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Unrelenting Underdogs: How the New England Patriots Saved America

03 Feb 2002:   Adam Vinatieri #4 of the St.Louis Rams breaks into celebration after kicking the game winning field goal against the St.Louis Rams during Superbowl XXXVI at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Patriots defeated the Rams 20-17. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello/Getty Images
Justin HallCorrespondent IMay 13, 2009

A recent sixth-round draft pick for a quarterback. A burned-out linebacker from Pittsburgh. A kicker who played across the pond to start his career. A castoff from Cleveland looking for a second chance.

These were the cast of characters who wore the uniforms of the New England Patriots in 2001, a team that had a more stumbling and bumbling history than Chris Berman could keep track of. How did they make it to the Super Bowl? How did they shock the football world? How did they become one of the greatest stories in sports history?

The answer is simple. They came along at a time when they were needed the most. When sports fans needed them. When Americans needed them.

Only one week into the 2001 NFL season, four airplanes slammed into New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., forever changing life as people knew it. 

Soon, sports became the last thing on everybody's mind. And yet, it was sports that people soon turned to for comfort and support. This is exactly what the Patriots would provide.

The Patriots soon became a team that everybody could relate to, a team composed of hard-working, blue-collar players that worked together rather than individually.

Tom Brady, the kid from Michigan who was a starry-eyed first-year starter taking over for an injured Drew Bledsoe.

Antowain Smith, who, after three lackluster seasons in Buffalo, turned his career around in Foxboro.

Troy Brown, who was the true definition of all-purpose—returning punts, catching passes, throwing blocks. Not caring about his stats, just doing whatever it took to win the game.

Finally, Bill Belichick, the coach who once benched Bernie Kosar and was run out of Cleveland. Like all the others, he would get his vindication and well-deserved praise during this special season.

Even the Super Bowl itself personified what it meant to be an American. From the red, white, and blue uniforms to their nickname of "Patriots," the team gave back some pride to a wounded nation. When they chose to be introduced as a team rather than as individual players, there were goosebumps felt from San Francisco to New York.

And when Adam Vinatieri, another comeback story in his own right, hit the winning field goal with no time left, it was the icing on the cake. He lived the dream that every little boy across America has growing up, to make a game-winning play to win a championship.

So were the 2001 New England Patriots the most skilled team ever? No, they weren't. Were they full of the most all-Pro players? Not even close.

But were they the best team ever assembled? Yes, they were. They were the true definition of a team, a word Webster's dictionary defines as, "a number of persons associated together in work or activity."

In this way, the 2001 New England Patriots were the best true team in NFL history, a team that came at the right time and helped provide one of the best underdog stories not even Hollywood could script.

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