I was only twelve years old when I had the pleasure of watching my favorite team accomplish their goal and win their first Super Bowl.
I am nineteen years old now, soon to be twenty, and as the 2008-2009 NFL season approaches I will take you on a look back at the Patriots' improbable playoff win against the Oakland Raiders in the last game ever at Foxboro Stadium.
Saturday, January 19, 2002
"There is no way that Brady wins this game."
Hearing my Dad say that did not boost my already waning confidence.
We were sitting in our old living room watching the opening kickoff of the Patriots-Raiders Divisional Game and I have to admit that I did not agree with him.
I remember glancing over at Dad and saying, "As long as we score first, we'll win."
I knew that with the snow and with Coach Belichick at the helm, if we scored first we could hold the lead.
Not many sports writers or T.V. "experts," and I use that term lightly, agreed with me.
They said that sixth-round QB's, with only a handful of career starts, can't win in the playoffs.
They said that Coach Belichick and the defense couldn't possibly stop Pro-Bowl passer Rich Gannon.
There I was, in my Tom Brady jersey three sizes too big, not knowing that sixth round picks weren't supposed to win playoff games, let alone playoff games played in heavy snowstorms.
All I knew was that I wanted my favorite team to win and I expected them to.
The first half started off slowly, with both teams struggling to find their rhythms.
Early on in the second quarter I had the displeasure of watching the one thing I didn't want to happen, happen—Rich Gannon throw a 13-yard touchdown to James Jett.
Oakland 7, New England 0.
I looked over at my dad and he shrugged.
Holding the Raiders to only seven points in a little more than a quarter of play was a major accomplishment seeing as they had been one of the league’s most prolific offenses during the season, but still my stomach was in knots.
At halftime, with the Patriots still down seven and the snow falling by the foot, I was as nervous as I had ever been.
Over the past four months I had grown with Brady and the Patriots, watching him lead his team, my team, to 11 wins in his 14 starts.
But the first half here had not started promisingly.
The Pats looked slow and sluggish while Gannon looked perfect, even in the snowstorm.
Up to this point, the running game had done absolutely nothing and even I knew that without a running game and with essentially a rookie QB, there was no hope.
The Pats opened the third quarter with the ball and Brady promptly drove them down to the Raiders five-yard line before the drive stalled and Belichick was forced to settle for a 23-yard Adam Vinatieri field-goal.
Oakland 7, New England 3.
Now let me make this side-point right now, because I know it's going to come up.
Those Patriot-haters out there will point to this second half surge and point to the whole "Spygate" fiasco and argue that the Pats probably filmed the Raider defense in the first half, looked over the evidence and adjusted.
While I believe this is nowhere near the truth, I will say this: players win games.
Players win games; not videotapes, not signals—just players.
With that said we'll move on.
What little confidence I had was shattered over the next half-hour as I watched Gannon decimate the Pats secondary and I watched the Raiders put up two field-goals to push the lead to 10.
As the third-quarter drew to a close, I looked over to my Dad and his look said it all: "Game Over."
I, however, had not given up hope.
We were only down 10 and if we could just get a quick score we still had a shot.
At the start of the fourth that very thing happened.
Brady led the Patriots on a 10-play, 61-yard drive in which he completed nine straight passes and then capped it off with a tough six-yard touchdown run.
Oakland 13, New England 10.
We were still alive, but we needed a stop and we needed the ball back.
The teams traded punts and with the clock winding down on the game and old Foxboro Stadium, my heart was in my throat.
With less than two minutes remaining and the Patriots needing a score, Brady stepped back to throw and lost the ball on a fumble.
That was it.
It was good while it lasted, but that was it.
Game over...season over.
I remember thinking, at least we have a young QB who got some experience, but then referee Walt Coleman changed the face of the NFL as we know it.
After reviewing the play, Coleman decided that Brady arm was going forward and therefore the play was ruled an incomplete pass and not a fumble.
We were alive again!
I remember jumping up and down and my mom coming in and telling me to be quiet so I wouldn't wake my little brother—liked I cared.
What followed next was something I'll never, ever, forget.
Brady led his team down and, with 27 seconds left, Vinatieri nailed a 45-yard field goal that I still believe was guided from above.
I remember not being able to see the ball at all once it left his foot and nervously watching the two referee's below the cross-bar.
They both took one look at each other and then raised their arms above their heads.
It was good!
I could not believe what had just happened.
I could not believe that Brady, a sixth-round pick a year before, had brought the Patriots, my Patriots, back from the dead.
But the game was not over yet.
New England won the toss and Brady one-upped himself and led the Pats down to the Raiders 28-yard line.
The drive, however, had stalled.
Here they were, fourth-down and starring at another 45-yard field goal.
It was here where the Belichick-Brady legacy began.
Coach decided to forgo the try into the wind and go for the first down.
I was on my feet, I had my jersey in my mouth and I remember being half-excited and half-mortified.
Brady, however, was as cool as anyone could possibly be.
He stepped back and fired a six-yard bullet to David Patten at the Raider 22-yard line for a first down.
Six runs later, Vinatieri nailed a 23-yard game winning field goal and the dynasty was born.
I remember looking over at my Dad with a big smile and saying, "No, now it's game over."