New England Patriots

By Matt McCarthy,

It’s hard to believe it’s been 17 years since a ragtag group of Patriots shocked the football world by beating the Greatest Show on Turf in Super Bowl XXXVI.

17 years to the day later, Tom Brady is about to play the Rams in the Super Bowl again.

The poetry of a Patriots-Rams Super Bowl is too hard to ignore.

The Patriots have played in and won a lifetime of great games over the last 17 years. Super Bowl XXXVIII, Super Bowl XLIX, Super Bowl LI, the Snow Bowl, the 2014 Divisional Game against the Ravens, and this year’s AFC Championship Game all come to mind.

But Super Bowl XXXVI remains my favorite. To this day, I still can’t believe they won that game.

They had no business beating that Rams team.

Tom Brady was just a kid and was far from the player he would eventually become. There was little aura and mystique around Bill Belichick. There was a reason why the Pats were 14-point underdogs. They couldn’t matchup with the talent of that Rams team. In fact, they weren’t even close.

But no group in team history found ways to make big plays when it mattered more than the 2001 Patriots. They were built for the moment.

The Pats forced three turnovers that night, none bigger than Ty Law’s interception return, the defining play of his now-Hall of Fame career. The Rams moved the ball all game long, but the Pats almost always came up with stops when they had to. The offense wasn’t great, but when they needed a statement touchdown right before halftime, Brady delivered an 8-yard strike to David Patten.

14-3 at the half. As U2 took the stage to open their set with Beautiful Day, the thought of an upset became real.

But it wouldn’t come easy (what has in the eight Belichick-Brady Super Bowls?). The game looked over when Tebucky Jones returned a fumble for a score in the fourth quarter, but Willie McGinest’s holding penalty on Marshall Faulk changed everything. The Rams were given new life and stormed back to tie the game 17-17 with 1:21 to play.

The Patriots were on their own 17-yard line, had no timeouts and a second-year quarterback at the helm. John Madden said they should take a knee.

They didn’t.

Brady hit J.R. Redmond three times, before making one of the biggest passes of his career, a 23-yard crosser to Troy Brown. One final pass to Jermaine Wiggins, and Adam Vinatieri was in range. We know what happened next.

“What Tom Brady just did…gives me goosebumps,” Madden said as Brady left the field.

The goosebumps are still there 17 years later.

They won. Somehow they won. Even after winning four more Lombardi trophies, that first one still seems as improbable today as it did 17 years ago on this day.

There’s nothing like your first.

While I certainly hope this isn’t the last Super Bowl appearance of this era, I’m realistic enough to know that this run can’t go on forever. Maybe this will be their last time in the Big Game with Brady and Belichick. There are no guarantees they will ever get back here again.

Rob Gronkowski might retire. Devin McCourty might step away from the game too. Trey Flowers could depart in free agency. Tom Brady can’t defy Father Time forever, can he?

No matter what the future holds, it’s hard not to remember what this night 17 years ago was like. How could we forget how it felt when that ball sailed through the uprights in New Orleans?

I’d like to experience a Patriots Super Bowl victory just one more time. One more and I’ll never ask for anything again, I promise.

There’s something poetic about the thought of that one more win coming against the Rams.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.