- In the latest edition of the Weekend Read, we roll it back to (un)happier times for Brady and Belichick, dig up an old photo of Brady's first Super Bowl win and highlight our favorite reads of the week.
Here we go again, another Super Bowl pitting Tom Brady and the Patriots against a team they’ve beaten before. Last year it was New England against the Eagles in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX. Now we’re running back a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI against the Rams.
All kidding aside, this is nothing like the recent run of Cavaliers-Warriors matchups in the NBA Finals, which featured nearly identical rosters for four years. The previous Patriots-Rams matchup came on Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans. Here’s a list of everything that remains the same 17 years later: Tom Brady is the quarterback. Bill Belichick is the coach.
It goes without saying that many things about the Patriots and the NFL of 2001 are unrecognizable today, but it’s still worthwhile to look at everything that’s changed.
Bill Belichick was under fire for his quarterback management
Belichick had no choice but to play Tom Brady at quarterback after Drew Bledsoe suffered an injury that legitimately could have killed him. The Patriots went 5–2 under Brady’s leadership before Bledsoe was healthy enough to return, and the veteran was dressed as the backup QB for a Week 10 game against the Rams (which New England lost, at home). Bledsoe, though, believed he had a good chance to win his job back from Brady when he was healthy enough. And he had good reason to think that way—the contract he signed that offseason was the richest in NFL history.
“By all accounts, Belichick either lied, misled or miscommunicated his intentions to Bledsoe,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen wrote at the time. “Bledsoe was and is furious, according to several sources.”
People were hesitant to believe in Tom Brady
Brady’s status as the greatest quarterback in NFL history is largely unchallenged now. But even just two months before he won Super Bowl MVP, people questioned whether the unproven Brady was truly the quarterback of the future.
“If Tom Brady becomes a very good starting quarterback, then Belichick will have won the bold—some would say unnecessary—gamble he took,” Alan Greenberg wrote in the Hartford Courant after Brady was named the starter. “If Brady doesn’t—if he falters as he has the last couple of games—then Belichick will get fired. Maybe not in a month, or in a year. But when it happens, we’ll point to the decision he made Tuesday as the beginning of the end.”
Bruce Matthews started 16 games
You know Clay Matthews? The 32-year-old Packers linebacker on the downside of his career? He’s old enough that his father, Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce, was a full-time NFL starter for the Tennessee Titans when Brady made his first Super Bowl appearance. Bruce, at age 40, was named to his 14th Pro Bowl in his final NFL season in 2001.
40% of the NFL’s current stadiums didn’t exist
Very famously, the 2001 season saw the Patriots’ final game at the old Foxboro Stadium (the Tuck Rule Game in the Divisional Round against the Raiders). The Pats moved into Gillette Stadium the following year, one of 13 NFL stadiums to open since the last Rams-Patriots Super Bowl.
Other facts and figures to chew on
Highest-paid NFL player: Drew Bledsoe, Patriots
Longest-tenured head coach: Bill Cowher, Steelers (10th season)
Rushing leader: Priest Holmes, Chiefs (1,555 yards)
Sacks leader: Michael Strahan, Giants (22.5, NFL record)
Geography lesson: Arizona Cardinals played in NFC East, Atlanta Falcons in NFC West
—By Dan Gartland
• Oral History: The unprecedented ice storm. The broadcast packed with dot-com ads. A nail-biter of a game between the Rams and the Titans. And Ray Lewis’s arrest for murder. The last Super Bowl Atlanta hosted truly had it all. (By Ben Baskin)
• Why would a 25-year-old man pose as a high school student to relive his basketball glory days? (By Max Marshall)
• Baseball is increasingly becoming a gig economy: Talent is young, inexpensive and versatile. That means veteran players must adapt or die. (by Tom Verducci)
• Sure, the Patriots were looking beatable—Gronk old, Brady gimpy, Gordon gone. But no team harnesses the dark art of negativity better, which is why they’re on to Atlanta. (By Greg Bishop)
• The nation's leading scorer is 5'9", but he's impossible to miss on the court. (By Jeremy Woo)
• Two years ago, Rams GM Les Snead was preparing to be fired. Now his team is heading to the Super Bowl. (By Robert Klemko)
Vault Photo of the Week: The Beginning of Brady
By now, Tom Brady is used to celebrating a win in the last game of the season. He's been through the motions before. Confetti falls. A temporary stage springs onto the field. The Lombardi Trophy parades itself around, typically landing in the hands of Brady and head coach Bill Belichick last. But all of this was a new reality to Brady in the photo above, captured by SI's Walter Iooss Jr. in the postgame hysteria of the Patriots' Super Bowl win over the Rams in 2002. That 20-17 victory birthed a dynasty. Seventeen years later, the Patriots' QB is in search of his sixth Super Bowl win.
No player has ever done that before. It would be more than fitting for Brady to write another chapter of history against the Rams.
Best of the Rest
Editor's note: Below are some of our favorite stories of the week not published by SI. This week's list is curated by Dan Gartland.
• The time the Browns inadvertently broadcast porn on a wall of their facility isn’t even the most important part of this in-depth investigation by ESPN's Seth Wickersham into Cleveland’s dysfunction.
• ABC is producing a documentary about hilarious Silicon Valley grifter Elizabeth Holmes.
• This story, from Ed Yong of The Atlantic, about the “slime” produced by hagfish is way more interesting than it probably sounds.
• Even if you don’t like pro wrestling you’ll find this analysis of a viral WWE moment from Kenny Herzog at Slate interesting.
• A man who led an Indonesian genocide plays in lots of PGA pro-ams, writes Patrick Redford of Deadspin.
Editor's note: What kind of stories and content would you like to see in the Weekend Read? Let's chat at SIWeekendRead@gmail.com.