Everyone, myself above all, thought that Super Bowl XXXVI would be one of the NFL’s worst championship games. Instead, it was not only the best Super Bowl ever, but possibly the best football game I have ever seen.
The New England Patriots overcame all of the odds. In defeating the St. Louis Rams, the Patriots completed their storybook season in the most dramatic fashion possible. Adam Vinatieri’s field goal not only gave the Patriots the 20-17 victory and an NFL championship, but also capped one of most impressive team efforts in football history.
The table was set perfectly when the Patriots chose to be introduced as a team, instead of individually by position, as per tradition. It was a show of unity that seemed insignificant at the game’s outset, but proved to be the underlying theme of New England’s victory. In a game traditionally remembered for spectacular individual performances, the Patriots had none. On a stage in which superstars are expected to step up to lead their team to victory, New England entered the game without any.
The Patriots overcame the star-studded Rams by pure force of collective will, pushing themselves, as a team, to overcome the individual performances that the Rams put together. When Tom Brady was given the MVP award, it seemed odd. Brady was not the Patriots’ most valuable player. He was an important piece, but he was just one of many pieces in the Patriots’ puzzle that fit perfectly together.
Another one of those pieces was Ty Law, who returned a Kurt Warner interception 47 yards for the Patriots’ first touchdown. His pick set the tone for a Patriots defense that was extremely impressive. The 17 points that the Rams scored was their second-lowest output of the season.
Up until Super Bowl XXXVI, conventional wisdom was that the only way to beat Warner’s boys was to blitz like crazy. That’s what the Patriots did in narrowly falling to the Rams at home on Nov. 18. Bill Belichick proved his defensive genius on Sunday, abandoning that strategy in favor of a more laid back, sure-tackling approach. With the scheme in effect, the Rams were able to move the ball, but their drives continually ended in turnovers or stagnated just inside Patriots territory.
Mike Martz was able to get his offense moving in the second half, but it was too little, too late. As in their other two losses, the Ram’s turnovers proved too costly, as 17 of the Patriots 20 points came off Rams mistakes. Ironically, Vinatieri’s dramatic game-winning field goal as time expired was the only New England score that did not come after a St. Louis turnover.
It was an upset of epic proportions, to match a game of incredible drama and suspense. Outside the incredible story of the Patriots themselves, there were parallel stories of interest. In a game pervaded by patriotism, it was only fitting that the Patriots themselves, clad in red, white and blue, emerged victorious. (I would hint at conspiracy, but if that were true the Yankees would have won the World Series.)
In a game in which a history of streaks seemed to have stacked the deck against New England, Vinatieri’s winning kick maintained a streak of his own, keeping him perfect in domed stadiums. Vinatieri’s final field goal not only ended the Rams’ quest for the title, but also the career of an NFL icon, as Pat Summerall stepped down after four decades of broadcasting.
Even the commercials, which I perennially try to ignore, matched the greatness of the contest, as Aaron haunted Bonds, Britney traveled through time, and the E-TRADE chimp blasted off into space.
I may not be a guru when it comes to picking champions, but my first column did hold words that ring true as the season comes to an end: the NFL has done it again. It was an incredible end to an incredible season. I can’t wait till next year.