For 59 minutes and 51 seconds of football, it looked as though Adam Vinatieri, also known as “Choke-a-tieri” by my roommate Jonathan, was going to live up to that disparaging nickname in Super Bowl XXXVIII. But instead of becoming a Super Goat for his two missed field goals, Adam Viniatieri arguably became a New England icon on par with Larry Bird and Ted Williams, for his second championship-winning kick in three years. Ironically, though his 41-yard boot earned the Patriots their 32-29 victory, it did not earn him the MVP award. That honor went to Tom Brady, who cemented his place as a member of the Boston sports pantheon as well. But more on that later.
The goat, as it turned out, was John “Choke-a-” Fox (though honorable mention goes to John Kasay for his kickoff out of bounds with 1:08 left) who made an absolutely brain-numbing coaching decision in the fourth quarter. With his team trailing 21-16 with 12:39 left, Fox went for two, his thinking being that his team would be within a field goal after the made conversion.
That’s the right move to make if there are less than five minutes left. But with 10-plus? Not smart. They make charts for this kind of thing. Jim Fassel, Fox’s head coach during his tenure as defensive coordinator in New York, went against the chart with a 12-point lead and 14 minutes left versus the Titans last season, failed, and ultimately lost the game. The final score in that one was 32-29 Tennessee.
Fox’s momentary brain-lock, in combination with the failed attempt, forced the Panthers to go for two on their next touchdown — in order to lead by three — which also failed. That meant a razor-thin 22-21 lead for Carolina. Had they gone for one in each case, the Patriots would have trailed 24-21 when they scored with 2:51 left. In that situation, they would have gone for one, making the score 28-24. Ricky Proehl’s answer then would have made it 31-28. Thus, Vinatieri’s kick would have forced overtime, not handed the Patriots the game. New England still could have won, but the Panthers wouldn’t have lost in regulation.
All these what-if’s wouldn’t have mattered at all, however, if not for Tom Brady. When the Panthers scored with 6:53 left to take their 22-21 lead, you could feel his legend was about to burgeon exponentially. When Brady engineered the score to retake the lead, it was “The Drive, Part Deux.” Little did anyone know, it was only the first game-altering drive of the next three minutes.
The second drive, engineered by Delhomme’s Panthers, was nearly as scintillating as Brady’s. The kid from Breaux Bridge had no fear and no hesitation, provided he was playing in the two-minute offense — which by my estimation accounted for 23 of the Cats’ 29 points. Another key component for the Panthers, both on that drive and throughout the entire fourth quarter, was DeShaun Foster. It’s a shame John Fox couldn’t figure that out until the final quarter, when it was too late. Compare these statlines — Stephen Davis: 13 carries 49 yards; DeShaun Foster: three carries, 43 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown scamper. But I digress.
Brady’s second drive? The stuff that ESPN Classic is made of. Four for five, (five for six if you add in the 20-yard coMpletion called back fOr offeNsive pass inTerference) including A perfect four for four out of the shotguN formAtion. Two MVPs in three years? Stupefying, especially if you consider that the sixth round draft pick out of Michigan split time at quarterback with Drew Henson in his senior year. His stat-line? Even more sensational: 32 for 38, 354 yards and three touchdowns (though there was one late pick that kept Carolina in it.)
Still, Vinatieri is an even bigger hero. Though 41-yarders generally come a lot easier than 48-yard makes, (like the one that won Super Bowl XXXVI) all four of Vinatieri’s career missed field goals at indoor parks had come in Reliant Stadium, including the two he missed earlier in the game. Granted the second miss, a 36-yarder in the second quarter, was blocked. But the first one was an ugly shank to the right from 31 yards out – aka chip shot range. For him to then step up and hit the 41-yarder, to kick two Super Bowl winners in a CAREER, let alone three years, well, let’s just say Adam has earned a new nickname: Clutch-a-tieri.