FOXBORO, Mass. — Joe Cardona remembers watching Tom Brady and the underdog New England Patriots upset the juggernaut St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
He also remembers the pizza — especially the pizza.
“Oddly enough, it was the ’01-’02 Super Bowl with the Patriots, Tom Brady, Greatest Show on Turf,” the Patriots long snapper said this week when asked to recall his earliest Super Bowl memory. “I remember we got Pizza Hut. I was, like, 9 years old, so that’s one of the earliest Super Bowl memories I have.
“I’m sure I watched a few before that and everything, but it’s just funny — like, that’s what sticks out to me, getting Pizza Hut. I didn’t know who was who. I knew about Kurt Warner and how good that (Rams) team was, but I didn’t really know.”
Cardona’s recollection (of the game itself, not the cheese and crust) is a common one among current Patriots players — and one that surely makes the 41-year-old Brady feel ancient. Of the dozen or so surveyed for this story, nearly half named Pats-Rams as the first Super Bowl they remember watching.
Linebacker Elandon Roberts, who, like Cardona, is preparing to play in his third Super Bowl as a teammate of Brady’s (Super Bowl LIII against the now-Los Angeles Rams next Sunday in Atlanta), was one such player.
“Oh, it was the one when they played the Rams,” Roberts said. “That was TB’s first one. They were underdogs or something like that. I was a kid. I was playing, like, Pop Warner, but I didn’t understand (football) to that extent. And all I knew was everyone was like, ‘Oh, Tom Brady pulled it off.’ They kept saying about this late-round pick. That’s what I remember from it.”
Ditto for safety Obi Melifonwu, a Grafton, Mass., native who grew up rooting for the Patriots.
“The first Super Bowl I remember is actually (the Patriots) versus the Rams,” Melifonwu said. “That’s the first Super Bowl I remember. I was young at the time, but I just knew — I didn’t know a lot, but I knew that I was a Patriots fan, and the Super Bowl was, like, the peak of every player’s dream. Watching that and being able to experience that as a fan was something special.”
Tight end Stephen Anderson initially mentioned Super Bowl XXXVI, as well, then remembered he’d actually watched the Baltimore Ravens spank the New York Giants one year earlier.
“OK, that was my first one,” Anderson said. “That’s when I started watching. But I’ve been watching it forever. My birthday’s next week, and it’s usually around the Super Bowl. My dad, when I was one day old — he always tells me the story of how he held me and watched the Super Bowl. It was ’93, so it was Bills versus (Cowboys). So this is always a thing. I’ve been watching the Super Bowl for a long time and watching the football for a long time. I’m really happy that I’m part of it now.”
Special teamer Brandon King grew up in the same era as Cardona, Roberts, Melifonwu and Anderson — all are between 24 and 26 — but his first clear Super Bowl memory is of a different Patriots championship: Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks.
“Honestly, the only one I really remember is the year before I came here when New England beat Seattle,” King said. “I didn’t really pay that much attention to NFL football. I didn’t watch it at all. I just watched SEC football. The only thing that mattered to me in Alabama was Auburn and Alabama football. And then the SEC around when I was growing up, it was, like, six, seven years in a row of just winning, so that’s all I watched.”
Here were a few of the non-Patriots-related responses:
Shaq Mason, guard: “The first Super Bowl I remember watching as a kid was probably the Titans and Rams. I think that was the first one. Kevin Dyson. I think I was in… I don’t remember what grade I was in, but I remember I was young watching it. That was the first Super Bowl I ever saw.”
David Andrews, center: “The first Super Bowl I remember was Rams-Titans in ’99. That was kind of right when you start at that age understanding the game a little bit and really becoming a fan.”
Trent Brown, offensive tackle: “I don’t remember. My family was kind of a basketball family. My dad played basketball. My brother played basketball. So I come from a real basketball background.”
Matthew Slater, special teamer: “I was at the Denver-Green Bay Super Bowl in San Diego. I was at that game, so that’s the first one I remember. I remember John Elway getting helicoptered. That was a great game, and I think everybody who was an NFL fan at the time was happy to see John Elway — after the great career he had with so many moments of getting close but not quite getting it done — was happy to see him win one. So that was pretty cool.”
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images