the green turf. When the Patriots elected to receive the ball to start overtime, the only thought that came to Matt’s mind was: “We are going to win this game.”
He turned his head to see that in front of him, one of the two Falcons fans smacked his own chair in frustration. It was clear that fear of what was going to happen had found its way into the head of many Falcons fans.
The Patriots did not wait too long to score the game winning touchdown, and before Sutton knew for sure that James White had officially scored, the confetti was released from the ceiling and covered his field of vision. Through the streams of red, white and blue confetti, he could see the word “CHAMPIONS” displayed on the LED scoreboard around the stadium. Sutton described that the sweetest feeling came from when the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, had to hand over the prized Lombardi trophy to the Patriots.
After attending one of the greatest football games ever played, Sutton stated that not much could be done to top that experience. He headed to a bar with his family, sat down, and had a drink while trying to soak in what he had just experienced.
“The whole time, when we got out of the stadium, they were all chanting ‘Brady!’,” says Sutton, “I got a drink at the bar, and I guess, I just called it a night.”