Marc Edwards came to Notre Dame out of Norwood (Ohio) High School near Cincinnati as the Irish were ascending for the second time of the Lou Holtz era. After winning the national title in 1988 and extending their winning streak to 23 games in 1989, the Irish were on a roll again, and Edwards chose Notre Dame.
As a freshman, he was part of the 1993 squad that won its first 10 games of the season, including a victory over No. 1 Florida State. Edwards would go on to captain the Fighting Irish in his senior season in 1996.
Edwards finished his Notre Dame career with 1,606 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns. Drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers, Edwards also played with Cleveland and then found himself in New England, where he helped the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI, 20-17, carrying twice and catching two passes in the NFL’s ultimate game.
Irish Illustrated caught up with Edwards and asked him to reflect on his Super Bowl experience. The Patriots used the famous “tuck rule” victory over the Oakland Raiders to advance to the AFC championship game against the Steelers, where they came away with a 24-17 victory to get to the Super Bowl to take on the Los Angeles Rams, whose offense was known at the time as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
My Super Bowl experience was rather unique because that was the year 9/11 occurred, and originally, there was supposed to be two weeks between the conference title games and the Super Bowl. But after we got back from Pittsburgh at eight or nine o’clock on Sunday night, we had to be at the facility packed and ready to go Monday at 8 a.m.
So we had to scramble to figure out the ticket situation and scramble to make arrangements for our families. It probably worked out well for us because it was a quick turnaround and you didn’t have time to think about the magnitude of going to the Super Bowl. We just packed up and went. We didn’t have time to think about it or for the hype to build up.
We were playing the Rams, who had won a Super Bowl two years before. They called it “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, the No. 1 offense, the No. 3 defense, and we were the team that went 5-11 the year before. This was when Bill Belichick wasn’t known yet as a coaching genius, but the guy who failed with the Cleveland Browns.
We get down there on Monday, which was the night everybody went out and let some steam off before getting down to work. It was the only night there wasn’t a curfew. Belichick told us to do what we had to do Monday night and get it out of our system because it was all business moving forward.
You get to media day and that’s a circus, but you try to make it a typical week. And yet every morning you have a media session, whereas typically you go in and have a special teams meeting, your offense, defense, and your individual position meetings. Everything was pushed back due to the media responsibilities. After that, you tried to make it a typical day, but it’s very hard to do.
The thing that’s very difficult about Super Bowl week is that everything happens much slower. There’s a lot of waiting around, and that was the thing the coaches tried to emphasize to us. Look, everything is longer. You get to the stadium earlier and you get on the field before the game earlier. Halftime is longer.
So you really have to focus on not wearing yourself out emotionally because there is so much more time. You’ve got to sit around all day and think about what will be the biggest game of your life. That’s a lot to handle emotionally. It’s emotionally exhausting, more so than it is physically exhausting, but that affects you physically. You have to consciously try to not let that impact you.
I remember before the game, Tom Brady fell asleep in the locker room. That’s the way you’ve got to approach it. You’ve got to keep your emotions in check because your heart is going to be racing, which starts two or three nights before and it’s challenging to get to sleep because you’re about to play the biggest game you’ve ever played in.
Belichick had already been there and done that, and a lot of the assistants had been in the Super Bowl with the New York Giants. So he had us prepared for what the day was going to be like and obviously had us well-prepared with our game plan.
We had actually lost to the Rams during the regular season. In fact, it was our last loss of the season before playing and beating them in the Super Bowl. Belichick changed the defensive game plan completely. We were blitzing every down during the regular-season game, but in the Super Bowl, we were rushing three and dropping eight, and we somehow still got pressure while having everybody in coverage and beating the heck out of the receivers downfield.
Today, we couldn’t get away with what we did back in 2002. We had Ty Law, Tebucky Jones, Otis Smith and all those guys. They physically beat the heck out of those Ram receivers. If they were standing still watching, somebody from our team would go up and plow ‘em.
A lot of people don’t remember this, but we were up 17-3 early in the fourth quarter and they had 4th-and-goal at the two-yard line. Kurt Warner drops back, everybody’s covered, he takes off running, Roman Phifer tackles him, Warner fumbles, and Tebucky Jones picks it up and runs 99 yards for a touchdown. But there’s a yellow flag out there. Willie McGinest had basically tackled Marshall Faulk, and that was the only time I remember in that game that we were called for a penalty for that. It would have been 24-3 and the game would have been over. There would have been no last-minute heroics with the Tom Brady drive and the Adam Vinatieri kick.
Looking back on it 13 years ago, there are two things that stick out about that game. One, early in that season, we were 1-3, we had lost our franchise quarterback (Drew Bledsoe), and everybody had given up on us. Then we started to make a turn. We got to 3-3 and then we got to 5-5, and then we ran the table.
When Bledsoe went down, we were 0-2 at the time and at that point, it was like, all right, everybody on this team has to step up. We can’t depend upon anybody else to win these games for us. Each individual has to step up, and that’s when we started getting introduced before the game as a team, not as individuals. We just had them say, hey, the New England Patriots are coming out of the tunnel.
The year before when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl, I remember Ray Lewis coming out with his dance and it made me sick to my stomach. So the next year, when the Patriots came out being introduced as a team…the thought of it still sends chills down my spine.
We had a fairly conservative game plan. We ran the ball and ran a lot of play-action. There’s not one play that stands out in my mind as far as somebody hitting me hard. It was just a methodical game plan of running the ball, dinking and dunking, eating the clock, play-action and trying to keep the greatest show on turf off the field.
The second thing that stands out is that the game was decided on the last play after going into the fourth quarter with a 14-point lead. The Rams tied it up, we went on the game-winning drive with 1:26 left, and we kicked a field goal as time expired.
When the ball left (Vinatieri’s) foot, it looked like it was good, and I remember finding myself running down the field celebrating. I’m in the far end zone where the ball went through the uprights, and I turn around and everybody is celebrating in the middle of the field. So then I’m sprinting to the middle of the field to hug anybody that wanted to be hugged. It was just an unreal moment. You didn’t know what to do because you’d just won the biggest events in sports.
I remember after the game, sitting in bed with my wife in the hotel and I must have said 50 times, ‘Wow, I can’t believe we won the Super Bowl.’ Finally my wife said, ‘Shut the hell up and go to bed.’ But that’s what the winning the Super Bowl does to you. It was just extremely, extremely surreal.
I was fortunate enough a couple of weeks ago to be up in the northeast working, and I was able to spectate at the AFC championship game against the Colts, which is the first game I’ve watched in person since my playing days. It was nice to get back there as a former player and experience it as a fan.
I don’t wear my Super Bowl ring all the time, but I do wear it more than I ever did while I was still in my playing days. I wear it a lot for business purposes and stuff like that, just because it helps, to be perfectly honest. It’s certainly something special to have. Everybody wants to see it, everybody wants to hear about it. It’s something that very few people have after approximately 50 Super Bowls. So you’re part of a very unique group of individuals.
I’m not trying to be biased about (tonight’s) game, but I think the way the Patriots have been steamrolling people, and the way Belichick can confuse young quarterbacks, I’m looking at the Patriots winning a 31-24 or 34-24 type game.