One effective — and let’s admit, satisfying — way Patriots fans can further annoy fan bases from other NFL cities is to deploy the smugness that comes from having a variety pack of Super Bowl appearances and victories to compare and contrast.
The Patriots will be making their 11th Super Bowl appearance Sunday, extending their own record, and it will be the ninth of the phenomenal, enduring Tom Brady/Bill Belichick two-decade dynasty. NFL Films must have more compelling footage of those two in big games than any other tandem in league history, and it cannot be close.
Because the Patriots are facing the Rams Sunday, the comparison to past Super Bowl glory this week has been an obvious one: That first meeting with the Rams, in Super Bowl 36, when, as Rams receiver Ricky Proehl said into the NFL Films camera before the game, “A dynasty is born tonight.’’ Never has an athlete been so wrong and so right at once.
The Patriots dynasty was born that night when Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal split the uprights and Gil Santos rejoiced: “It’s good! It’s good! It’s good!’’ So, of course, there is a certain symmetry to facing the Rams again, on the 17th anniversary of that first championship, with Brady and Belichick long established as the best ever at what they do, and the Rams featuring the next generation of the Greatest Show on Turf offense, and the possibility that this symbolizes a dynasty circling around to where it began, even if the circle isn’t closed yet.
Heck, we even had the Patriots being introduced as a team at Opening Night, a nod to their one-for-all introduction that countered the preening Rams’ individualistic approach before Super Bowl 36. And let’s not even get into the Patriots’ attempts to convince themselves they’re some kind of underdog this time around, as they genuinely were all those years ago.
Patriots-Rams then, versus Patriots-Rams now? It’s an easy comparison, a compelling one, an understandable one.
I’m just not sure, as we get deeper into hype week and closer to kickoff, that’s it’s the right one.
To me, this matchup is starting to remind me more of perhaps the Patriots’ most overlooked Super Bowl victory. (Yes, there are overlooked Super Bowl victories. It ain’t smug if it’s true.) That would be the Patriots’ 24-21 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl 39 in scenic Jacksonville on Feb. 6, 2005. That win was the confirmation of the dynasty, the Patriots’ third Super Bowl win in four seasons. Should they beat the Rams Sunday, it would be their third in five years.
I’m not totally sure why that game is so overlooked considering it was just a three-point margin of victory and the Eagles had the ball in the final minute, with Rodney Harrison sealing the win with an interception with 9 seconds left. Perhaps it’s because it doesn’t have that singular unforgettable moment – a winning field goal from Vinatieri, a Malcolm Butler interception, a Matrix-like catch from Julian Edelman during a comeback that defied math and logic.
In retrospect, it feels like the Patriots won that game easily. They did not. The score was tied at 7 after one quarter and 14 at the half. The Patriots built a 10-point lead in the third quarter, but an oddly plodding Eagles drive ended with a touchdown pass to Greg Lewis (a future Patriots free-agent flop) to cut the score to 24-21 with less than 2 minutes left in the game. Harrison’s interception was the clincher, but the biggest late play might have been Josh Miller’s punt that pinned the Eagles at their own 4-yard-line with 46 seconds left. Even clutch punts are forgotten.
These Rams remind me more of those Eagles than they do of their own predecessor. The Rams have a superstar in Todd Gurley who enters the game with a bit of mystery surrounding his health, just as the Eagles’ Terrell Owens did 14 years ago. (T.O. was excellent despite a broken foot, with 9 catches for 122 yards.)
The Rams have a player in Nickell Roby-Coleman who was a little too candid and dismissive in his evaluation of Tom Brady’s skills, and thus slapped a bull’s-eye on his back for Sunday. It wouldn’t shock me if the Rams provided more bulletin-board material before the week is up. But it would be nothing like what underwhelming Eagles receiver Freddie Mitchell did – which was talk so much that he inspired Belichick to rip him publicly after the game was over. “All he does is talk,’’ said Belichick. “He’s terrible, and you can print that. I was happy when he was in the game.’’
The Rams are led by an offensive wizard in Sean McVay who is still a kid by NFL coaching standards. The Eagles were led by an offensive wizard in Andy Reid who … well, he was a large kid in a Rams helmet, that’s what he was.
Another similarity? After the Eagles Super Bowl, Patriots coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel departed for new jobs, the former at Notre Dame and the latter with the Browns. Current offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels isn’t going anywhere, but this is the farewell for Brian Flores, who after capably guiding the Patriots defense this year is by all accounts set to become the next Dolphins coach.
The MVP of that Super Bowl was not Brady, but receiver Deion Branch, who had 11 catches for 133 yards. I could see Julian Edelman putting up similar numbers Sunday, though it would take an otherworldly performance for any Patriot other than Brady to win the MVP award if they prevail.
Oh, and then there’s this. Tony Romo, who will call the game alongside Jim Nantz for CBS Sunday, offered his prediction on the game earlier this week, but with a cliffhanger: He didn’t say who would win. Romo, who as you may have heard has a knack for informed prognostication, said this: “I’ll go 28-24 and the team that has the ball at the end has 24 and doesn’t score.’’
That sounds like a Patriots victory to me. And the circumstances, if not quite the score, sound an awful lot like the ending to a certain overlooked championship captured 14 years ago.