Feb. 3, 2010 is a date that means absolutely nothing to the New England Patriots. However, when the football history books are written years from now, the third of February will twice be placed among the most important dates in the franchise's history.
The first, 2002; the second, 2008.
Each made massive impacts in New England football history, though in very different ways. The second could not have ever happened without the first, so we'll start there.
Due to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the NFL postponed the season by a week, shortening the gap between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl from two weeks to one. The teams affected, of course, were the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots, a team never thought to have been a contender at the beginning of the season. Yet there they were, with a second-year quarterback with just 16 NFL starts at the helm.
What happened on the night of Feb. 3, 2002 was incredible. The heavily favored Rams furiously charged back from a two-touchdown deficit to tie the game at 17 points apiece with less than two minutes left in the game. Most watching the game figured the Patriots would play for overtime. Instead, Tom Brady laid the foundation for his legend.
"With no timeouts, I think the Patriots, with this field position, you have to just run the clock out. You have to play for overtime," announced John Madden to millions watching on television. "I don't think you want to force anything here, you don't want to do anything stupid, because you have no timeouts and you're backed up."
No sooner did the words leave the lips of Madden than Brady was taking a snap in the shotgun, avoiding a heavy rush, taking a hard hit and connecting with J.R. Redmond for a minimal gain. Then Brady, Redmond, Troy Brown and Jermaine Wiggins drove down the field, paving the way for Adam Vinatieri to make history.
"What Tom Brady just did," Madden said, "gave me goosebumps."
"We shocked the world," said Lawyer Milloy after the game, and he was right.
The win in itself was enough to satisfy a Patriots fan base that hadn't had much to celebrate in the past 41 years. It also would have been enough to satisfy fans of many teams, just to have that one night in February of 2002.
Little did anyone know at the time, but that win was just the beginning. It officially opened a new era in Foxboro, one in which the Patriots would go on to win the Super Bowl twice more in the following three years.
Which leads us to 2008.
The 2007 Patriots season had enough storylines to fill a Tolstoy novel. It started with the acquisition of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth, included a contract dispute with Asante Samuel, extended to a well-known controversy known as Spygate and was temporarily set off track with domestic dispute allegations on Moss.
Oh, and the team was perfect through 18 games.
The stage was once again set for the Patriots to add another chapter to their history, needing a win over the 10-6 New York Giants to complete the greatest single season in NFL history with a 19-0 record.
Of course, that didn't work out. Though Brady hit Moss in the end zone to give the Patriots a four-point lead with 2:42 left in the game, it wasn't enough. Eli Manning and David Tyree connected on the most improbable of improbable plays, and Plaxico Burress put the finishing touches on an upset victory, beating Ellis Hobbs to make the all-too-easy touchdown catch to win the game.
It was unbelievable for the Patriots, but it provided perfect symmetry to the Patriots' dynasty. It began on Feb. 3, 2002 with an unforgettable three-point victory by an underdog, and it came to a close on Feb. 3, 2008 under the same exact circumstances.
In a way, Feb. 3 marks the life and death of the Patriots' dynasty. Of course, with Brady and Bill Belichick in Foxboro for at least the foreseeable future, another Super Bowl title is always a possibility. It is, however, hard to imagine any team could rekindle the magic that the Patriots had in the dynasty years.
Then again, Super Bowl XLVII is set to be held on Feb. 3, 2013 in the very same building that the Patriots won that first Super Bowl title in 2002. Could the Patriots shock the world once more? As we've all witnessed this past decade, stranger things have happened.
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