With the Patriots set to face off against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII this weekend, I’m here to remind you all of their previous Super Bowl matchup, 17 years ago to the day, and what a game it was.
St Louis Rams
Yes you’re reading that right! The Rams were in St Louis, Missouri, they spent 20 years there from 1995 till 2015. This team was ready to establish their dynasty on 3rd of February 2002. They had won the Super Bowl two years previously defeating the Tennessee Titans 23-16 on the final play of the game. The 1999 team was led by Kurt Warner, a quarterback sensation, who’d gone from working in a supermarket to winning MVP. He had an arsenal of offensive weapons in wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, alongside running back Marshall Faulk. After that Super Bowl win, this team looked destined for greatness. A freak muffed punt by Az Hakim in 2000 prevented them from winning back to back Super Bowls.
But in 2001 they took the league by storm, Mike Martz, who had been the offensive coordinator in 1999, had taken over as head coach from Dick Vermeil after their previous win and was now calling the plays. With the team in sync, the 2001 Rams became known as “The Greatest Show on Turf”.
The Rams earnt their nickname by going 14-2 in the regular season, with an 8-0 record on the road. They were the NFC number 1 seed, they led the league in total offence (6,930 yards), completions (379), passing yards (4,903), yards per pass attempt (8.90), passing touchdowns (37), rushing touchdowns (20) and yards per rush attempt (4.87) and Warner won his second MVP. It marked the first time in league history that two different players from the same team had won the MVP three years running with Faulk winning in 2000. This Rams team was set to win it all and create a dynasty.
New England Patriots
The Patriots were masterminded by head coach Bill Belichick, who had flamed out as a head coach with the Cleveland Browns despite a decent record. He had a poor relationship with the media and an even worse relationship with the owner who decided to move the team to Baltimore. He then bounced between the Jets and the Patriots as an assistant head coach. Belichick did become the Jets head coach but resigned after 1 day, famously writing on a cocktail napkin “I resign as the HC of the NYJ”. Belichick was traded to the Patriots and he went 5-11 in his first season. As a result, very little was expected of New England in the 2001 season.
The man Patriots fans should thank everyday is Mo Lewis. He laid a bone crunching hit on Drew Bledsoe, that allowed Tom Brady to take over as the starter having been a 6th round draft pick from the year before. You’d think he’d be nervous, but he didn’t look afraid of the spotlight, he posted an 11-3 record in the regular season giving the Patriots an 11-5 record overall and the second seed in the AFC. They faced the Raiders at home in the snow, winning with an unbelievable Adam Vinatieri field goal in the game that became known as ‘The Tuck Rule’. New England then travelled to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers and won, with Drew Bledsoe having to come in and play because Brady got hurt, sending them to only their third Super Bowl in their history.
After the first couple of drives for both teams resulted in zero points, a 50-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins gave the Rams the lead and the first points of the game. These were the only points of a tough and physical first quarter where the Patriots played aggressive and physical man coverage on the Rams receivers. In the second quarter, the Rams managed to make some progress down the field but Wilkins ended up missing the subsequent field goal.
The Patriots then pushed into another gear, cornerback Ty Law made one of the plays of the game. With linebacker Mike Vrabel (current Tennessee Titans head coach) blitzing, Warner threw the ball intended for Isaac Bruce. But Law read it easier than a children’s nursery rhyme, intercepting the ball and taking the distance for a 47-yard touchdown. Like that the Patriots were in the lead 7-3! Both St Louis and New England then started stalling on their plays more often than a learner driver until the Patriots got some traction on offence, after forcing another Rams turnover with just over 2 minutes left in the first half. Antwan Harris stripped Ricky Proehl of the ball and from there Tom Brady moved the ball down and into the endzone with an 8-yard touchdown pass to David Patten. At halftime, it was 14-3.
After a memorable halftime show by U2, the Patriots received the kickoff and failed to make anything happen and had to punt the ball away. It was a lot of the same for both St Louis and New England throughout the third quarter. It was only a 37-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri that kept this from being a boring, scoreless 15 minutes of football. However, it all heated up in the final quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI.
Mike Martz and the St Louis offence finally awoke from their slumber. They drove all the way to the 3-yard line of the Patriots. After St Louis had three attempts stopped, Martz kept his offence out on the field. It almost became one of the biggest gaffes in Super Bowl history, as Kurt Warner tried to scramble in for a touchdown. Warner was tackled just short of the endzone and fumbled the ball. Tebucky Jones picked it up and ran back for a supposed touchdown.
However, a killer flag on the play negated the touchdown. On the next play, Warner ran in for a touchdown and the Rams were back in the game at 10-17. After consecutive three and outs, the Rams got the ball back, with 1:51 left. “The Greatest Show on Turf” showed up, as it took Warner just three passes to get the Rams in the endzone. An 18-yard pass to Az Hakim, an 11-yard pass to Yo Murphy and he hit Ricky Proehl for a 26-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17-17 with 90 seconds left of the Super Bowl.
So with 1:21 left the legend of Tom Brady was born, John Madden’s words “I think that the Patriots with this field position, you have to just run the clock out, you have to play for overtime now.” still ringing in everyone’s ears.
Brady started to drive New England down the field, hitting J.R Redmond twice getting them up to their 30-yard line. After spiking the ball on first down it left the Patriots with 41 seconds left. He hit Redmond for 11 yards who got out of bounds stopping the clock with 33 seconds to go, the world opening their eyes to Brady’s magic. He proceeded to throw the ball away on the next play but hit Troy Brown for a 23-yard catch and run. It was an enormous play for New England to put them in range for a field goal. After a 6 yard catch by Jermaine Wiggins, Brady spiked the ball. He’d done everything he could, moving the Patriots 53 yards in just 9 plays. As Adam Vinatieri came on to attempt the winning kick from 48 yards, one star left the field as one came onto it.
Vinatieri launched the ball between the uprights as time expired etching his name in Super Bowl history forever. New England won it’s first Super Bowl ever, despite being 14 point underdogs to the Rams. Their sun of a dynasty started to rise above the NFL whilst the Rams’ sun set that day in New Orleans. They would go back to the playoffs but not until this season would they ever reach the Super Bowl again. Whilst the Patriots would go on to play in 7 more, excluding Super Bowl LIII, winning 4 of them.
Image from thecomeback.com
Alex Riley is a 49ers fan who’s followed the game since 2010, He’s currently at the University of Leicester. You can find him on Twitter at @NFLRiley and his blog at www.rileynfl.wordpress.com