When the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots battle it out at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta this Sunday, it will be more than just a football game. Often, the days leading up to Super Bowls are filled with hyperbole, but in this case, the hype is real. This is, after all, a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI where the Patriots provided one of the largest upsets in the history of the championship game.
The last time the Rams and Patriots battled for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the United States had just suffered its greatest tragedy in history. Super Bowl XXXVI came on the heels of 9/11. In addition to being the first post-9/11 Super Bowl, and the first one to be designated a National Special Security Event by Homeland Security, this game was also the instance that launched the most successful dynasty in NFL history. The Bill and Tom Show began in 2001 on the Superdome turf.
It’s been the longest running program the NFL’s ever seen. Let’s jaunt back in history to rediscover the origins of the great New England Dynasty.
Super Bowl XXXVI
St. Louis Rams (14-2) vs. New England Patriots (11-5)
Sunday, February 3rd, 2002 – Superdome, New Orleans
Odds: STL -14.0 (53.0)
Before there was Brady, there was Bledsoe…
Drew Bledsoe is often forgotten for how iconic he was to the New England Patriots because of how his tenure with the team ended. He was an established (though turnover prone) franchise starter. In 1993, Bledsoe, along with future hall of fame coach Bill Parcells, had lost Super Bowl XXXI 21-35 to the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre.
Many considered Bledsoe one of the better quarterbacks in league with his grip on the starting position in New England unquestioned. But in only the third game of the 2001 campaign, he suffered a broken blood vessel in a loss to the New York Jets. Bledsoe ended up on the bench and rookie Tom Brady took over.
Brady had instant success. He led the Patriots to a 44-13 victory over Indianapolis in Week 3. After the initial success, though, the Patriots could only muster a 7-5 SU record heading into their Dec. 9, Week 13 battle with the Cleveland Browns.
Belichick Uses Tiznow’s BC Classic Win to Rally the Patriots
Bill Belichick believed the Pats couldn’t lose another game if they wanted to nail down a playoff berth. Knowing he had to fire up his team, Belichick brought in a tape of Tiznow’s miraculous victory over Sakhee in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yes, this actually happened.
Right as Sakhee took a head lead over Tiznow in the stretch, Belichick paused the tape and asked his team, “Who do you think wins?”
Tiznow rallied for the victory to become the only horse in history to win back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Classics. Belichik emphasized that it doesn’t matter what other people think, including the oddsmakers. The only part that matters is which horse crosses that finish line first.
The New England Patriots not only went on to beat Cleveland, they also won out.
The Tuck Rule Game – 2002 Divisional Round
In the playoffs, the New England Patriots were down at home to the Oakland Raiders when one of the most infamous calls in NFL history happened.
As Brady tried to rally the Patriots for a game tying field goal, he seemingly attempted to tuck the ball back to his body just as Greg Biekert caused a fumble. After review, the refs determined the play was a forward pass. This enraged the NFL universe for obvious reasons, and the fallout of this decision still resonates to this very day.
Adam Vinatieri kicked a 45-yard field goal that sent the game into overtime. Then, he kicked a 23-yarder in overtime to hand New England a 16-13 win.
Super Bowl XXXVI: The Dynasty Begins
New England entered the Superdome as a +14 underdog. Every football fan on planet earth, that wasn’t cheering for New England, believed the best offense in NFL history would decimate their opponent. The Rams and Patriots had met int he regular season, where Kurt Warner and the Greatest Show on Turf rallied for a comeback vitory to win 24-17. New England’s defense was well regarded, but St. Louis boasted the most prolific offense the league had ever seen.
“Give Rams coach Mike Martz two weeks and he’ll dominate you with 50 points.” That was the thinking. Belichick’s defensive philosophy, though, would be on full display in Super Bowl XXXVI.
When we think of the New England Patriots, we first go to Brady. We have to because quarterbacks are the face of any franchise. Although Brady’s a major reason for the Patriots’ dynasty, Bill Belichick’s defensive philosophy might mean just as much. In Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots beat the Rams because of Belichick’s schemes, but that didn’t look like it was going to be the case in the opening quarter.
The Rams were up 3-0 following a 10-play drive where Belichik’s plan seemed to stall Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Unfortunately, the Patriots couldn’t muster much of anything on offense either. Thankfully that all changed when Mike Vrabel blitzed Warner with around 8:49 left in the half, causing Warner to make an errant throw. Ty Law intercepted the pass and ran 47 yards for a pick-six. Much later in the same quarter, the Patriots seiged Kurt Warner again, causing a fumble which put the Brady in immediate scoring position. Tom Brady would then link up with David Patten on a beautiful 8-yard strike to go up 14-3 heading in to the half.
The Patriots continued to muzzle Kurt Warner and the Rams coming out of the half. In the third quarter, Otis Smith intercepted Warner to set up yet another field goal. The Super Bowl XXXVI fourth quarter started with New England up 17-3 lead. Warner’s three turnovers had been crucial, but as you know from his Hall of Fame career, you can never count that man out of a fight.
Rams Rally in Fourth Quarter
The Rams provided an amazing rally in the fourth quarter. Warner finally showed the form that had taken him from grocery bagger to the NFL Hall of Fame. Warner ran it in from 2-yards out for Rams first TD, cutting the lead to 17-10.
Then, with 1:30 left on the clock, Warner threw a beautiful 26-yard TD pass to Ricky Proehl. Kurt had rallied his team down 17-3 to tie the game, stealing momentum in the process. The whole world thought they knew what was going to happen next. Yes, Tom Brady had made the Pro Bowl, but he was still a 6th Round pick from Michigan who only had gotten his chance during the season because Drew Bledsoe had gotten hurt.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The Legend of “Tom Terrific” is Born
Although New England had no timeouts, Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss wanted to give Brady a shot and the kid didn’t let them down. Tom Brady showed the amazing clock management skills that have become a staple of his incredible game.
The Rams allowed him to complete a couple of underneath passes to J.R. Redmond. The second pass to Redmond moved the ball to the Patriots’ 44-yard line. With only 33 seconds left in the game, Brady completed a 23-yard pass to Troy Brown. Amazingly, Brown got out of bounds to stop the clock.
He followed up the pass to Brown with a 6-yarder to the Rams’ 30-yard line to Jermaine Wiggins. At that point, the Patriots had to rush to the line to stop the clock, which Brady did by spiking the ball. Only 7 seconds remained.
We know what happened next. Adam Vinatieri notched a 48-yard Super Bowl XXXVI winning field goal to start the New England Patriots’ dynasty.
Will History Repeat Itself?
If Brady’s rally to win Super Bowl XXXVI sounds familiar, it should. He provided the same sort of rally in Super Bowl LI to force overtime in New England’s overtime win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Brady and Belichick’s defensive philosophy has created the greatest dynasty in NFL history. When you sit down to watch Super Bowl LIII this Sunday, think back to Super Bowl XXXVI and how Bill Belichick used a ‘bend but don’t break’ defense and a 6th Round draft pick rallied hist team for a Vince Lombardi Trophy. Then, don’t be surprised if history repeats itself.