Let me begin this examination of four Super Bowl championships by establishing my Patriots fan bona fides.
I was there at the beginning, a lad growing up outside of Boston with a fledgling AFL Football Club to root for, not having to settle for supporting the New York Giants. The NFL might have looked down on these sons of Billy Sullivan, but I looked up to them—quite literally, in the case of men such as Larry Eisenhauer, Gino Cappeletti and Ron Burton. Of course I looked up to everybody, being just 7 years old.
I was there for frigid Friday night games at Fenway Park, when the Boston Patriots played a schedule that wouldn’t conflict with NFL games on Sundays. This was a fun football team. A lot of the guys were from area colleges, and they were good enough to play for the league championship in 1963.
But over the years, it seemed not much would go right for the Patriots, a team without a home. Even when the late, never lamented Schaefer Stadium was built on the cheap, and they got hold of a genuine QB prospect in Jim Plunkett (who became a champion, but not with the Patriots) strange things always happened.
I envied fans of powerhouse franchises—Steelers, Cowboys, Raiders. Would Patriots fans ever know that kind of feeling? When New England won its first AFC championship in 1985, it seemed possible.
Then came the humiliation of Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears. An on-field beat-down and a drug scandal as a chaser. Could it get any lower? Yes. Just ask coach Rod Rust and the 1-15 record of 1990.
But fast forward now to the Robert Kraft ownership era, and the hiring of Bill Parcells, a coach who knew how to build a successful team with a winning attitude.
The Patriots made it to Super Bowl XXXI in 1997 and lost to the Packers, but at least it wasn’t a humiliation. Enter QB Drew Bledsoe and coach Bill Belichick, and there was a whole new sense of hope for long suffering fans.
Then, in typical Patriots fashion, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory—or so it seemed. Bledsoe gets clobbered (and as we later learned, nearly killed). Now what? Destiny steps up. Belichick turns to a fourth-string QB named Tom Brady.
Super Bowl XXXVI
New Orleans, La. · Feb. 3, 2002
New England Patriots - 20
St. Louis Rams - 17
These New England Patriots were an exciting, creative team. Tom Brady was a stunning surprise, but untested in the Big Game. Coincidentally, this game was being played in New Orleans, site of their first two disappointing Super Bowl appearances.
The Patriots entered Super Bowl XXXVI as underdogs to the St. Louis Rams and seasoned MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. They called the Rams’ offense "The Greatest Show on Turf."
But there was a feeling among fans that perhaps our time had come. Four months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, a team named "Patriots" surely had to have something special on its side.
The Patriots defense came up big, picking off Warner twice, and getting a third turnover off a fumble. The Patriots led 17-3 in the third quarter.
But Warner scored one touchdown himself, tossed another one, and the game was tied 17-17 with 1:30 left to play.
The Patriots were out of timeouts. John Madden doing commentary looked at this situation and said, “with no timeouts, you have to play for overtime.” Sage advice perhaps for a play-it-safe team.
But Bill Belichck and Tom Brady are not interested in playing it safe, and TB12 was about to demonstrate how cool he is under pressure. There would be no settling for OT.
He marched the team into field goal range, and as time ran out, Adam Vinatieri, who had never missed a kick in a domed stadium, nailed a 48-yarder.
So this is what it feels like!
As owner Bob Kraft said after the game, taking into account the national trauma that was still so fresh, “Today, we are all Patriots.” And football America seemed to agree.
Let the celebration begin. Let the NFL’s New World Order begin.