It’s been 17 years since the New England Patriots won their first NFL championship at Super Bowl XXXVI by defeating the then-St. Louis Rams, 20-17. As such, Super Bowl LIII on Sunday night will be a rematch of sorts for both teams. Per NESN, New England is still a slim favorite to beat the Los Angeles Rams this year, but that wasn’t the case in 2002 when the Rams were seen by pundits as a dynasty in the making. But how did the Patriots pull off the unlikely and beat the Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI, with a once-unheralded former sixth-round draft pick in Tom Brady at quarterback?
As recalled by CNN, the Rams were 14-point favorites over the “Cinderella team” Patriots heading into Super Bowl XXXVI. This was thanks to a star-studded, high-scoring lineup dubbed by the media as “The Greatest Show on Turf,” with future Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner throwing passes to receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and running back Marshall Faulk standing out as one of the best in the NFL at his position. New England, on the other hand, had started the 2001 season with Drew Bledsoe as their starting quarterback, only for erstwhile backup Brady, then only 24-years-old, to take over when Bledsoe suffered a concussion in the Patriots’ Week 2 game against the New York Jets.
Based on the team statistics at Super Bowl XXXVI, the Rams appeared to be the superior team, as CNN pointed out that they had substantially more first downs and total yards, while also having possession for most of the game. However, St. Louis was having a hard time taking advantages of the opportunities they had, and consistently had difficulty putting points on the board. Despite that, they still led the Patriots, 3-0, early in the second quarter.
After the Patriots’ defense helped the team notch its first points, with Ty Law returning an interception for a 47-yard touchdown, New England scored again before the first half was over, as Brady threw a short touchdown pass to David Patten to give the Patriots a 14-3 lead shortly before halftime. As Fox analyst John Madden pointed out during the game, New England’s success was mostly on account of head coach Bill Belichick’s resolve to play aggressively on both ends of the field.
“[Belichick] said, ‘The only way we can win this game is we have to be more physical on them, and we have to find other ways to score, other than our offense.'”
Although kicker Adam Vinatieri extended New England’s lead to 17-3 with a third-quarter field goal, St. Louis rallied back behind Warner, who rushed for one touchdown and passed for another as the Rams tied the game, 17-all, with one minute and 30 seconds remaining. As quoted by CNN, Madden suggested that the Patriots would be better off “[playing] for overtime” and running out the clock due to their less-than-ideal field position after the kickoff.
Tom Brady's greatness, in the words of his fellow greats: Several all-time great players say Brady is the greatest of them all https://t.co/UuCiRbtg3R— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 2, 2019
Despite the fact the Patriots were on their own 17-yard line with little time remaining, Brady led a heroic drive that brought the team within the Rams’ territory and ultimately allowed Vinatieri to score on a game-winning 48-yard field goal as time ran out. That made Brady the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, though this record was broken four years later at Super Bowl XL, when Ben Roethlisberger, then 23, won the game for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’ve been impressed watching Tom Brady… The way he’s played in this game today, he has been very, very impressive with his calmness,” Madden said.
Exactly 17 years later, Brady is now the grizzled veteran and likely future Hall of Famer hoping for his sixth Super Bowl victory, while Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is at the same age Brady was when he won his first. However, CNN noted that Belichick has downplayed the historical significance of the Patriots vs. Rams rematch at Super Bowl LIII, having recently told reporters that he “[doesn’t see] a lot of relevance” in any of New England’s previous championship games, Super Bowl XXXVI included.