2002 was a very different time in the National Football League. For the New England Patriots, Super Bowl XXXVI was where it all began. It was the start of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick dynasty that we are constantly reminded of today, game after game. It was also the first Super Bowl after the events of 9/11 and featured a half time show from U2, whom many considered one the greatest of half time shows.
However, crazily enough, back then the Patriots were not the favourites nor were they the megastar team that they are today. The then St Louis Rams were the hot team of the season, having won the Super Bowl only two years before. The Patriots were 11-5 in a team which featured little to no stars, having lost their starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe.
Little did anyone know the Patriots contingent contained one of the most successful head coaches and quarterbacks of the era.
Many were stunned by the outcome. While there were allegations of the Patriots cheating, which sound familiar and would reappear in later seasons, the Rams ultimately made too many mistakes.
The Rams at this time had the best passing game in the league with an exceptional quarterback in Kurt Warner. Yet they found themselves down 17-3 going into the 4th quarter. Committing too many turnovers, they gave the ball away three times against the New England’s zero.
After tying the score 17-17 with 1:21 left in the 4th, the Rams had the perfect opportunity to take the game to overtime and win, with the Patriots having no timeouts left.
Fortunately for the Patriots, they were able to run 53 yards and the Rams weren’t able to tackle New England’s receivers before they ran out of bounds. Adam Vinateri then kicked the field goal to secure the win.
Although it should be noted that this was not the best example of the genius of Brady/Belichick and would not come close in the rankings of their best playoff games. Ultimately the Rams only had themselves to blame for losing that game.
What happened after that game? Well we know that part well. The New England Patriots would go on to be considered as one of the most successful teams of the era, thanks to the arguably greatest coach/quarterback partnership in NFL history.
And the Rams? Well they collapsed. Hard. For a team with two Super Bowl appearances over three years, they pretty much faded into the background achieving just one winning season and won one playoff game over the following fifteen years.
But after making their way through seven coaches and even a change of city from St Louis to LA, they were able to transform into Super Bowl contenders once again, largely through the help of fledgling head coach Sean McVay.
Sunday will be seventeen years to the day that these teams last met in the Super Bowl and subsequently took very different paths. Although Brady and Belichick are the only two remaining from that game in 2002. For reference, Rams quarterback Jared Goff was only seven years old during that Super Bowl.
There is much to learn from that fateful Super Bowl game. For both teams there is a chance to cement their legacies, albeit in different ways. For the Patriots, a chance to add to another Super Bowl title to their dynasty. A dynasty which cracked and showed vulnerability under the pressure of the Philadelphia Eagles last year. For the now revamped LA Rams, not only will the team and fans be looking for revenge of that fateful match up but also a means of defining a new, fresh legacy under McVay.