The MMQB presents NFL 95, a special project running through mid-July detailing 95 artifacts that tell the story of the NFL, as the league prepares to enter its 95th season. See the entire series here.
When kicker Adam Vinatieri walked onto the snowy turf at old Foxboro Stadium late on the evening of Jan. 19, 2002, the Patriots were not the Patriots we know today. They were an upstart bunch in Bill Belichick’s second season, one year removed from a 5-11 finish. They had won seven of eight games to finish the regular season at 11-5, but no one was quite sure what to make of a team that was being led by some backup quarterback named Tom Brady, a guy who couldn’t even win the full-time starting job in college.
The Patriots trailed the Raiders late in the third quarter of the divisional round game, and Oakland appeared to have secured a 13-10 victory with 1:43 remaining when its defense recovered a Brady fumble forced by Charles Woodson. As history well knows, a replay review led to the tuck rule being invoked by referee Walt Coleman, which changed the play from a fumble to incomplete pass (a rule that was removed from the rulebook this year).
The Patriots had new life. A few plays later, with the clock running, Vinatieri trotted out with holder/punter Ken Walter to attempt a 45-yard field goal. There were several inches of snow on the ground in the blizzard-like conditions. With 27 seconds left, Vinatieri got enough of the ball—along with a bunch of snow that seemed to explode as he kicked it—to muscle a line drive about four yards over the crossbar to send the game into overtime.
Thanks to a timeout taken by Raiders coach Jon Gruden, the Patriots had time to clear off a patch of ground before Vinatieri’s 23-yard attempt with 6:31 remaining in OT. He made it, and the Patriots went on to win two more playoff games, including a 20-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXVI (again on a Vinatieri game-winner). It was the first of three Super Bowls the Patriots would win in four years. Pictured above are the shoes that launched the Patriots dynasty we know today.
— Greg Bedard