Tom Brady, Bill Belichick cement legacy of greatness
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on September 23, 2001? I know that I was in the second grade, but I do not remember specifically what I was doing that day. Maybe you were out with your family, spending time with friends, or just working.
For football fans, specifically those of the New England Patriots, it was a day the football world changed forever. On that day, a young second-year quarterback by the name of Tom Brady out of the University of Michigan was called into action off the bench after starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe was injured in a game against the New York Jets. As we all know, the rest is history.
The result of that day over 13 years ago continued this past Sunday night, when the now 37-year-old-veteran Brady won his fourth Super Bowl title and third Super Bowl MVP with the Patriots in an incredible 28-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona. Just like the Patriots' previous five appearances on the biggest stage in American professional sports, the game was full of drama and went down to the very final play.
Each of Brady and head coach Bill Belichick's Super Bowl wins have shown something incredible about the Patriots. The first title in 2001 was at first considered by many to be an upset taking down the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, but who knew it would spark a dynasty and a Hall of Fame career. The second championship in 2003 over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII showed that the first one was not a fluke, and that this team was for real. The third title in the following season accomplished what only a handful teams have ever done: repeat as champions.
What the fourth championship did on Sunday night was show what the Patriots have been all about and their resiliency when times get tough to never quit. Despite having a strong first half and findings ways to expose Seattle's strong defense, the Patriots played arguably their worst football of the night in the final two minutes of the half on Sunday when the Seahawks drove down the field, took all the momentum away, and scored to tie it all up 14-14 heading into intermission.
Starting with the ball in the second half, Seattle came out swinging and put up 10 points on the Patriots to make it 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter. Seattle's defense was starting to put more pressure on Brady, New England's defense was allowing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to make big plays down field and running back Marshawn Lynch to trample all over them, and Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman's big mouth was starting to build up steam. It looked as if the Patriots were going to be the next victim of the Seahawks' historically good defense and allow Seattle to repeat as champions.
But have no fear, Tom Terrific was here. With some help from friends like wide receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola, running backs Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount, and of course tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots were able to muscle up the biggest comeback New England has ever had in a Super Bowl. Brady began to knife his way through the Legion of Boom and delivered two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put New England up. Not to mention, the Patriots' defense stepped up big by containing Wilson in the pocket during the fourth quarter and all but shutting down any of Seattle's flow on offense.
However, the drama of the night had yet to arrive. Down 28-24 with under two minutes to play and the ball, Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse made a mind-blowing catch laying on the ground inside the red zone for Seattle which was all too familiar for New England fans. The ghosts of New York Giants wide receivers David Tyree from 2007 and Mario Manningham from 2011 came back to life, looking to add Kearse to the list of "wide receivers who made unbelievable catches which ultimately led to New England losing."
But what we did not know was that the football gods had other plans. They didn't want to see Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots lose another heart breaker in the Super Bowl. Rather, the gods decided to take Seattle head coach Pete Carroll's brilliant football mind and replaced it with the mind of Patrick Star from Spongebob.
Carroll and the Seahawks made probably the worst play call in the history of football, maybe even in the history of sports. With possibly the best running back in the NFL and the Patriots holding on for dear life, the Seahawks chose to throw the ball on the goal line rather than punch it in and bring the Vince Lombardi trophy back to the Pacific Northwest. Instead of the ball landing in the hands of a Seattle receiver, the ball was intercepted by the newest Boston sports hero, Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler to seal the win for New England.
The importance of this championship win on Sunday night for New England cannot be stated enough. First off, the win vanquished the horrible memories of Super Bowl XLII when the undefeated Patriots lost their only game of the 2007 season to the Giants in the very same stadium in Arizona in which New England won on Sunday night. It also wiped away the disappointment of losing Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis against the same Giants team four years later. The win also kept New England's place in history alive as the last franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls, excluding Seattle from that elite status.
Maybe most importantly, the win on Sunday night was a prime example of why New England has been the best franchise in the NFL of the new millennium. The last championship for the Patriots came back in 2004 with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX. With the exact same quarterback and head coach, the Patriots were able to win again 10 years later. No other head coach-quarterback combo with multiple championships has ever gone a full decade in between titles before in the history of the league. The longest gap for the same head coach-quarterback combo to go in between titles was only six years (Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and head coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970's), so no one even comes close. Hate on the Patriots all you want, but the franchise defines stability and longevity, with quality drafting and excellent coaching leading to wins. To go a whole decade in between championships with the same group of leadership is simply impressive.
While the Patriots will soak in the celebration for awhile, preparations for next season will begin soon. Like every other NFL team, New England faces big decisions this offseason. The three most important decisions for New England this offseason all come on the defensive side of the football. Cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Devin McCourty, two valuable pieces of the secondary, could become free agents. In addition, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork has a team option which New England must decide on by March 9. While keeping all three is a priority for this team to keep the defense strong, the financial impact each player will have on the salary cap of the Patriots will ultimately determine their fate.
So now, Brady and Belichick each have four rings in fourteen seasons together, which puts the Patriots in a class with only four other franchises to win at least four Super Bowls (Pittsburgh the most with six, followed by Dallas and San Francisco with five, and Green Bay also with four). The Hall of Fame combo now ties the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers combo of Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Noll of the late 1970's as the only duos to win four Super Bowls. Like Belichick and the Patriots, Noll and the Steelers exemplified what longevity and stability are all about. Belichick and Noll also now lead the way for NFL coaches with most Super Bowl victories. As for Brady, he now sits alongside Bradshaw and Joe Montana as the lone quarterbacks to win four championship rings. Critics will be quick to note Bradshaw and Montana each went 4-0 in the Super Bowl, but Brady's six appearances in the Big Game are tied for the most of any player in NFL history and he now holds the record for most Super Bowl and postseason touchdown passes in league history.
Despite the fact that New England should field another Super Bowl-contending team next season, who knows if Brady and Belichick will ever return back to the mountain top. With how hard it is to repeat in the NFL and the competitiveness of the league as high as it has ever been, it is important to appreciate the beauty of winning and glory when one sees it. You could see it not just in the eyes of Brady and Belichick, but also in the eyes of team owner Robert Kraft -- they knew how much this championship meant after going a decade without one, afraid of not winning another title again.
Because of all those postseason defeats over the last decade, Brady, Belichick, and the Patriots were able to better appreciate the art of winning after maybe taking it for granted in the early years when losing was uncommon. Russell Wilson will be back and could be the next quarterback to ascend to greatness, very likely it could be Andrew Luck, and do not forget about Aaron Rodgers who already holds a championship. But it is not fair to say any of them will be Tom Brady.
Had it not been for the Giants, Brady and Belichick could each have six championships as well as clearly holding the titles of greatest quarterback-head coach combo and greatest in each of their respective fields. But Brady and Belichick are not perfect, and that is what makes this Super Bowl championship the most special for two of the greatest to ever take part in the game of football. If I'm writing another one of these articles on a New England Patriots championship with this same duo, you better charge me for every time I use the word "greatest."
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as Villanova Basketball and the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph