It all started with this kick. Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48 yard field goal at the horn to give the New England Patriots the Super Bowl 36 victory over my beloved St. Louis Rams. At that moment, 9 years and 364 days ago, the Patriots would always be at the forefront of my NFL consciousness.
In three days the Patriots will play the New York Giants in a rematch of Super Bowl 42. In that first game I was adamantly rooting for the Giants. I was sick of New England. Not only had they ruined the dynasty that the Rams were supposed to have, but they had also won two more Super Bowls; Super Bowl 38, 8 years and 1 day ago, and Super Bowl 39 6 years and 361 days ago. On top of that they were undefeated, had the pretty boy quarterback in Tom Brady, the douchiest coach in sports in Bill Belichick, and SpyGate. I loathed the Patriots more than any other team in sports.
The Giants won that game 17-14 thanks mainly to a huge amount of luck, otherwise known as Houdini and Velcro. On that day, 3 years and 364 days ago, my feelings began to change.
For the next three seasons the Patriots turned into a normal everyday NFL team. They made the playoffs two of the three years, but lost their first postseason game both years. If it wasn’t for Brady and Belichick being such iconic figures, no one would have given a crap. Over those three years I came to appreciate the Pats. They played the game hard, they played it well, they played it with a no bull mentality. They played with such precision. They had the same arrogance and quest for perfection that had made the Rams so great during the Greatest Show on Turf years. Belichick and Martz have the same smug superiority about them. The offenses operate at the same level of supreme efficiency. You may not think Kurt Warner has much in common with Brady, but on the field the two possess many of the same qualities, talen-twise and personality-wise.
Of any teams in the NFL in the last ten years, the Rams and Patriots have been the two teams that have come closest to attaining perfection. I don’t mean perfection as in a perfect season, I mean perfection as in playing at the highest level possible that your talent and the game will allow you to achieve. For three years the Rams were the NFL’s perfect team. Heading into Super Bowl 36, the Rams were making their third playoff appearance in three years, they had won the NFC twice, and were 14 (!) point favorites in the Super Bowl.
If the Rams were to win that Super Bowl, they would have been on a path to NFL immortality. They would have become a dynasty in the era of free agency. They were a team 10 years ahead of its time. The offense, the speed, the machine like effectiveness. They were a referees missed intentional grounding call away from being ready to dominate the NFL for another 5 years (sorry, the bitterness jumped in). When the Patriots beat them, all that was over. We didn’t know it at the time, but that loss ended the potential of one of the greatest runs in football history and maybe will lead to football leaving St. Louis. The Rams didn’t get to go on that run; instead, it is the Patriots that have done it.
That is why I, and almost all Rams fans for the most part, hate the Pats. They are what the Rams were supposed to be. It felt like they stole what was rightfully ours. Then when the Red Sox swept the Cardinals in 2004 it added insult to injury. Everything St. Louis felt it deserved was being taken from them. (here’s some irony, a couple years before the Rams came to STL, the Patriots almost came to STL. If it wasn’t for Robert Kraft, you would today be rooting for the St. Louis Patriots. Weird huh. You can read about it here).
It took a long time to come to realize what I have written here. It took a long time for the wounds to scar enough to stop the bleeding. As of today, 9 years and 364 days since that day, there are still scars. But this Sunday, 10 years and 2 days since that day (so close to being poetic perfection), I will again be rooting to see greatness and perfection. Because, why do we watch sports if it is not to see excellence?