How the hell did he catch that? Image: Getty Images
There had to be some natural law or human ability that was broken by Justin Jefferson’s catch.
Like you, I’ve watched it over and over again. We probably thought Odell Beckham’s catch would never be surpassed except he had no defender and it wasn’t 4th and 18th. And yet, if you go through it step-by-step, there’s a part that just doesn’t quite add up. We will make it.
It was Lisa Simpson, yes it’s always a Simpsons, who called football a “wild ballet”. And there’s something wild about that catch-and-play, while at the same time being one of the more graceful things you’ll ever see on a playing field, rink, or court. Both Cam Lewis and Jefferson are trying to take each other’s football just as they were trying to take each other’s hearts. After all, the game is at stake. Rarely does that kind of balance, touch, and strength and aggressiveness collide in one moment.
So the nonsensical part. Not that any of us could do any of that stuff, of course. But Jefferson just goes up with his right hand and gets it between Lewis’ hands and on the ball, it adds up. Still unbelievable that this catch was even up for debate at this point because it’s one hand against two and Jefferson is in overdrive, which isn’t the best way to muster the most power. From what we know about how humans function, the ball should have been easily removed from his grip. But we’ve seen things like this early stage before.
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Now they both come down, both hands on the ball, and Jefferson can wrap his hand around the ball and flex his wrist. That’s understandable. We can all see it. But here they enter a portal into the Bermuda Triangle and are shot back to Buffalo.
First, as they fall, the ball spins perpendicular to the ground, with Jefferson’s hand wrapping around the ball’s horizontal axis. At that moment, Lewis’ hands loosen, but think about how you hold a football like this and how predestined it is to hit the ground. Jefferson, like Dr. J rocked, but Doc was never actively knocked down.
Both hit the ground, and the combination of the impact and Jefferson’s power on the ball broke Lewis’s grip. But here, the loss of Lewis’ counterforce should cause both the ball and Jefferson’s arm/hand to shoot back toward his body, like you’re releasing one end of an outstretched rubber band. And yet, while all of this is going on, Jefferson is able to roll the ball from perpendicular to parallel to the ground while bouncing against it.
But it doesn’t really. Jefferson’s arm remains outstretched on the turf, ball in hand. If he had just balanced the ball in his hand with his hand between the ball and the ground, OK. If his hands are big enough and so strong that he can crush a soccer ball with them and doesn’t have to somehow land the ball on the turf… well, that’s okay too, but that’s kind of hard to believe. It’s a combination of both or neither. I can not say it. I can’t zaprow it. After all of this, he brings it back into his body, but only after the catch is more than certain.
Something happens, something inexplicable, as Lewis’ hands release the ball. There should have been a balancing act or protecting the ball from feeling the impact of the ground, like keeping it up. None of that happened. A higher power, whether it be a strange act of God or the superpowers that Jefferson might actually possess, was being exercised. It really is indescribable.
There will come a time when a fan of another NFC North team, like myself, will happily frolic in the Vikings for another epic and unforgettable moment meant to herald a magical season, a season who has a touch of destiny about it. Minneapolis Miracle II and all that. Or how that catch might not even have been the craziest moment in that game. Or how this could not just happen to Buffalo, but to a Buffalo team that would BE the change of the entire history of the Bills.
This catch needs to stand on its own, even if it’s just a little bit, as one of those rare moments when it feels like time has twisted.