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On This Date in Sports February 3, 2002: The Dynasty Begins

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In one of the biggest upsets ever, the New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI at the Superdome. The Patriots were a two-touchdown underdog, with an unknown quarterback, going against the Rams who were seeking their second Lombardi Trophy in three years, with a record-breaking offense. Tom Brady wins the MVP, as Adam Vinatieri wins the game with a 48-yard field goal.

The greatest show on turf is what the St. Louis Rams had become. Coach by Mike Martz, who replaced Dick Vermeil after he hastily retired following Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams had another big year lighting up the scoreboard led by Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk as they scored 503 points, becoming the first team in NFL history to have three straight seasons over 500 points. The Rams would post the best record in the NFL at 14-2 as Warner took home a second MVP with Faulk winning Offensive Player of the Year for the third straight season. In the playoffs, the Rams reached the Super Bowl by beating the Green Bay Packers 45-17 and beating the Philadelphia Eagles 29-24.

The New England Patriots led by Bill Belichick were the NFL’s dark horse in 2001, especially after losing their first two games and losing their starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe to a catastrophic chest injury. Little did anyone know; the Patriots had a man named Brady. The mediocre Michigan quarterback, who the Patriots picked in the sixth round with the 199th pick. However, Tom Brady became the NFL’s new star leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record to win the AFC East. In the playoffs, though it appeared their bubble had burst when the Oakland Raiders recovered a late fumble. However, an obscure rule known as the Tuck Play gave the Patriots new life as they won the game 16-13 in overtime in heavy snowfall. A week later, Bledsoe came on in relief to lead the Patriots to a 24-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

The tone of the Super Bowl had been changed since the attacks of September 11th.  Those attacks were personal for Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi who had three brothers who were New York firefighters that survived that collapse of the World Trade Center. That year’s Super Bowl logo was changed into a special patriotic edition from one that was true to the French Quarter in New Orleans as the game itself had to be shifted due to the postponement of Week 2. The New England Patriots were in the game, but few gave them a chance, as they were 14-point underdogs as there were hints of a quarterback controversy as some suggest Drew Bledsoe get the start after leading the Patriots in the AFC Championship. In Week 10, the Rams had gone into Foxboro and beat the Patriots 24-17. Tom Brady would get the start as the NFL’s greatest dynasty was about to begin for an unexpected public.


The game got off to a slow start for New England, as they struggled to move the ball in the first quarter. Fortunately, the Rams offense was not able to get much going either as they Jeff Wilkins’ 50-yard field goal were the only points in the first 15 minutes. Early in the second quarter, Wilkins lined up but missed a 52-yard field goal as the Patriots were defying expectations by keeping the game close. As the Patriots offense continued to struggle, the defense made a play that suddenly gave them lead as Ty Law returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown. Later in the quarter as the Rams were in their two-minute offense the Patriots defense struck again as Terrell Buckley recovered a fumble by Rickey Proehl giving Tom Brady the ball at the Rams 40-yard line. Brady would take the Patriots down the field connecting with David Patten on an eight-yard touchdown pass to a build a 14-3 lead at the half.  Continuing the theme of remembering the attacks of September 11th a banner of the names of the victims was unveiled during a powerful halftime show performed by U2.

Defenses continued to control the game in the third quarter, as Adam Vinatieri provided the only points with a 37-yard field goal to extend New England’s lead to 17-3 entering the final 15 minutes. The Rams offense had been silenced all night, but in the fourth quarter they finally got moving down the field as Kurt Warner completed a 77-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run to get St. Louis back in the game, as  holding call on Willie McGinnest erased a potential game ending fumble return by Tebucky Jones. Neither team was able to move the ball on their next possession. The Rams would get one more shot at tying the game with two minutes left, getting the ball near midfield, following a poor punt by Ken Walter. It would take just three plays to reach pay dirt as Kurt Warner connected with Ricky Proehl on a 26-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 17-17.


With 81 seconds left, and the game tied 17-17, the Patriots began their drive at their own 17 as most suggested the smart play to run out the clock and go to overtime. Brady and Belichick decided to roll the dice and drove down the field, with a 23-yard pass to Troy Brown helping to get the Patriots into field goal range setting up Adam Vinatieri to become just the second player to hit a game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl to win the game 20-17 as Tom Brady was named Super Bowl MVP passing for 145 yards on 16 of 27 completions with one touchdown.