Not that Tom Brady needs any more reasons to feel old, but come Sunday, it’ll be 17 years to the day he led the New England Patriots to a 20-17 upset victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
He’s the only player remaining from either roster who’ll be partaking in Super Bowl LIII, and one of just five players from across the NFL who’s still active from the 2001 season. Former Patriot Adam Vinatieri, who kicked in Super Bowl XXXVI, is among them, as are kickers Phil Dawson and Sebastian Janikowski and quarterback Drew Brees.
None of the other 52 players on New England’s roster heading into Sunday were even in college yet when Super Bowl XXXVI was played. Only a few were in high school even, with kicker Stephen Gostkowski, a 2002 graduate of Madison Central High in Mississippi, the closest to setting foot on a college campus.
That isn’t to say no one on the roster remembers the original Patriots-Rams game, a Super Bowl which altered the trajectories of both franchises…but it was a challenge to find too many players in New England’s locker room with vivid memories of the historic upset.
“Is that the one where he went down with 1:21 left?” asked Derek Rivers, who was seven.
“That was a minute ago, I was a young kid,” said Jonathan Jones, 8 years old during the game and an avid fan of St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk.
“I was probably focused on learning my math and eating pretzels,” offered Deatrich Wise Jr., then seven years old.
Marcus Cannon, 13 during Super Bowl XXXVI, had a Belichickian response.
“This is the only Super Bowl that I care about right now,” he said.
David Andrews was nine at the time of the game, but as a youth football player in Georgia, recalls understanding how the game worked and Super Bowl XXXVI being the first Super Bowl he got excited for.
“It was really special watching that,” Andrew said. “I definitely remember watching the game, staying up all night, probably sleeping through my third grade class or whatever it was the next day.”
St. Louis native Adrian Clayborn remembers the game all too well, through the lens of a Rams fan. He was 13 when heavily-favored St. Louis allowed Brady to drive the Patriots into field goal range despite starting the drive with no timeouts and just 1:21 left in regulation.
“I just remember the devastating loss,” Clayborn said.
The Rams would win only one more playoff game in St. Louis before moving back to Los Angeles for the 2016 season.
“I obviously wish they would’ve stayed but I get it,” Clayborn said of the relocation. “Los Angeles is way more appealing than unfortunately St. Louis is, I get it. It’s a business. I’ve been in this league eight years, it’s all about marketing. I get it.”
Clayborn said he remained a Rams fan up until he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2011.
Brian Hoyer, 16 at the time of Super Bowl XXXVI, was still going through then what many young fans in St. Louis are now going through: Hoyer’s beloved Cleveland Browns – coached by Bill Belichick in their final season – had scorned Ohio and relocated to Maryland to become the Baltimore Ravens in 1996.
Even when the Browns returned to the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1999, Hoyer said he was never fully invested in the team or the league as a whole again.
This deprived him of truly remembering or appreciating Super Bowl XXXVI.
“At the time, I know I probably watched it, but I was in Cleveland,” Hoyer said. “Once the Browns left, I kind of stopped watching the NFL. Even when they came back, I would watch on Sundays, but I wasn’t as involved as I would have been had they been there my whole childhood.”
Prior to moving to St. Louis, the Rams had played in Los Angeles from 1946-1994 (don’t tell Hoyer, but the Rams abandoned Cleveland to move to LA in the first place). For the final 19 years of their first stint in southern California, the Rams had an offensive lineman by the name of Jackie Slater – the father of Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater.
Jackie Slater, now enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, followed the team to St. Louis in order to complete a two-decade career with a single franchise.
Though he played just one year in Missouri before moving back to the Los Angeles area with his family, Jackie Slater remained very much involved with the Rams franchise – or at least as much as he could be from nearly 2,000 miles away.
As such, the Slater household was pulling for Kurt Warner and the “Greatest Show on Turf” during Super Bowl XXXVI.
“I just remember the end of the game, the Patriots having the ball and [FOX broadcaster] John Madden saying ‘I really think they should be playing for overtime here,’” recalled Matthew Slater, then 16. “That’s the one memory that sticks out in my head – [thinking] ‘Yeah! Yeah! They should play for overtime!”
“And then I remember Tom going down the field, slicing and dicing, and Adam [Vinatieri] kicking that field goal. We were just kinda sitting there on the couch like ‘oh man!’”
Now that the Rams are back in Hollywood, who’ll Jackie Slater be pulling for this Sunday?
“Ultimately, I’m his son and he’s always going to support me and want to see me do the best that I can and be successful,” Matthew Slater said. “Obviously, that’ll mean him seeing the Patriots being successful, even if it’s against his old team.”
Should the Patriots be successful, it’ll be their sixth Super Bowl title of the millennium. But don’t expect Brady to walk off into the sunset, win or lose vs. Los Angeles. He told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington in an interview that aired on Jan. 27 that there was “zero” chance it’ll be his final game.