In my view, no team displayed more of what it meant to live up to the word “team” than the 2003 New England Patriots, who won their second Super Bowl in three years that season. While the 2001 Patriots were a perfect example of David slaying Goliath with their victory in Super Bowl XXXVI over the St. Louis Rams and the 2004 Patriots were officially ordained a dynasty with their win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, the 2003 Patriots showed the sports world what it truly meant to be a “team.”
However, that season could not have started off much worse for the Patriots. Just days before their opening game against the Buffalo Bills, starting safety and team leader Lawyer Milloy was released.
In a cruel twist of fate, the Bills snatched Milloy up quickly and he played a big role in the 31-0 pounding the Patriots received from the Bills in the first game of 2003.
The Patriots had to weather inconsistent play on the field the first four games of the season and had to deal with rumors that the release of Milloy caused a huge rift between the players and head coach Bill Belichick.
But after a loss to the Washington Redskins that dropped their record to 2-2, the Patriots decided that was the last time they were going to lose a game that season and for almost half of the 2004 season.
The Patriots pulled together and for the first time, showed what could happen when a football team plays as just that, a team. They would run off 12 straight wins to finish the 2003 regular season, including what some called poetic justice by returning the favor to their division rival Buffalo with a 31-0 victory in Foxboro in the last game of of the season.
What followed was a Super Bowl that I still consider the most entertaining that I have ever seen.
The Patriots were pitted against a team I considered at the time to be the mirror images of New England in the Carolina Panthers. Both teams were filled with mostly unheralded players who played hard and played smart every single game and were both led by smart head coaches who were at the top of their game.
The second half of that game was the greatest 30 minutes of football I have ever seen. Each time traded touchdown after touchdown but as what became his staple, Tom Brady once again drew comparisons to his childhood idol Joe Montana by leading another game-ending drive that resulted in yet another game-winning field goal by Adam Vinatieri, although the usually automatic kicker had missed two attempts earlier in the game.
NFL Hall of Famer John Riggins has often described the Patriots as resembling a college football team that looks like it is competing for the National Championship and I believe that is the highest compliment the Patriots could ever receive.
In an era of me-first athletes and players who put individual accolades ahead of team success, it is refreshing to see a team like the Patriots, who have just one simple goal: to work together and win football games.