Image: Jim Cooke (GMG)

There was 1:09 left on the clock when Eli Manning, under pressure from the New England Patriots defense, hurled the football downfield. The three-time world champion Patriots, up 14-10 at the time, were defending a perfect run through the regular season and postseason. At that point, only the 1972 Miami Dolphins had accomplished the feat and with the clock ticking away, The Pats seemed poised to replicate the Dolphins’ mythic feat.

And then David Tyree made this catch, a play immediately etched in the pantheon of New York sports moments alongside The Flip and The Four-Point Play. That catch turned the tide. The Giants scored a touchdown to win the game and David Tyree became New York legend. The Helmet Catch is so tied into Tyree’s reputation that the photo on his Wikipedia page is a reenactment of the catch, which itself has a separate Wikipedia entry.

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Entering Name of the Year’s final round of 2019, I considered some of the most famous favorites who steamrolled their way into lore: The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The 2004 Arsenal Invincibles. Daenerys Targaryen, I’m assuming. (I haven’t gotten around the watching the Game of Thrones finale yet.) In our bracket, Jizyah Shorts, the top seed out of the Dragonwagon regional, seemed an analog for these teams. Going into the finals, she hadn’t just won each matchup, but obliterated her opponents. Smart Chibuzo fell by 89 percentage points, Cory Phast Lane by 81 points, General Booty by 49 points, Cletorious Aretha Fry by 65 points, and Chastity Gooch-Fant by 46 points. She seemed destined to win the 2019 title. (Name of the Year seeks a volunteer statistician to help rank these scores among all-time blowouts.)

But they play the games for a reason. Jizyah Shorts’s coronation was not meant to be. Instead, her opponent, a lowly 11-seed, pulled out a narrow win. A NOTY Helmet Catch. Appropriately enough, Pope Thrower is the responsible party.

This isn’t the first time a Pope stormed the bracket. Three years ago, Pope McCorkle III took home the Name of the Year crown. That Pope had been seeded number one (although a second Pope in that year’s bracket—Taco Pope — was a mere nine-seed). In ranking Pope Thower so low, perhaps the high committee overestimated Pope fatigue. After all, people love the Pope. The real pope is so popular that even when (another) Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal broke in late 2018, his approval rating still stood at a respectable 51 percent (a number that our beloved president has never approached, despite a misleading tweet or two). Delving into pop culture only brings the cultural obsession into further relief. Jude Law’s fictional young/hot pope launched a thousand memes. Pope John Paul II played an unlikely comic book superhero in the 1980s. Watch Family Guy and you’ll get more than enough of their Pope-flavored, “the reference is the joke” punchlines.

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Now, the long cold summer, then autumn, then winter before next year’s Name of the Year tourney offers us an opportunity to reflect upon the shock of 2019. What will happen if a younger, hotter pope blesses next year’s bracket? Will the people, undeterred by victorious Popes in two of the four preceding four years, name a third Pope Name of the Year champion? Will the people’s love for all things papal prevail yet again? We don’t know. We don’t have the names yet. That power lies in the people. So enjoy a respite from the battlegrounds of a hard-fought tournament. Rest. Ponder. But most importantly, submit your favorite names to us at nameoftheyear@gmail.com. There may be another Pope out there waiting to carry forth the winning tradition.