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The Snow Bowl and beyond

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 24, 2012 02:05 PM

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The 10-year anniversary of my favorite game and maybe yours in Patriots lore passed Thursday without tribute here, and while this is probably a tactic that would get a fella in deep trouble with his wife, I say it's never too late to acknowledge a wonderful thing.

The Patriots' 16-13 overtime victory over the Oakland Raiders on January 19, 2002 is officially recorded as an AFC Divisional Playoff game. In Oakland, and many other parts of the country stricken with Patriot envy and/or loathing, it's known as the Tuck Rule game.

Here, it's the Snow Bowl. The final game at Foxboro Stadium, and unofficially the game when the Patriots' prolonged run of excellence began. Excluding certain pivotal events from October 2004, there's not a Boston sporting event in my lifetime that I remember more fondly.

The three Super Bowl championships were wonderful and fulfilling. But for sentimental purposes, for warm memories on a cold day, nothing trumps the Snow Bowl. We'll see other Super Bowls. But we'll never again see an atmosphere and an outcome like that.

A decade later, roughly XXXVI viewings of "Three Games To Glory" later, and I still have no idea how Adam Vinatieri knuckled that tying 45-yard field goal through the snowflakes, and then, the uprights.

Yet the Snow Bowl comes to mind today not just because of the calendar's reminder. The delightful happenings on the field Sunday at Gillette Stadium were more than enough to send a Patriots fan into a spiral of nostalgia, and some certain guests of honor made it feel like good old days have never left even if the names on the jerseys have changed.

When Sterling Moore poked what would have been the winning touchdown out of Ravens receiver Lee Evans's hands on Baltimore's failed final drive, it reminded you of something Ty Law, that ol' clutch cornerback, might have pulled off against the Colts seven or eight years ago. That Law, an honorary co-captain along with Drew Bledsoe, Troy Brown and Tedy Bruschi Sunday, was at Gillette Stadium to witness the moment only added to the pleasant symmetry of what this franchise has accomplished.

While the gracious Bledsoe, who recovered from a serious injury but never recovered his job from Brady, didn't have a role in the Snow Bowl beyond looking cold and helping Brady warm up . . .

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. . . it is always great to see the second-best quarterback in franchise history at Gillette. And the names Bruschi, Brown, and Law do take you back to that particular game, and the mind wanders back to all the what-ifs and how'd-he-do-that's that broke the Patriots' way.

RedmondJRfinn123.jpgWhat if Charlie Garner could pick up a late first down, allowing the Raiders to run out the clock? What if J.R. Redmond didn't play the game of his life, unaware he'd play the game of his life again a week later before slipping away into obscurity? What if Jermaine Wiggins, he of the 10 receptions, wasn't as natural comfortable in the conditions as a New England kid who had grown up playing in them, which is of course exactly what he was.

What if Walt Coleman had incorrectly interpreted a contrived rule?

How would it have been different? Would the NFL version of the butterfly effect have taken place, with subtle changes in that game altering the course of history? Would the dynasty, the prolonged excellence that still exists today, have followed a similar course. Or in defeat, would something have been lost, some invisible intangible?

It's not a question you often ponder 10 years, six conference title games, four Super Bowl appearances (with a fifth pending) and three Lombardi Trophies (go ahead and say it -- with a fourth pending) later. It happened, all of it, and that's that. We don't know, we'll never know, and we don't care to know. Let Charles Woodson and Rich Gannon torment themselves with those questions for eternity.

It seems to me the most fulfilling victories are the close ones with high stakes. Perhaps you appreciate what happened Sunday a little more because of how close it came to becoming another notation on the brief but disappointing list of painful losses the past 10 years. Perhaps the trip to the Super Bowl means more because it's been seven seasons without a title. Had Lee Evans held on to the ball a split-second longer, had Billy Cundiff not shanked his own reputation, and perhaps we'd be muttering the names of certain Ravens in the same tones reserved for David Tyree and the 2006 version of Peyton Manning.

Instead, the Patriots added another game of glory to their lore, and many of the names and faces who were instrumental in this run were there as honored guests, proud witnesses. Watching Bruschi high-five Bledsoe -- both looking a little bit older and entirely satisfied -- in the immediate aftermath of the victory was a cool reminder of just how many years on the calendar the Patriots' excellence has spanned.

It was 10 years ago -- give or take a few days post-anniversary, of course -- that Foxboro Stadium was sent off with the most beautiful atmosphere in its history, and a game to match. The Snow Bowl was the beginning, and astoundingly, it continues less that two weeks from now at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Anyone know how to get some snow into that place?

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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