The New England Patriots are the best NFL franchise of the 21st century, and that’s not up for debate. Six Super Bowl appearances, four championships and 13 seasons of double-digit wins pretty much seal the deal.
Definitely up for debate is this: What’s the most iconic play in Patriots history? Sporting News recently asked that question and picked Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXXVI. It’s a solid selection — it kicked off New England’s ongoing dynasty, after all — but is it really the “most iconic”?
Our panel of five experts dove into that debate and delivered their picks for the most iconic play in Patriots history. Enjoy.
Vinatieri’s field goal kick-started the Patriots’ dynasty, but Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl XLIX-clinching interception simply was the better and more exciting play. This isn’t just a case of recency bias, either.
The Patriots’ string of success following the Super Bowl victory is what made Vinatieri’s field goal iconic. In comparison, they had effectively lost Super Bowl XLIX before Butler jumped Ricardo Lockette’s route and picked off Russell Wilson’s pass. The probability of the undrafted rookie cornerback making that play was markedly slimmer than a reliable veteran kicker hitting a 48-yard field goal in a dome.
A new era in Patriots football started when Vinatieri kicked that field goal. The Patriots had reached two Super Bowls before, but it wasn?t until Feb. 3, 2002, when they finally broke through and snatched the Lombardi Trophy.
Vinatieri’s game-winner was the culmination of everything. It put the exclamation point on the first legendary drive of Tom Brady?s career. It solidified Vinatieri as the NFL?s greatest clutch kicker. It changed the Patriots? standing in NFL history forever.
Most importantly, though, it gave the Patriots their first Super Bowl championship, and isn?t that what it?s all about?
Vinatieri?s field goal was a seminal moment in Patriots history, but it?s not even the most iconic moment from that playoff run. That honor goes to a kick Vinatieri made two weeks earlier, in a driving snowstorm, in the final game at Foxboro Stadium.
And not the kick that actually won that game, either. No, the one that still sticks most in my mind is Vinatieri’s 45-yard boot through the blizzard to force overtime, mere minutes after an obscure rule saved the Patriots’ season (hello, Tuck Rule). Without that kick, who knows what the Patriots franchise would look like today?
The most ionic play in Patriots history is when Varitek split the uprights.
(Sorry, Mayor Menino. I had to. RIP.)
Seriously, though, the most iconic play in Patriots history is when Vinatieri split the uprights. In the snow. In Foxboro. Before the Patriots ever won a Super Bowl.
But Zack picked the wrong kick from that game. Vinatieri?s 23-yarder in overtime won it and laid the groundwork for the Patriots? dynasty. Without it, the Patriots don?t go on to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, and perhaps the legend of Tom Brady ceases to exist.
It?s hard to argue with a play that wins a Super Bowl, but winning a championship certainly isn’t a prerequisite for an iconic play. Ask Bobby Thomson, Carlton Fisk, Dwight Clark or Reggie Miller, whose legendary moments either didn?t produce titles directly or at all.
The clear answer for the Patriots, then, is Vinatieri’s Snow Bowl-tying field goal against the Raiders. From the Tuck Rule to the weather itself to an unlikely rushing touchdown by Tom Brady, Vinatieri?s kick encapsulates everything about that 2001 season?s improbable run. And how many sports moments get memorialized in snow globe form?
Oh, by the way, Patriots fans voted on this last year, and they agree with me.
Vote in the poll below and have your say.
Thumbnail photo via Doug Mills/Associated Press