Super Bowl XXXVI (Rams vs. Patriots): An Ultimate Recount of the Game

Today we have Super Bowl XXXVI, which was held on February 3, 2002, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans between the three-time AFC champion New England Patriots and the three-time NFC champion St. Louis Rams.

As always, we have a pop quiz, and then homework at the end of the episode. The pop quiz question for today is: what rule involving field goals was added to the NFL rule book as a result of this game? The answer will come at the end of the podcast.

Prelude to Super Bowl XXXVI

The New England Patriots went 5-11 in 2000, and they lost their first two games to start the 2001 season. That’s when starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe went down with an injury, and sixth-round pick Tom Brady, in his second season, replaced him. The Patriots didn’t turn around overnight; they were 1-3, 3-4, and 5-5 at various points of the season, including a loss to the eventual NFC champion St. Louis Rams. But they won their final six games of the regular season.

That brings us to the infamous “Tuck Rule.” As everyone knows by now, in a snowy game at Foxboro, the Patriots trailed the Raiders by three late in the fourth quarter when Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson stripped Brady of the ball and the Raiders recovered. The play went to replay review, where the officials ruled that the play counted as an incomplete pass.

That rule has since been eliminated from the rulebook, but in this case, it helped out the Patriots. Even so, kicker Adam Vinatieri had to make a long kick in the snow to tie it, and he did just that. In overtime, he made another kick, and the Patriots knocked out Oakland 16-13.

The Patriots then went to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship Game. Brady got hurt at one point, and Bledsoe came in and led a touchdown drive. The Patriots got a touchdown off a blocked field goal, and they went on to win 24-17 to go to their third Super Bowl – and first under head coach Bill Belichick.

Brady threw for 2,843 yards and 18 touchdowns to go with 12 interceptions. His main target was Troy Brown, who finished just shy of 1,200 receiving yards with 101 catches. David Patten also had a big year, catching 51 for just short of 750. Running back Antowain Smith led the team in rushing with 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns.

As for the Rams, they started this season with six consecutive victories. After a rough spot at midseason when they lost two of four, they went on to win their final six games and finish 14-2. Their high-flying offense was in full display in the NFC Divisional round against Green Bay. They beat the Packers 45-17 and picked off Brett Favre too many times to count. They then defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 29-24 to advance to their second Super Bowl in three years.

The Rams’ numbers looked like something out of Madden. Quarterback Kurt Warner threw for 4,830 yards, which was an enormous number at the time – quarterbacks didn’t just throw for 5,000 yards like they do today. Running back Marshall Faulk ran for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns while leading the team in receptions with 83, nine going for touchdowns.

He was one of six players with at least 350 receiving yards. Those included Torry Holt with 1,363 and seven scores, Isaac Bruce with 1,106 and six scores, and Ricky Proehl, Az-Zahir Hakim, and tight end Ernie Conwell. It’s not really possible to describe how dominant of a team the Rams were on offense. They were the “Greatest Show on Turf,” as Chris Berman deemed them.

They were a sight to see. And now they went into a Super Bowl against a team they already had beaten, and one that was a little lucky to be here. The Rams were enormous favorites, 14 points in fact. There was no chance the Patriots were going to pull off this upset.

That is, until pregame introductions. The Rams came out and had all their starters introduced to the fans at the Superdome. When it was time for the Patriots, Pat Summerall said, “And now, ladies and gentlemen, choosing to be introduced as a team, here are the American Football Conference champions, the New England Patriots!”

It was at that moment the nation believed the Patriots could pull the upset. It had to be one of the greatest psyche-out moments in Super Bowl history, and I can’t help but think that Belichick had to have something to do with it.

Super Bowl XXXVI: First Quarter

The Rams won the coin toss and chose to receive. Receiver Yo Murphy returned the opening kickoff out to the 39. On second down, quarterback Kurt Warner threw to receiver Torry Holt, who made a leaping catch at the New England 42 for a first down.

Warner went back to Holt on second down, but the Rams got called for offensive pass interference on the play. The Rams made it as far as the New England 40 after a screen pass to running back Marshall Faulk, but they had to punt. Punter John Baker kicked it down to the 3.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady completed the first of many Super Bowl passes to receiver Troy Brown for a first down at the 24. Running back Antowain Smith took a carry for nine yards, then Brady went back to Brown for a first down at the 43. That would be all the first downs New England would get on this drive, and punter Ken Walter kicked it for a touchback.

Warner threw to Holt for eight yards, and Faulk picked up the first down. Warner then hit receiver Isaac Bruce on a third-down pass at the 47. Next, he passed to Faulk for 14 more yards. The Rams got as far as the Patriots 32 before Warner’s third-down pass for receiver Ricky Proehl fell incomplete. So, kicker Jeff Wilkins made a 50-yard field goal, the third-longest in Super Bowl history, and St. Louis led 3-0.

The Patriots went three-and-out, and St. Louis got it back at their own 22. Faulk ran on three plays in a row, getting a first down. Patriots defensive end Bobby Hamilton then came up with a sack of Warner, as the first quarter came to an end.

Super Bowl XXXVI: Second Quarter

Warner threw to receiver Az-Zahir Hakim for a first down at the New England 39. He ran a draw for five more yards, but his third-down pass was deflected and nearly intercepted by linebacker Mike Vrabel. Wilkins tried a 52-yard field goal, but this one he hooked to the left, and the margin remained three.

The Patriots got a first down on a Rams holding penalty, before getting called for holding themselves. That killed their drive, and Walter punted it down to the 19. Faulk ran it a couple of times, getting five and then 15 yards, gaining a first down at the 39. But on the next play, Warner faced heavy pressure from Vrabel, and he was forced to get rid of the ball quickly. Defensive back Ty Law stepped in and intercepted his pass along the sideline and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. The Patriots took a 7-3 lead with that pick-six.

Warner came back with a pass to Holt for a first down at the 41, after bobbling the snap. He then hit Hakim for nine yards, but Faulk was stopped by linebacker Tedy Bruschi for no gain. On third down, Warner’s pass was caught by Patriots defensive back Lawyer Milloy, but out of bounds, so no interception. The Rams punted it down to the 15.

Smith took a pitch for 11 yards to start the next drive. He’d get very close to another one, which fullback Marc Edwards picked up on a carry up the middle. Brady got sacked by defensive linemen Tyoka Jackson and Leonard Little, and the Patriots had to punt after the two-minute warning.

After getting a first down on a penalty, Warner threw to Proehl for a substantial gain – but then he fumbled, having the ball knocked out of his hands by an opposing helmet. Defensive back Terrell Buckley recovered the loose ball and returned it to the St. Louis 40. Brady then fired to Brown for a first down at the 24.

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins pulled one in at the 16, and running back Kevin Faulk took a pitch behind a fantastic block by tackle Grant Williams for a first down at the 8. Brady then threw to the right corner of the end zone, complete to receiver David Patten for a touchdown. The Patriots went to the locker room with a 14-3 lead.

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    Super Bowl XXXVI: Third Quarter

    The Patriots started the second half with the ball, and Smith ran for eight yards on their first play. He then ripped off a 13-yard run into St. Louis territory. But that would be it for the Patriots on this drive, and they were forced to punt.

    After getting flagged for holding, the Rams got a first down on a pass to Hakim at the 28. Next, Warner found receiver Isaac Bruce for a first down at midfield. However, that drive stalled when defensive tackle Richard Seymour along with Vrabel sacked Warner. The Rams kicked it away inside the New England 20.

    Smith ran for a first down off left tackle beyond the 35. Patten followed with a reverse that he took down to the Rams 43. Smith got five more, but the Patriots couldn’t get past the Rams 38. They chose to punt, and this kick went for a touchback.

    Faulk ran for 12 yards to start the new drive, then added another 14-yard run later. Warner threw to Holt for five yards, but on his next pass, he was intercepted by defensive back Otis Smith, who returned it to the St. Louis 33. The Patriots moved into field goal range after a ten-yard pass from Brady to Brown.

    Kevin Faulk was tackled for a loss trying to throw a halfback pass, but he got the Patriots back to the Rams 20 on a direct snap. That set up kicker Adam Vinatieri to try a 37-yard field goal, which he made to extend the Patriots lead to 17-3.

    Super Bowl XXXVI: Fourth Quarter

    Warner started out the next drive with a 15-yard pass to Bruce. Faulk ran for another seven, as the teams switched sides for the fourth quarter. Warner found Hakim down the middle for a first down, before throwing to tight end Ernie Conwell for a nine-yard pickup. After running back James Hodgins picked up a first down, Warner hit Faulk to go down inside the 10 with another first down.

    Tight end Jeff Robinson caught one down at the 3 before Warner had consecutive passes almost intercepted by Milloy and Law, respectively. On fourth down, Rams head coach Mike Martz chose to go for it. Warner was chased out of the pocket, and he ran it down to the 1, before having the ball knocked out. Defensive back Tebucky Jones picked up the fumble and returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, only to see it brought back, as linebacker Willie McGinest was called for holding before the fumble.

    Two plays later, Warner ran it in on a quarterback draw, and the Rams pulled within 17-10 with just under ten minutes to play.

    The Patriots went three-and-out and punted, and the Rams got the ball back with under eight minutes to go. The Rams were backed up thanks to a holding call on the punt return. Even so, Warner got a first down on a pass to Bruce at the 19. He then found a wide-open Proehl for a big gain near midfield.

    Next, it was Robinson catching one for a first down at the New England 39. But McGinest came up with a big sack of Warner for a loss of about 15 yards, and the Rams had to punt with 3:44 left on the clock.

    Both teams had used up all their timeouts by this point, and this played a heavy influence on the Patriots’ play-calling. Antowain Smith carried the ball on three consecutive plays to take the game to the two-minute warning. Interestingly, had Patriots head coach Bill Belichick been more aggressive, he could have clinched the game by having Brady pass for a first down. But the Rams got the ball back at their own 44 after a short punt.

    Warner threw to Hakim, who got out of bounds at the New England 37 for a first down. Next, it was Murphy catching a flare out of the backfield for a first down at the 26. Warner finished the three-play drive by hitting a wide-open Proehl for a 26-yard touchdown. Wilkins’s extra point tied the game at 17 with 90 seconds to play.

    After Troy Brown returned the kickoff to the 17, the Patriots had exactly 81 seconds to work with and no timeouts. Fox announcer John Madden almost begged the Patriots to just sit on the football and play for overtime. This conservative approach didn’t make much sense, though; the Patriots would be playing for a 50-50 shot at getting the ball to start overtime, decided on a coin toss.

    Instead, Belichick and Brady got aggressive. Brady threw short to running back J.R. Redmond twice, and on the second one, Redmond got a first down at the 30. Brady spiked it to stop the clock at 41 seconds. Next, he got off another short pass to Redmond, and he got out of bounds at the 41 with 33 seconds left.

    Brady threw incomplete under pressure to set the clock back to 29 seconds. On his next pass, though, he found Brown over the middle for a first down at the Rams 36 with 21 seconds left. He got out of bounds as well. Brady hit tight end, Jermaine Wiggins, for five yards to the 31, then got up and spiked it with seven seconds left.

    On came Adam Vinatieri for the biggest kick in Super Bowl history. With all apologies to Jim O’Brien, his field goal was a chip shot compared to this 48-yard attempt. But the playoffs had been all about Vinatieri and his clutch kicking. There was no way he was missing this one. His kick was absolutely perfect, and the clock read zeroes. The Patriots had won Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17!

    Super Bowl XXXVI: Aftermath and Awards

    Vinatieri kicked that field goal with seven seconds left, and the ball hit the net behind the goalposts with two seconds left. Mysteriously, those final two seconds ticked off the clock. The Rams didn’t get one final kickoff return with two seconds to go.

    This was not right, so the NFL added a rule, informally called the “Adam Vinatieri Rule,” that states that a field goal may take a maximum of five seconds off the clock. It is still used today, and that is the answer to today’s pop quiz question.

    Tom Brady was named MVP, though I’m not sure he deserved it as much as some players on defense. How about Ty Law with his pick-six, or Mike Vrabel, who caused that pick-six with heavy pressure on Warner? I’m giving this one to Law. Not only did he have the pick-six, but he made seven tackles, one for a loss. He deserved the MVP more than Brady, even though Brady led the last-second drive.

    As for the Most Valuable Player on the losing team, I have to go with Warner. He threw for 365 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for a touchdown. Yes, he threw two interceptions, but that one to Law was when he was under heavy pressure. He led the Rams back from a 14-point deficit; he just left too much time for Brady. Warner wouldn’t get back to the Super Bowl with the Rams, but he would get back to the Super Bowl with a different team.

    The Least Valuable Player? I’m not sure there’s anyone I can give it to. No player in this game played particularly poorly on either side. For the sake of having such a category, I’ll go with Torry Holt; he was targeted 12 times but only made five catches for 49 yards. He didn’t play poorly, but he could have played better.

    The biggest play of this game was Ty Law’s pick-six. That was the play that got the Patriots fully believing that they could pull this upset. It got the Rams feeling that they were vulnerable. It was the turning point in this game, even though the Rams eventually came back to tie it.

    The biggest play no one remembers is when Redmond made a catch on the final drive and managed to touch the sideline with the ball. If Redmond doesn’t get out of bounds there, the Patriots likely do not have enough time to get down into field goal range. And he only barely hit the sideline with the ball; it was so close to being called in bounds and having the clock run.

    The best player you don’t remember? How about Az-Zahir Hakim of the Rams? He caught five passes for 90 yards. He was a star returner for some time for the Rams. I had totally forgotten about him before watching this game. He was a perfect fit in the Rams’ high-flying offense.

    The Patriots pulled it out for their first Super Bowl victory. Would that be the last time we’d hear from them? I think you know the answer to that.

    This game, on Fox, was also the final Super Bowl for Pat Summerall. The legendary broadcaster had been working Super Bowls all the way back to Super Bowl I as a reporter. He started calling Super Bowls as play-by-play announcer in Super Bowl X.

    This game wasn’t his best; he repeatedly called Warner “Faulk.” But that doesn’t take away from what a fantastic career he had. John Madden would leave Fox after this game and head on over to ABC to do Monday Night Football. As it happened, he’d call back-to-back Super Bowls, as ABC was next in the rotation.


    My choice of homework for this one is simple: The Impossible Team: The Worst to First Patriots’ Super Bowl Season by Nick Cafardo. This book starts with the Super Bowl itself, before going back through the entire season and finishing up with the AFC Championship Game victory over Pittsburgh. It even has the blessing of both Troy Brown and Adam Vinatieri, who wrote the foreword and afterword, respectively.

    Next time, we’ve got a bizarre game on our hands, between two bizarre teams, and two even more bizarre coaches. Super Bowl XXXVII is next, and it’s hard to put into words how weird that game was. It’s the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing for all the marbles in San Diego! You can find all my books over at Until next time, this is Tommy A. Phillips, signing off. So long!

    You can find all my books at; I specifically suggest the Great Eighties and Nifty Nineties books. Later this year, there will be a third book on NFL decades, on the seventies. You won’t want to miss it. Until next time, this is Tommy A. Phillips, signing off. So long!

    Lombardi Memories is a show that takes you back in time, into January or February, to the greatest one-day spectacle in all of sports. This is the every-other-Tuesday podcast that looks back at each and every one of the 50-plus Super Bowls and tells the story of who won and why.  Tommy A. Phillips is your host on this Super Journey.  He’s an author of multiple NFL books.  You can purchase below.

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