One would have understood if New England Patriots fans had approached their team’s place in Super Bowl XXXVI against the St. Louis Rams with trepidation. After all, the Pats were reliving history, returning to the Superdome as a double-digit Super Bowl underdog for the third time.
Their first visit to New Orleans had led to one of the great beatings in the game’s history, a 46-10 loss to the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XX.
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A return trip for Super Bowl XXXI and the Big Easy saw the Packers a 14-point favorite, and Green Bay matched that spread with a 35-21 win. That contest was the first Super Bowl on FOX, which will air Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons from Houston at 6 p.m. ET.
The Patriots’ third trip to the Big Easy, for Super Bowl XXXVI, was against the St. Louis Rams, the vaunted “Greatest Show on Turf.” Once again, the Pats were a 14-point underdog and the pundits expected a high-scoring contest.
This time, however, New England fans got to celebrate a shocking 20-17 victory.
Fifteen years ago, Tom Brady was the upstart, and Kurt Warner was the heralded quarterback with his shopping-bags-to riches story.
The Patriots surged to a 17-3 lead entering the final quarter, stunning St. Louis and the nation. One of the big plays was Ty Law’s 47-yard Pick-6 of Warner in the second quarter.
However, those Rams did not go quietly, rallying to tie the game on a 2-yard Warner run and 26-yard reception by Ricky Proehl with 90 seconds left.
Then, the legend of leaving too much time for Brady began to unfold.
He drove the team 53 yards in nine plays to the Rams’ 31, where, with time expiring, another Patriot superhero, Adam Vinatieri, would kick a 48-yard field goal as time expired to give New England a championship.
“We,” Patriots strong safety Lawyer Milloy said, “shocked the world.”
Brady managed that game, going 16-of-27 for 145 yards, and somehow managed to lead the Patriots to the upset. Warner threw for 365 yards while rallying St. Louis, but two interceptions and a Proehl fumble had led to New England’s first 17 points.
The workhorse on offense was Antowain Smith, who rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries.
“That was a tremendous team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after a victory over the now Los Angeles Rams this season. “We struggled in the early part of the season. (We were) 5-5 at midseason. (We) won nine straight after Thanksgiving. A lot of those wins weren’t pretty. They were just good situational football, good toughness. Just being able to make the right play at the right time.
“We played pretty well on defense. We were good in the kicking game. We had a great kicker (in Adam Vinatieri). Antowain Smith gave us a lot of good yards, a lot of tough yards. Tom didn’t turn the ball over. Troy (Brown) gave us some explosive plays in the kicking game and enough plays on offense to win. “You put it all together, that team, they found a way. They played the best. I don’t know if they were the best talent-wise, but they played the best, and that’s why they’re champions. They’ll always be right at the top for me in terms of individuals that I admire because of what they did.”
Those Pats broke a drought that had seen Boston without a championship since the 1986 Celtics.
“I would say not only what they did for the Patriots and the program and this organization, but it was kind of a springboard for Boston sports over that decade,” Belichick said. “Not that we had anything to do with the Red Sox or the Celtics or the Bruins or anything else, but it was just the first one of many with those three great organizations. You kind of feel proud that we were the first one and that they all followed.