Tom Brady: winning for 20 years

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws the ball against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of the AFC Championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady has been winning for almost 20 years – but what was his first Super Bowl like?

February 3rd 2002. The smell of hot sauce and a smouldering fireplace fills the living room of my childhood New Jersey home. As my older brother and his friends circled around the television – I knew today was a special event, but what?

Maria Carey begins belting out the National Anthem in front of 72,000 fans at the Louisiana Superdome and I realized this was something special. Today was the Super Bowl.

I was 7-years-old and the idea of the NFL was totally lost on me. I could not comprehend why grown men would run full speed at each other for a living?

At first, the nuances of the game were foreign concepts. First downs, false starts and field goals – what did it all mean? But with each snap of the ball, my interest was rising with the intensity of the game. I thought I understood tension, but I had no idea.

Tom Brady’s immortally continues to be cemented with each game-winning drive we have come to expect.

Looking back, Super Bowl XXXVI seems like a fitting prequel to this upcoming Sunday’s showdown in Atlanta between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. But the roles of the status of these teams have reversed over the last two decades.

Today, Tom Brady’s immortally continues to be cemented with each game-winning drive we have come to expect. But let’s remember a time when a Tom Brady game-winning drive became one of the most shocking events in NFL history.

The 2002 Rams still called St. Louis home and posted a 14-2 record in the regular season. They were known as the “Greatest Show on Turf,” and led by Hall of Famer and MVP Quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network, did not always enjoy success in the NFL. Just eight years earlier, after being released by the Green Bay Packers, Warner was stocking shelves in an Iowa supermarket for $5.50 an hour.

After slowly returning to football through the Arena Football League, Warner found a home with the Rams and proved to be the missing piece that brought St. Louis their first Super Bowl title in 2000. Now, two years later, they were back in the big game as 14-point favourites against the un-proven Bill Belichick run Patriots.

The Rams expected to win and expected to win big. Tom Brady though – who started the season as the team’s backup – was not intimidated by the big game. A few hours before kickoff, the Patriots QB wandered off inside the Superdome and found a quiet, isolated area, for a power nap.

Following a first-half defensive showdown, including a pick-six by Patriot legend Ty Law, the Rams miseries continued in the 3rd quarter. Warner threw his second interception of the game.

Future Hall of Famer and current Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vineteri gave the Pats a 17-3 lead heading into the fourth.

Now with under a minute remaining and no timeouts, everyone thought we were headed for overtime. Everyone that is, except Tom Brady.

Then, Warner and company came alive. Warner, along with his Hall of Fame teammate Marshall Faulk, led the Rams into the red zone and down to the goal line. Warner ran the next play up-the-middle for a QB-sneak touchdown.

“The Greatest Show on Turf” now only trailed by a touchdown with 9:30 remaining in the game.

With the Patriots offense struggling to move the ball they were forced to punt to the Rams once again. After driving down the field, Warner found Ricky Proehl for a score. Tie Game.

Now with under a minute remaining and no timeouts, everyone thought we were headed for overtime. Everyone that is, except Tom Brady.

“Now with no timeouts, and this field position, I think the Patriots have to just run the clock out and play for overtime,” proclaimed NFL legendary commentator John Madden from the announcer’s booth.

No one disagreed with him. A turnover in this position would result in an easy win for the Rams.

As Madden stated what appeared to be obvious, Brady dropped back and found his running back in the flank who found space and was tackled out of bounds 10-years short of midfield.

Brady then rifled his signature pass across the middle, picking apart the zone defense like he’d already been doing it for nearly two decades. Patriots were now in Rams territory with 20 seconds left. Could this really be happening?

The Patriots had time for one more play before attempting a game-winning field goal. They needed only a few yards to bring them within range.

Rams blitz, and in a split second Brady dumped it off for a 6-yard completion to his tight end, down to the St. Louis 30-yard line. The Pats were now in range.

The Superdome was speechless, my living room was speechless. Vineteri stepped up to for a chance to nail the biggest kick of his life.

I remember thinking: Brady put his team in a position to win. No overtime. Right here, right now.

“I’ll tell you, what Tom Brady just did gave me goosebumps,” bellowed Madden in his signature deep voice.

Vineteri’s kick is right down the middle. The Superdome erupts.

Tom Brady wasn’t the most talented QB on the field that day, but he was the smartest. He made the fewest mistakes – and when it mattered most, Brady delivered.

I’m not sure if anyone at the time truly knew what they were watching that day. It wasn’t just history being made, it was the birth of a dynasty and the beginning of the greatest athletic career of my lifetime.

Now almost 17 years to the day, Tom Brady finds himself in a rematch against the Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

Many things in the NFL have changed since these two teams met in their first big matchup. We now have instant replay challenges, various rule changes and Twitter.

It marks Belichick and his Patriots dynasty’s eighth appearance on super Sunday, winning a remarkable five Super Bowl titles. Meanwhile, the Rams have moved their franchise to Los Angeles and are on their 7th head coach since 2002.

One thing has remained constant though; Tom Brady winning.