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Great quarterbacks, great coaches, and great teams win Super Bowls. But along the way, every championship team has been helped by factors other than their own play. Whether it is a coin toss, a forecast, an odd rule or the ineptitude of an opponent, no recent Super Bowl winner has been crowned without some form of luck.
If you’re of the belief that a team makes its own luck, call it something else. I’m calling it history that repeats itself, and am impatiently waiting for that form of history to show itself once more this postseason.
Back in January of 2002, a dynasty was born because of an obscure rule: the tuck rule. Here in New England, we love that rule, we respect that rule; it’s the kind of rule we would take home to meet our mother.
In Oakland, and everywhere else, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick aren’t revered, the tuck rule is one of the NFL’s biggest blunders, too messy to Photoshop and too replay-friendly to ignore.
Make no mistake about it, the officials made the correct call that day, but it’s the rule that makes little sense. Tom Brady’s arm was moving forward, but it was clear he had no intention of throwing the ball. When had we ever seen that call before, and when have we seen that call since? That play not only changed the Patriots season and allowed them to win a Super Bowl, it changed the landscape of the NFL for the next decade plus. Tom Brady became a legend and now has his own “TB12” hats. Bill Belichick became a genius and has turned questionable fashion sense into “ultra competitive alpha male attire.” The Patriots became a dynasty. Raiders head coach John Gruden soon departed, went to Tampa, won his own Super Bowl, and now sits in a booth Monday nights where he showers Brady and Belichick with compliments.
All because of a rule that makes no sense.
Weather must be a difficult idea to grasp for Roger Goodell. While he’s busy concocting ways to achieve a tighter stranglehold over tackle football, a gust of wind must be a haunting reminder that he cannot control the weather in which his games are played. Neither can the twelve playoff teams vying for the Lombardi Trophy, who must do their best to adapt to what Mother Nature provides.
The Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry exemplifies how weather can completely alter games. During the Patriots 2003 and 2004 championship seasons, they played the Colts under snowy conditions in Foxboro. Although I believe Manning’s struggles in cold weather games are slightly exaggerated, there’s no doubt that the weather on those days did not play to the Colts advantage.
In 2006, the Colts earned home field advantage, and knocked off the Patriots in the RCA Dome to advance and eventually win the Super Bowl. The counterargument to the contention that weather acts as an unbiased determinant to playoff victories is that teams earn home field advantage during the regular season, and therefore it is through teams’ own play that an advantage or disadvantage is gained.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Weather does not always lend the upper hand to the home team. If the Patriots and Broncos each advance to the AFC Championship game in Denver, which team do you think would be rooting for it to be 15 degrees and snowing come game time? In theory, Peyton Manning and his Broncos could have worked all season long to earn home field advantage, only to face one of the best cold weather quarterbacks of all time (the guy with his own hats) in a frigid Mile High Stadium with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
The 2007 New England Patriots would have been undefeated and the greatest team ever assembled had Asante Samuel made a difficult but very catchable interception on the Giants’ final drive of Super Bowl XLII. Forget about David Tyree’s helmet, the great plays that aren’t made have the same impact on games as the ones that are.
Just a season earlier, two plays stand out that altered the Patriots fate in opposing directions. Down 21-13 in the fourth quarter against the Chargers in the 2006 AFC divisional round, Tom Brady lost the game for the Patriots by getting picked off by San Diego safety Marlon McCree. Then Marlon, in an act of unparalleled generosity, gave the game back to New England by being stripped by Troy Brown. The Patriots recovered the fumble and went on to win the game. Great play by Troy Brown, yes, but Marlon McCree is the true MVP of that contest.
The very next game, up by 3 late in the fourth quarter against the Colts, Pats receiver Reche Caldwell went uncovered on third and short and dropped a pass right in his hands. The Patriots punted the ball, the Colts scored, and Manning now has a ring on his finger, thanks to a receiver so bad the Patriots felt the need to acquire Randy Moss and Wes Welker the next season to remedy the problem.
Back to the 2001 season. Rod Jones. Heard of him? Didn’t think so. Rod Jones was the Rams backup right tackle who missed his assignment and let Mike Vrabel get a free run at Kurt Warner in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. The result? A Ty Law pick-six that completely changed the momentum of the game.
Make no mistake about it; the best teams usually win the Super Bowl. But those teams are often blessed with circumstances that happen to fall their way. Remember, the tuck rule drive set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-tying field goal to send the Pats and Raiders into sudden death overtime.
Guess who won that coin toss.
Tags: Adam Vinatieri, Asante Samuel, Bill Belichick, David Tyree, Kurt Warner, Marlon McCree, Mike Vrabel, New England Patriots, Patriots, Peyton Manning, Reche Caldwell, Super Bowl, Tom Brady, Troy Brown, Tuck Rule, Ty Law