It’s February 3rd, 2002.
The Louisiana Superdome plays host to Super Bowl 36 where the St. Louis Rams and New England
Patriots are tied at 17.
With seven seconds left, Adam Vinatieri is lining up from 48-yards out to wrap this up
and not give the Rams a chance in overtime.
While it all comes down to one kick, this season has been anything but straight forward.
Which naturally means the underdog Patriots have the power to knock off the Rams who entered
tonight as a two-touchdown favorite.
But it’s not that simple - it wouldn’t be fun if it was.
So to remember how we got to this point, let’s rewind.
48-yards is definitely not a gimme, but it’s by far the closest the Patriots have ever
come to winning a Super Bowl.
New England has had more downs than ups thus far as a franchise.
Since joining the NFL via the merger, the Patriots have had two chances at the Lombardi
Both of which happened to also be in the Superdome, and both of them were over well before the
Not long after the first appearance, they went through an eight-year playoff drought
that saw the franchise change ownership three times.
They were flirting with bankruptcy in the late 80s, and team founder Billy Sullivan
took out a loan from the league just to pay his players.
The team was losing millions on a yearly basis, and by 1988 Sullivan was $126 million in the
That year, after a deal with Donald Trump fell through, Sullivan auctioned off the team
to high-bidder Victor Kiam.
Their home since 1971 also went up for grabs and was claimed for $22-million by Robert
While the stadium had seen better days, the sale included the lease to Patriot home games.
Kraft, a long-time season ticket holder, had no intentions of letting them break this agreement
as Kiam flirted with moving the franchise.
And when Kiam fell on hard times of his own and sold the Pats to James Orthwein, Kraft
really didn’t buckle.
He turned down a very generous offer to ensure the team would stay in New England, and when
Orthwein realized he couldn’t relocate the Patriots to St. Louis, he no longer wanted
Kraft bought the team, and three seasons later New England was back in the Super Bowl.
And five years after that, they’ve done it again - this time against a team that they
unintentionally helped find a new home in St. Louis.
While the Patriots would obviously prefer their first Super Bowl victory, just guaranteeing
that they won’t be blown out is a major improvement.
That said, they know overtime is a pretty terrible alternative given the fact that this
Rams team has finally woken up.
It’s the Greatest Show on Turf.
A two-time league MVP.
The offensive player of the year three years running.
Multiple thousand-yard receivers.
St. Louis once again led the league in total offense and points-per-game, and had a new
look defense that helped recapture the magic that won them the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
They finished the regular season with the best record in the league and once again had
the best point-differential.
In the divisional round, they cruised past the Packers and then held off the Eagles thanks
to Marshall Faulk’s continued dominance.
But just like two years ago when the Rams kept having to settle for field goals, it
took a while for their offense to click in the Super Bowl.
Through three quarters, St. Louis managed just three points.
They technically produced another seven when Kurt Warner was picked off by Ty Law and 47-yards
later, New England was on top.
That plus two more turnovers helped put St. Louis down 14 going into the 4th - the same
amount that they were favored by entering tonight.
With under 12 to play, Faulk got the Rams offense into the red zone for the first time
Warner connected with Jeff Robinson for six yards on first down, but was nearly picked
off in the endzone by Lawyer Milloy, then again by Law on consecutive plays to set up
fourth and goal from the three.
Mike Martz kept his offense out there, but when Warner couldn’t find anyone through
the air, he decided to keep it himself .
But, instead of a record setting return to go up 21, the refs flagged Willie McGinest
for defensive holding, giving St. Louis a fresh set of downs, and keeping their hopes
Two plays later, Warner had better luck on the ground and made it a seven-point game.
That score held as the Rams got the ball inside the two minute warning.
Warner found Az Hakim over the middle who gained 18 before stepping out.
He hit Yo Murphy for another 11, again quickly stopping the clock.
And then Warner found Ricky Proehl, who made the defenders miss and slipped his way in
for the tying score.
It took them three plays in just 21 seconds to tie this thing up.
And now they’re stuck hoping for overtime.
But they left a little too much time on the clock, and possibly counted out the Patriots
second year signal caller.
Which isn’t too wild.
Tom Brady entered the season with three pass attempts to his name.
He limped into the playoffs with just two touchdowns in his last five games.
It wasn’t that long ago that Brady was at Michigan splitting quarters with a sophomore
It took seven games before the senior actually won the job full time, and he leveraged that
success into becoming a sixth round draft pick.
After an uneventful rookie season, it looked like he’d have plenty of time to learn as
New England gave Drew Bledsoe a record-setting, long-term deal.
But that investment took a hit two games into the season when Bledsoe was tackled by Mo
Lewis and sheared a blood vessel in his chest.
Brady filled in and led the Patriots to a 5-and-5 record, which included a close loss
to the league-leading Rams.
Following that game, Belichick announced Brady as the starter for the rest of the season
- despite Bledsoe being cleared to play.
They didn’t lose again, and Brady finished the year 11-and-3 as a starter - a record
made more impressive by the fact that the guy that should’ve been his number-one receiver
hardly saw the field.
Terry Glenn was suspended to start the season, returned to catch Brady’s first ever touchdown
pass, then was deactivated for seven games due to disputes with the coaching staff.
He would come back for three games before the team suspended him for the remainder of
However, in Glenn’s place, Troy Brown set a franchise reception record in just his second
year as a starter, and the ground game got a significant boost from Antowain Smith who,
like Brown, had a career year.
So Brady still had some weapons at his disposal, and when the Patriots got the ball back with
one-twenty-one to play and no timeouts, he found his guys.
After chipping away with check downs to J.R. Redmond, Brady found Brown over the middle
who reached the sideline after picking up 23.
Brady hit Wiggins for a quick six yards, then calmly spiked the ball, bringing us back to
But even being here deserves some context.
As in, at the Superdome on February 3rd.
This game made history before it even began as the first Super Bowl to take place in February.
This was partially due to the league pushing opening weekend to after Labor Day.
But mainly because of the September 11th terrorist attacks which took place two days after the
season kicked off.
The NFL quickly postponed the week two games, and picked back up September 23rd as stadiums
adjusted to heightened security measures.
With the postponement, the league then had to decide what to do about the Super Bowl.
The Superdome was originally booked on February 3rd for the National Automobile Dealers convention.
So the NFL initially looked to just cancel a round of playoffs to maintain the original
When that was met by a poor response, they considered changing locations.
The league finally decided to do right by New Orleans and simply made a deal with the
As the league tooled with the schedule, it also meant there would be just one week between
conference championship weekend and the Super Bowl - a timeline made more interesting by
an injury to Brady in the AFC Championship game.
Bledsoe got his turn to come off the bench and led the team to a win over the favored
Steelers, but the injury wasn’t bad enough for Belichick to stick with the veteran.
Brady was again named the starter, and the 24-year old hasn’t let down his coach.
Or, not yet.
The potential overtime could change things, and to avoid that it all falls on the leg
of Adam Vinatieri.
This isn’t anything new though for the kicker who received some high praise from John Madden
as he lined up for the attempt.
<sound up for “made some great kicks against the Raiders, two of the greatest kicks that
I’ve ever seen in my life”>
Two weeks earlier, New England hosted Oakland in the AFC Divisional round.
Endless snow made for a low scoring game and the Patriots found themselves trailing late.
While Brady attempted to get them in field goal range to tie it, Charles Woodson came
off the edge and forced a fumble that the Raiders easily recovered.
With the Patriots out of timeouts, this should’ve ended the game.
But in 1999, the NFL introduced Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2 - or more easily said,
the Tuck Rule.
Inside two-minutes, the officials immediately reviewed the fumble, and after a lengthy look
made the call .
No fumble, no lost yards on a sack, and just three seconds off the clock.
Phil Simms managed to sum it up perfectly <”I think it’s safe to say, well it depends
on the outcome here, but this will be talked about quite a bit.”
The Patriots trudged ahead for 14 yards on the following four plays, which gave Vinatieri
a chance from 45-yards out.
And in these miserable conditions, he made the biggest - and arguably ugliest - kick
of his life to force overtime.
Then after Sebastian Janikowski kicked off, the Raiders wouldn’t touch the ball again.
Brady led a 14-play drive to cover 61-yards, the bulk of which came through the air despite
the snow, and gave Vinatieri a much more manageable 23-yard game winner.
And now with friendlier conditions, he has the chance to once again be the hero.
If he hits, it will cap off one of the most unexpected seasons by a quarterback who has
had his share of luck from start to finish.
It would give New England their first Super Bowl, and let Boston claim a championship
for the first time in 15-years.
A miss would give the Rams a chance to solidify the NFL’s newest dynasty with their second
Super Bowl in three years and an offense that has no reason to start slowing down.
In a season where football has been more than just a game, it makes too much sense that
it comes down to one kick.
Welcome to a moment in history.