Super Bowl XLII: Will History Repeat Itself?

GLENDALE, Ariz. - No one would blame the New England Patriots for looking at Sunday's game against the New York Giants with a skeptical eye.

They know what it's like to be the heavy underdog.

In fact, it wasn't that long ago.

Entering Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans in February of 2002, the Patriots were the plucky underdog going up against the "Greatest Show on Turf."

The St. Louis Rams, their opponent, were anchored by a two-time NFL MVP in Kurt Warner, a passel of explosive receivers and a highly-regarded defense.

The Rams were 14-point favorites. The Patriots waited until that Friday to announce their young quarterback, Tom Brady, would start ahead of Drew Bledsoe.

The Patriots won, 20-17, triggering an ascension that may reach its zenith in Super Bowl XLII.

Six years later the Patriots are now the team with the two-time Super Bowl MVP at quarterback in Brady. The Patriots are now the team with the talented passel of receivers, led by All-Pro Randy Moss and Wes Welker. The Patriots are now the team with the highly-regarded defense.

And the Giants are 12 ½ point underdogs.

Cue the foreshadowing.

Are the Patriots in for a Rams-sized upset on Sunday?

They see the irony.

"The overwhelming image that we were thinking of when we were facing the St. Louis Rams was to be a team that was physical, be a team that didn't care about what the oddsmakers said, what anybody said," Pats linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "It was an us-against-the-world mentality. I think the Giants sort of have the same mentality this week. I see it a little bit in them, similarities between their mentality and ours in 2001.

"There's a big difference between (the Giants) and that team because that team won a World Championship."

And two more since.

Should the Patriots win on Sunday, they would do the following:

- They would become only the fourth NFL team to win four Super Bowls (Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Dallas - with five - are the others);

- They would win four Super Bowls in the second-fastest span (the Steelers won four Super Bowls in a six-year span in the 1970s);

- Head coach Bill Belichick would become just the second head coach to win four Super Bowls (Pittsburgh's Chuck Noll also won four);

- Should Brady be named the game's MVP, he would become the second player to win three Super Bowl MVP awards (San Francisco's Joe Montana is the other);

- They would have four world championships, matching the highest total in any of the four professional sports since 1994 (The NBA's San Antonio Spurs and the MLB's New York Yankees each have four titles);

- They would lay undisputed claim to being considered "the team of the new millennium", following in the footsteps of the Packers (1960s), Steelers (1970s), Niners (1980s) and Cowboys (1990s).

Oh, and if they Pats win on Sunday they'll become just the second team in NFL history (Super Bowl era) to complete the regular season and postseason undefeated (the 1971 Dolphins did the same, going 17-0).

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady (12) calls out signals behind center Dan Koppen (67) (AP Photo)
So it's not like there's anything at stake, right?

"I think we have an incredible opportunity as a team," Brady said. "I told everyone that whatever you may think may be important this week, it is really not that important because this week will have an impact on the rest of your life."

A Giants victory on Sunday would be as monumental an upset as the Patriots' victory over the Rams six years ago. And the Patriots have come a long way since shocking the football world that night in New Orleans.

The Patriots were once a stepchild for the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills in the AFC East. Their Super Bowl appearances under Raymond Berry and Bill Parcells seemed more happenstance than the result of a master plan.

This run by the Patriots has been anything but, and that night in New Orleans seemed to trigger the Patriots' rise from once-a-decade Super Bowl participants to the model franchise of the NFL. Consider:

- The Pats are 100-28 since 2001, the season leading into Super Bowl XXXVI. That's the best record in the NFL;

- The Pats are 14-2 in the postseason with Belichick as the head coach, easily the league's best playoff record since 2001;

- Belichick's 105 victories is more than twice the amount former Pats coach Raymond Berry, who won 51 games from 1984-89 and led the Pats to their first Super Bowl. Belichick needed less than five seasons to pass Berry for No. 1 on the franchise's coaching wins list (that includes playoff victories);

- And a win on Sunday would give the Pats 15 playoff victories this decade, which would break the NFL record for most postseason wins in a decade set by the Dallas Cowboys (14) in the 1970s.

New York Jets Eric Mangini shakes hands with Bill Belichick after the Patriots defeated New York 20-10 Dec. 16, 2007 (AP Photo)
In a copycat league, everyone is trying to duplicate the Pats' success. In fact, Belichick has already lost three top assistants - Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Charlie Weis - to head coaching jobs, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seems to be next.

In addition, the Atlanta Falcons hired away one of vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli's top lieutenants last month, tapping director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff as their new general manager.

The Patriots haven't missed a beat yet, but losing top assistants and personnel scouts may be one of the biggest challenges they face toward sustaining their dynasty.

But that's for the offseason, an area where the Patriots have excelled nearly as much as they have on the field.

Sunday is for history.

"I don't know how many guys come into the NFL thinking they are going to play 11 years, first of all," Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "To win three Super Bowls, go to a Pro Bowl, I would say that it has probably exceeded any expectation at the time I was a third-round draft pick for the Steelers in 1997."

 

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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is covering the Patriots for Patriotsinsider.com during the Super Bowl in Arizona. An award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he appears frequently on Scot Brantley Show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1470-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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