On this day in 2002, the New England Patriots shock football fans everywhere by defeating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams, 20-17, to take home their first Super Bowl victory. Pats’ kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 48-yard field goal to win the game just as the clock expired.
Super Bowl XXXVI took place at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans with a crowd of almost 73,000 in attendance. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, the game was played amidst intense security and included a tribute to the 9/11 victims. Former President George H.W. Bush conducted the coin toss, the first president to ever do so in person. Mariah Carey sang the National Anthem and U2 performed during the halftime show.
The NFC champion Rams were coached by Mike Martz, who joined the team in 1999 as offensive coordinator and became head coach in 2000. The team’s offense–nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”–was believed to be one of the best in football history. Kurt Warner, a two-time NFL MVP, quarterbacked the Rams, who had won their first Super Bowl in 2000. The American Football Conference champion Patriots were coached by Bill Belichick, who joined the team in 2000, the same year quarterback Tom Brady was drafted. Brady took over for Pats’ starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe after he was injured early in the 2001-2002 season, and Belichick made the decision to stay with the younger quarterback even after Bledsoe recovered, a call that initially met with controversy. (Bledsoe did play in the AFC Championship game, after Brady was forced to leave with an injury.)
Going into the Super Bowl on February 3, the Rams’ high-powered offense and Super Bowl experience combined to make them 14-point favorites. True to form, the Rams scored first, but by halftime, the underdog Patriots had stifled the Rams offense, and capitalized on two St. Louis turnovers to pull ahead, 14-3.
The Pats converted another Rams turnover into a 17-3 lead in the third quarter before the Rams finally seemed to come alive. Warner ran in a touchdown and then connected with wide receiver Ricky Proehl with just one minute, 30 seconds remaining to tie the score. In the end, though, it proved too little, too late: Brady deftly led the Pats on a 53-yard drive and into field goal range, and with seven seconds left on the clock, Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to give the Pats the victory, 20-17. It was the first time a Super Bowl had ever been won with a team scoring on the last play of the game.
Brady completed 16 of 27 passes for 145 yards, scored one touchdown and was named the game’s MVP. (Warner completed 28 of 44 passes for 365 yards, scored one touchdown and had two interceptions.) Brady went on to lead the Patriots to Super Bowl championships in 2004, against the Carolina Panthers, and in 2005, against the Philadelphia Eagles, and is considered one of the best quarterbacks in football history. Meanwhile, Drew Bledsoe left the Patriots after the 2001 season to play for the Buffalo Bills.
Adam Vinatieri played for the Pats from 1996 to 2005 and earned a reputation as the best clutch place kicker in NFL history. At Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, he repeated his 2002 Super Bowl performance by kicking a game-winning 41-yard field goal in the final seconds.