Ricky Proehl stared into the TV camera. It was exactly 17 years ago, just minutes before the New England Patriots were to play the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI in the Louisiana Superdome.

A wide receiver for the Rams – known then as the “Greatest Show on Turf” – Proehl proclaimed, “Tonight a dynasty is born, baby.”

And, you know, he was right. It just wasn’t the dynasty he anticipated.

Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal as time expired lifted New England to a 20-17 victory over the heavily favored Rams for the Patriots’ first NFL title. Tom Brady was the game’s MVP, and the league hasn’t been the same since.

When the Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams play Sunday in Super Bowl LIII, New England will be playing in its ninth Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era. The Rams – who moved back to L.A. from St. Louis in 2016 – will be in their first Super Bowl since that loss in 2002.

The Patriots have been involved in some of the greatest Super Bowls in history since that game – back-to-back titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, each won on a Vinatieri kick; the undefeated season ending with a loss to the New York Giants; Malcolm Butler’s game-saving interception; rallying from 25 points down to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime. But the dynasty probably doesn’t happen without that improbable Super Bowl win over the Rams.


There’s a lot to remember about that game and the week leading up to it. Here’s what still stands out to me:


New Orleans was a city on edge during the week leading into the game, played five months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Armed security forces were on every intersection and on many roofs. Police officers were never more than a storefront away.

Then the fans arrived, and it became a big party. Bourbon Street was packed from Thursday night on, no place to move, often no room to breathe.

Patriots fans overwhelmed Rams fans. As I wrote back then, “The Big Easy has become Beantown South.”

Unlike most years, when there are two weeks between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, there was only one this year. Because of 9/11, the NFL had to adjust its regular-season schedule and push the playoffs back a week.


I arrived late Monday night, coming in from the AFC championship game in Pittsburgh, and hit the ground running on Tuesday morning. It was my first Super Bowl experience and I knew I had a lot of work to do.

The folks back in Maine wanted stories about the city, the fans, the atmosphere. Not just the game and players.

I was joined a day later by Press Herald photographer Greg Rec and my brother-in-law, Jeff Gross. When I wasn’t busy trying to find out if Tom Brady – who suffered a badly sprained ankle in the AFC championship game – or Drew Bledsoe was going to be the starting quarterback, I explored the city. Cafe du Monde and its beignets? Check. Gumbo? Double check. Blackened catfish. Yum. Indeed, the food was spectacular.

We discovered The Corner Oyster Bar & Grill – the unofficial “official New England Patriots fan homebase” – and watched New Englander after New Englander stumble in and join the party.

We went to Jackson Square one foggy night – which heightened the mysticism – to visit a fortune teller and get her insight into the game. Of all the things she told us, this stood out: Asked if Vinatieri would be a factor, Jennifer Devlin consulted her tarot cards and said, “Not only will he be a factor, but he will be a major, major factor.”

I’ve never gone back to a fortune teller. Never will. That freaked me out.



The Patriots were introduced as a team.

Until that moment, Super Bowl tradition was that players – either the starters on offense or defense – were introduced individually. They would get their moment in the sun.

The Patriots, however, made it clear to the NFL they wanted none of that.

As the team waited in the tunnel to be introduced, Brady head-butted Bledsoe repeatedly. Then, announcer Pat Summerall said, “Ladies and gentleman, choosing to be introduced as a team ….”

And the Patriots spilled out to a deafening roar. Troy Brown, Bryan Cox, Kevin Faulk, Larry Izzo and Vinatieri led them out, Brown and Faulk bouncing around.


“It’s a team sport,” offensive guard Joe Andruzzi said later. “We proved that it is a team game.”


New England’s defense was dominating

Ty Law returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter to give New England a 7-3 lead. On the play, linebacker Mike Vrabel blitzed and whacked Rams quarterback Kurt Warner across the head as he threw the ball – a blow that surely would result in a penalty these days.

A Proehl fumble was recovered by Terrell Buckley and led to a Brady-to-David-Patten touchdown pass late in the second quarter and a 14-3 halftime lead.

An Otis Smith interception in the third quarter led to a 37-yard field goal by Vinatieri and a 17-3 lead.


The Patriots sacked Warner three times, and smacked running back Marshall Faulk wherever he was, even when he didn’t have the ball.

“We forced our will on them,” said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. “That’s what we did.”


Normally, the Super Bowl’s elongated halftime show is a time for writers to write. A lot of work gets done during that downtime. Not in this game.

U2 was the halftime entertainment and to this day, I’ve never been as spellbound by a performance as that one.

Bono was captivating. U2 began with “Beautiful Day” then finished with “Where the Streets Have No Name.”


In the background of the finale, illuminated against a drape that hung from the roof, scrolled the names of all those who died in the terrorist attacks just five months earlier.

Keyboard strokes stopped. Conversations ended. Everyone cried.



After the Rams tied the game at 17, the Patriots got the ball back at their 17 with 1:21 remaining and no timeouts remaining. Fox analyst John Madden repeatedly said the Patriots should play for overtime.

Instead Brady wove his Super Bowl magic for the first time. He completed 5 of 8 passes on the drive – two of the incompletions were spikes to stop the clock – to set up Vinatieri’s winning kick.


Twice Patriots receivers eluded Ram defenders to get out of bounds and stop the clock, the last one being Troy Brown at the end of a 23-yard catch that put the ball on the Rams 36.

Two plays later, Vinatieri trotted on and calmly kicked the ball through the uprights.

“I kicked that field goal about 1,000 times in my sleep last night,” said Vinatieri. “You do what you’re trained to do in that situation. I just tried to make good contact.”

He did.

And the dynasty was off and running.

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:


Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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