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Patriots believe, therefore they're champs
By John Clayton
ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Tom Brady stepped into the huddle at the New England Patriots' 17-yard line with 1:21 remaining and said, "We're going to win this, we're going to move the ball, we're going to win it. You've got to believe."

For the next 81 seconds, Brady performed the magic seen maybe once or twice in a generation. You've got to believe. It was the Amazing Mets. It was Joe Namath guaranteeing and executing a victory over the Baltimore Colts. It was the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team victory over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid.

Patriots players reach out to touch the Vince Lombardi Trophy after they beat the St. Louis Rams 20-17 to win Super Bowl XXXVI.

Brady's Bunch made a nation of sports fans and thousands of cynical sportswriters like myself believe. Do you believe in miracles? Well, believe in the Patriots. They performed one Sunday night when Adam Vinatieri nailed a 48-yard field goal as the clock ticked to zero to seal a 20-17 upset of the St. Louis Rams.

Sorry, Tom, we didn't believe. The youngest quarterback in Super Bowl history at the age of 24 taught the world once again that opinions and predictions are worthless. Historically, it's probably the third greatest upset in Super Bowl history, ranking behind the Jets' upset of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III and the Chiefs' 23-7 upset of the Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

Realistically, this win was bigger. At least, Namath and Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson were proven quarterbacks. Brady wasn't. For 58 minutes, he played like any normal 24-year-old quarterback. He was 11 for 19 for 92 yards entering the final drive. Brady didn't screw anything up, but he wasn't exactly matching Rams quarterback Kurt Warner pass for pass.

But this Patriots upset was no fluke. Brady said it best after the game. He didn't accept the idea that he was named Most Valuable Player. To him, MVP stands for Most Valuable People. After all, since the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the Patriots players resisted individual pre-game introductions. Even if the players had to pay fines or get booed by fans in opposing cities, the Patriots dared to put the team before any individual.

So they defiantly ran onto the field for every game as a group.

"Nobody believed in us," defensive end Willie McGinest said. "Everybody picked us to finish last in our division. Nobody gave us a chance to make the playoffs. We weren't the shiniest team during Super Bowl week. We didn't get any respect. If we listened to what the critics said, we shouldn't have showed up. But we believed in ourselves. Nobody, nobody, nobody believed in us but us."

Not even the Boston locals, who might have thought they were reliving ghosts of Red Sox past. Leading 17-3 with 10 minutes left, the Patriots defense stopped Kurt Warner on a fourth-and-goal at the Patriots 3 and forced a fumble that safety Tebucky Jones picked up and ran 97 yards for a touchdown. Left downfield was a flag. McGinest had held halfback Marshall Faulk on the other side of the field as he went into a pass route. The holding call gave the Rams a chance to get another first down that led to a Warner 2-yard touchdown run.

The ghost of Bill Buckner lived in the Patriots No. 55, but no one, including McGinest, believed that this Patriots team would fall like the Red Sox.

"You've got to get back and keep making plays," McGinest said. "You jump back into your football mode. The coaches told me to be aggressive. They told me to hit Faulk and they told me to hold him. Hey, sometimes you get caught."

Down the stretch, McGinest led a herd of aggressive Patriots defenders in making plays. But things looked a little grim when Warner took 21 seconds to drive 55 yards and tie the score at 17 with 1:30 left.

Suddenly, Super Bowl XXXVI seemed to be headed to its first overtime. Fox analyst John Madden said the Patriots should kill the clock and wait for the overtime coin flip.

"That was a bad idea by John Madden," Brady said. "When you have the ball, you've got to take advantage of it. All you've got to do is make one big play."

First, Brady tried a few little ones. Three times he connected with J.R. Redmond for 24 yards to move the ball to the Patriots 41. Twenty nine seconds remained. He still needed that big play.

Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith called for a soft zone defense designed to protect the middle of the field for an inside turning route. Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis called "64 Max All In" and sent three receivers on three inside routes.

"Brown is always the first guy I'm looking for," Brady said.

Brown caught the ball and ran across the field for 23 yards to the Rams 36. By running out of bounds, Brown stopped the clock with 21 seconds left, giving Brady time to throw 6 yards to tight end Jermaine Wiggins. He was five for eight for 57 yards and gave Vinatieri the chance to clinch the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory.

"The Rams are as talented as any team in the league, but we beat them today," Brady said. "No one gave us a chance. That's a dangerous thing for a team that is favored. That's dangerous when no one gives that team a chance and you believe in yourself. You just keep plugging away. It might not be on your timetable but you can get it done."

The Patriots did. They are a team of underdogs that peaked at the right time. They seemed to laugh at the 14-point spread, but never let the odds against them affect their focus. As a group, they survived the death of quarterback coach Dick Rehbein, avoided distractions in the elimination of Drew Bledsoe's starting job and never let malcontent Terry Glenn affect their unity as a team.

They defied all odds. So what if they were 19th on offense and 24th on defense. So what if they had a head coach in Bill Belichick who was high on brains and low on charisma. And the Patriots had the gall to think they could beat the Rams with a second-year, 24-year-old kid named Brady at quarterback.

"Tom was the same in that final drive as he was all year," guard Mike Compton said. "Nothing changed about him. If you've got a quarterback with that much enthusiasm, you've got to believe. I told him before the game, that you're the leader, you're the captain, just lead us. He did. He was sharp the whole game."

A few nights before the game, Brady was quietly sitting in a nationally known restaurant eating dinner. No one recognized him even though he had been selected to the Pro Bowl and would end up being the Super Bowl MVP. No one asked for autograph. He was just a 24-year-old out on a business trip.

Those days have changed. Now, he's part of Super Bowl lore, a 24-year-old who defied the critics. And won it all.

"We're an underdog team," Brady said, "Now , we're the top dog, I guess."

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.



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