It was the ultimate example of mixed emotions for Martin Sylvain. Just under two weeks ago, the Destrehan High School assistant track and field coach was sitting with his wife at the Super Bowl in Houston, watching his longtime protégé and friend, Tyson Jackson, play defensive end for an Atlanta team closing in on a world championship as the fourth quarter rolled on. Atlanta led 28-3 in the game and by 19 in the fourth quarter, but ultimately fell as Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to the biggest comeback victory in Super Bowl history, 34-28 in overtime.
Sylvain has mentored Jackson throughout the latter’s life, the two sharing an extremely close relationship. Sylvain was a coach at West St. John, where Jackson prepped before moving on to play at LSU and, eventually, the NFL.
The veteran coach is able to cherish the fact he was in attendance to witness what is widely considered one of the very best Super Bowl games ever, as well as the fact he saw Jackson play in the pinnacle of NFL competition.
At the same time, he hurt for Jackson, who was all but assured a Super Bowl ring before New England’s unprecedented rally.
“On one hand, it was an amazing experience,” Sylvain said. “The atmosphere was awesome. Having the chance to spend time up there with Tyson and his family, knowing he thought enough of me to include me … it was a high, and then such a low, because I knew Tyson had waited for this moment for so long.”
Sylvain and his wife were also in attendance two weeks earlier when Atlanta hosted and defeated the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game. They were celebrating on the field with Jackson and his family in the wake of the game, a decisive 44-21 Falcons victory.
“He looked at me and asked, ‘are you ready?’ And I asked, ‘for what?’ Sylvain said. “He says, ‘We’re doing to the big dance and like I told you, if I go, you go.’”
Sylvain had a chance to attend a Falcons practice, where he met team owner Arthur Blank, head coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan, among others.
“Tyson arranged everything,” said Sylvain, who had never attended a Super Bowl before.
“We had a pass to all of the events there. I can’t even describe it. It was truly a unique and awesome experience.”
Jackson’s Falcons dominated the Patriots for three quarters, but after a sack of Ryan and fumble recovery allowed New England to cut the lead to 28-20 late in the game, Falcons fans had reason to be nervous.
“As a coach, you never really assume anything. You’re always nervous,” Sylvain said. “But honestly, in the history of the Super Bowl, you have that lead … I just knew we had that game.
“But I also knew there was a guy named Brady on that other side. I just had no idea it was gonna change that fast.”
Atlanta appeared to have reestablished themselves after a Ryan-to-Julio Jones connection that placed the Falcons on the Patriots 22-yard-line and well within field goal range. But the Patriots sacked Ryan for a 12-yard loss, and a subsequent holding penalty pushed them out of range and Atlanta was forced to punt.
From there, Brady led a drive into the game’s final minute, eventually leading to a James White touchdown. Brady found Danny Amendola for a 2-point conversion to tie the game with 57 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime.
“The emotion in that place was unbelievable … to see the Falcons fans cheer and scream and celebrate, and all of a sudden when they scored that touchdown and got the 2 to tie, it’s unbelievable how silent it got,” Sylvain said.
New England won the overtime coin toss, marched down the field, and White’s plunged in from 2-yards out for the game-winning score.
“I’d seen it so many times from Brady. When they won the toss, I just put my head in my hands. I knew,” Sylvain said.
Sylvain spoke with a dejected Jackson after the game.
“He was very upset,” Sylvain said. “He said, ‘man, you couldn’t tell me we weren’t going to win that game. I asked him if Brady was that good, and he told me he was more than just that good.
“But I reminded him that there are so many guys who have played in this league even longer than he had who had never played in a Super Bowl.
“At the end of the day, you got to experience something so many, many players never have, and you can look back and be able to tell people about that experience as years go on. And he told me I was right.”
Sylvain said that a victory for Tyson and the Falcons would have been a perfect ending to a great weekend. But even though it wasn’t in the cards, he’s left with a great feeling of pride, seeing Jackson play on the world’s biggest stage and continuing to watch the man his pupil has grown to become.
“To watch him grow and develop into a phenomenal young man, a classy guy, it makes me feel so good as a coach,” Sylvain said. “You want to win, but I got into coaching first and foremost to change lives. Tyson becoming the person he is made me realize again why this profession is worth being a part of. I’m so thankful to have had the chance to be by his side for so much of it.”