As John Madden sat up in the booth with just over a minute remaining in the Super Bowl, saying that he wouldn”t be surprised to see the Patriots run the ball and take the game to overtime, was there any doubt that they would come out throwing? It was a thrilling end to an amazing game.
Just as it had all season, New England broke conventions and marched down the field with the clutch, second-year quarterback Tom Brady at the helm.
The stars weren”t just aligned this night for the Patriots they have been all season. They have done just enough to win, and on the biggest night of them all it was no different.
New England caught its biggest break against Oakland (it can thank a glitch in the system for that one), but it still had to win, not just get possession back. But how many players on this roster have had a season that M. Night Shyamalan would deem improbable?
You could make the argument that this entire team got a group discount by selling their collective soul, but I think the short list of players with a dream season includes kicker Adam Vinatieri, wide receiver Troy Brown, cornerback Ty Law and of course, Brady. These four made their mark on the Patriots” season and throughout the Super Bowl.
Vinatieri came through in the most sickening and exciting positions in football. Against Oakland he kicked the field goal to tie the game, then tacked on the game-winner in overtime. He followed it up by knocking in the NFL title-winning kick with authority.
As a nine-year veteran, Brown battled to make the New England roster and made the most of it. Brown, another Patriot bound for the Pro Bowl, followed up his breakout 2000 season by catching 101 balls for nearly 1,200 yards, which in itself is impressive. But he also was a superb punt returner.
In the playoffs, Brown”s knack for making plays shone through. He returned a punt for a touchdown against Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship and got the assist on another New England touchdown on a field goal block. It was only fitting that Brady hit him across the middle to set up the win against the Rams.
Law, an injury replacement in the Pro Bowl, sparked the Patriots with a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to score their first points of the game. His tremendous effort in the game could have warranted the Super Bowl MVP were it not for the Patriots” final drive.
No discussion of Patriots” destiny would be complete without talking about Brady especially in Ann Arbor.
Last night, every bar and living room filled with Brady-backers no doubt had a chump that was cheering as Tebucky Jones” fumble return was called back, but nearly every Michigan fan could not help but get swept up in the Brady-saga. He became the first Michigan quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory, and nobody could have predicted it.
It was nice for Wolverines” fans to see him in a starting position when incumbent starter Drew Bledsoe went down in week three, but most thought he was just keeping Bledsoe”s seat warm. But Brady beat out Bledsoe, not once, but twice and became the hero of New England.
Brady personified this New England team by having the most unlikely season and doing just enough to get the win. He had a solid but unspectacular game until the final drive, which earned him the Super Bowl MVP even though he passed for fewer than 150 yards and just one touchdown.
New England coach Bill Belichick stressed “team” all week, but it was Brady who was the heart and soul of this team.
The Brady-led Patriots sent Bostonians into the streets, celebrating a title that seemed most impossible. On that note, remembering that I saw Brady don a Boston baseball cap for interviews all week, I”m placing my money on the Red Sox as soon as I see the opening lines.
Brady and this New England team may never capture a return to the Super Bowl, but the Patriots” place in history is solidified in a magical way.
Jeff Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.