Super Team, Super Drive, Super Kick Makes Super Patriots

Bob George
February 4, 2002 at 1:27 am ET

NEW ORLEANS — Neither Joe Montana nor Jim O’Brien could have done it any better.

As the confetti continues to settle on the floor of the Louisiana Superdome, what Patriots Nation witnessed on this magical and historic evening will take time to fully make its way into everyone’s psyche. As everyone sips their favorite brand of champagne, you can think “greatest Super Bowl coaching job ever”, “greatest Super Bowl drive ever”, or “greatest Super Bowl field goal ever” all you want. But if you want to sum up this game in one succinct sentence, here it is.

The New England Patriots are champions of the world.

Bob Kraft held the first Vince in the history of the Patriots aloft, amidst a hail of confetti which came down in more volume than all that snow on February 6, 1978. Bill Belichick enjoyed still another postgame interview as winning head coach in a playoff game. Tom Brady is now the top glamour figure in the NFL, and now one really has to wonder what more this 24-year-old is capable of. Adam Vinatieri perhaps locked up the title “NFL’s highest paid placekicker”, if the Patriots are smart.

But the Patriots have done so much more than just win a game, 20-17 over the St. Louis Rams. They have given a present to the New England region, the magnitude of which may not be fully known for days and weeks to come. They won a championship game against a 14-point favorite in a theater in which 14-point favorites usually win by twice that much. They won the game with an unbelievable display of perfection, guts and drama.

Will this go down as the best Super Bowl ever? Why not?

Actually, Patriot Nation really doesn’t care about Super Bowl history, at least right now. A better question would be this: Will this go down as the best pro sports championship in the history of New England?

Right now, this beats the heck out of a Red Sox World Series win. I reserve the right to change my mind later, but this championship for the Patriots represents an incredible moment in the history of a franchise that has had a history of more downers than uppers. With one booming 48-yard field goal by Vinatieri as time expired, the Patriots instantly morphed from laughing stocks to a fabled franchise.

Getting to this moment requires huge tributes that must trace their way back to Billy Sullivan. He got the franchise in the first place, then he kept them here by building Foxborough Stadium. Sullivan was largely mocked during his 28-year ownership reign, but you would not have this team without the original Patriot patriarch.

Then you have to give a thousand salutes to Kraft. He bought the stadium he and his family used to sit in as spectators, then bought the team in 1994. That once again thwarted a possible franchise relocation. As CMGi Field nears its completion, Kraft will have left a legacy in the region that may be equaled only if John Henry manages to do the same for the Red Sox.

But Kraft deserves the biggest salutes of all for recognizing a huge blunder, and successfully correcting it. He let Bill Parcells walk away from this franchise as it made its last trip to the Super Bowl five years ago. But after seeing three years of a horrid, ego-driven mistake gone bad, he sent a first-round draft pick to the hated enemy and brought to New England a half-genius, half-miracle worker named Bill Belichick.

Next, Belichick gets to bask in the glow of the greatest Super Bowl coaching job ever. All night long, receivers were flying at Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and Ricky Proehl and Marshall Faulk and Ernie Conwell and anyone wearing a white and blue and gold jersey. Kurt Warner never got into a rhythm until the end, and you might guess that Belichick coached the end of the game with the idea of “game-winning field goal” in mind. Faulk was held to 76 yards rushing, and was carefully covered all night long.

But the best thing Belichick did was in the pregame warm-ups. In what may go down as the best psyche job in Super Bowl history, the team eschewed individual introductions and instead opted for a team intro. The entire Patriot team came on the field as one, played the game as one, and won the Vince as one.

If you need any convincing that this was a team job, look at the defense. 17 of the 20 Patriot points came off of turnovers. Hitting any Ram coming at you was done with energy, intensity, and resolve. The defense was also able to overcome a 97-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Tebucky Jones which was negated due to a holding penalty on Willie McGinest, and still have enough to come out three points on top.

Next, you have to say a thousand bravos to perhaps the new centerpiece of this franchise, and wonder how many more magical moments this man has left in his career, which has still only just begun. Perhaps the worst thing that happened to the Rams tonight was that Proehl scored the tying touchdown, a 26-yard pass from Warner, but left Brady 1:31 left to try and get the Pats in field goal range with no timeouts left.

1:31. No timeouts. Ball at the Patriot 17. A second-year quarterback at the helm.

John Madden was raving. “Brady should take a knee and get this to overtime!” Then, “I don’t like this strategy at all. The Patriots shouldn’t be taking these chances!”

The problem is that Brady drove the Patriots to the Rams’ 36 with three passes to J.R. Redmond and a 23-yard classic to Troy Brown. Madden suddenly started saying things like “Gosh, now I like this strategy!” A six-yard pass to Wiggins and a Brady spike set the stage for Vinatieri to win the game with eight seconds left.

Stop it here for a second. Could Montana have done this any better? Or, perhaps you might want to chew on this: How many more of these drives does the Super Bowl MVP have left in his career? Enough to make the pro football world say “Joe who?”

The two snow kicks against the Raiders were the best of Vinatieri up to this moment. O’Brien’s 1971 boot was the Super Bowl’s best up to this moment.

No timeouts left for either team. No time to think. Just snap it, hold it, kick it.

Lonie Paxton snaps. Ken Walter holds. Vinatieri kicks.

And no more beautiful field goal has ever been witnessed by anyone claiming allegiance to the six-state region of the northeastern United States.

It wasn’t a cheapie. The field goal was nailed, plain and simple. It was straight as an arrow, as powerful as a cannonball, and as important as – well, nothing before it. Paxton was so happy that he decided to reprise his snow angel act in the end zone.

Sorry, Celtics, but none of your many titles compares to this.

Robert Gordon Orr has his place set in history. But his goal is no longer the most memorable single moment in Boston sports history. You’ll still want to see Orr fly through the air again and again. But as for something in flight, you’ll want to see the ball Vinatieri kicked over and over again until you are ready to be read Last Rites.

Now, as for those of you who think a Red Sox World Series win is better than this? Only the most senior of citizens can answer that question. A future World Series win? Let the Sox actually win one of those, and then come talk to me. And let them use the Patriots as inspiration.

Because right now, this most improbable and incredible of world championships is too much to believe, too hard to imagine, and too difficult to fathom at this time.

The Patriots are NFL champions. Even typing that last sentence is quite unbelievable.

Everyone from Greenwich to Madawaska, from St. Albans to Orleans, from Aroostook County to New London County simply can’t believe that their football team is the best in the world right now.

The team who bounced from Alumni Stadium to Nickerson Field to Fenway Park is the best team in the world.

The team who once hired Clive Rush, Rod Rust and Pete Carroll as head coaches is the best team in the world.

The team who opened a stadium full of backed up toilets is the best team in the world.

The team whose top moment in stadium history was a convict driving a snowplow is the best team in the world.

The team who disgraced Lisa Olson is the best team in the world.

The team who thought letting Bill Parcells walk was a good idea is the best team in the world.

And so on.

The Super Bowl Champion Patriots can no longer hang their heads in shame ever again. As Madden loves to say, “once you win a Super Bowl, you’re a champion for life, and no one can ever take that away from you!” This often-mocked franchise will never again be mocked. The pride and prestige earned from this championship will be felt for generations to come.

Buffalo and Minnesota went 0-for-4. The Patriots can never again be told that they couldn’t win the big one.

New Orleans was a nightmare in 1986 and a letdown in 1997. In 2002, the entire franchise was forever changed, and now New Orleans is the most beautiful city in the world.

So many good things that Patriot Nation won’t realize for a while will soon start to sink in on everyone. But the best thing of all is the best sentence any football scribe can write next to their team.

The New England Patriots are World Champions.

It took a super effort from a super team, a super drive and a super kick.

And a super coach and super owner at the helm.

This is the greatest day for Boston sports fans. Never forget this day and this game as long as you live. Never forget what it took to beat the St. Louis Rams and claim this championship. Never forget what the Patriots went through during all these 42 years to get to this moment.

Never forget Kraft holding aloft the Vince five years after Parcells pulled the biggest bag job on any team in Super Bowl history. Never forget how important it is in this year of turmoil to have the best team in football named the Patriots. Never forget the great game you saw Sunday night that served as the official coronation for this franchise.

And never forget the word “team”. Belichick was the mastermind, and he is the best coach in the NFL.

And the “team” called the New England Patriots is the best team in the NFL.

A super team, indeed.

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