ATLANTA — What’s useful to remember about all of this was that on the night this magnificent dynasty was born, we had only recently bid a warm, somewhat weepy farewell to the notion that such a thing could be done. At all. Ever again.
Adam Vinatieri’s kick won Super Bowl XXXVI for the Patriots on Feb. 3, 2002. One day shy of three months earlier, Luis Gonzalez had dunked a ball over Derek Jeter’s head, Jay Bell came sprinting down the line, and the Arizona Diamondbacks officially dethroned the Yankees, ending a streak of three straight World Series titles and four in five years.
“I don’t think we’ll see anything like what these guys have done in baseball again,” Yankees manager Joe Torre whispered that night. “I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything like that in sports ever again.”
That wasn’t just an admittedly sentimental man succumbing to a moment, either. That was a consensus. Professional sports had already evolved into a place where dynasties are splintered before they solidify, where free agency and parity sabotage great teams from staying great for too long. When the Yankees limped off the field in downtown Phoenix that night, one thing seemed certain:
We’d never see their like again, probably for years. Maybe forever.
Turns out, we only had to wait 91 days.
And now, exactly 17 years after Vinatieri’s aim was true and the Patriots had squeezed past a Rams team that fancied itself the Greatest Show on Turf, another kick, this one off the leg of a Rams kicker named Greg Zuerlein, wobbled wide right, making all but official a sixth championship in those 17 years for the Patriots.
On the sidelines, Brady — no longer a wide-eyed kid, now a wide-eyed geezer — shouted, “THAT’S NO GOOD!” and began slapping five with every teammate in his immediate radius. The fervently pro-Patriots fans among the 70,081 inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Gillette Stadium South for one night) began to holler themselves hoarse, as they had across most of this rock fight of a Super Bowl LIII.
Seconds later, Tom Brady took a knee, the Patriots had a 13-3 win, they had a sixth championship to add to the trophy case back home in Foxborough, Mass. Bill Belichick would pass Lombardi the coach and his five championships before lifting Lombardi the trophy, joining Pantheon names George Halas and Curly Lambeau among NFL coaches who have won six titles.
“Everyone counted us out,” Belichick would say, as the usual shower of confetti blinkered around him. “But we’re still here.”
They are here, and they have restored our belief in the sporting dynasty because much like the Yankees they replaced, they have a special knack for making plays and all but mind-willing their opponents to slip on banana peels. For all the heroic moments the Yankees compiled, after all, there was the base-running gaffe that helped set up Derek Jeter’s Flip Play, there was Timo Perez easing his way around the basepaths in Game 1 in 2000.
Same thing with the Patriots. Brady and Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel made plays all over January and February, and Julian Edelman not only secured the MVP of this game but probably nailed down a spot in Canton years from now.
But two weeks ago, Dee Ford lined up offsides on a play that should have won the game for Kansas City. On Sunday, Jared Goff was a half-second late spotting an unbelievably wide-open Brandin Cooks in the end zone, allowing Jason McCourty to dash 40 yards to break up the play. In the fourth, game tied at 3-3, Todd Gurley emerged from witness protection to rattle off a 13-yard run that should have set the Rams up to take control of the game … but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty by LA center John Sullivan.
Funny how the good stuff always finds the good teams.
Funny how this Patriots dynasty emerged straight from the dust of the Yankees’ reign, proof the right mixture of coaches and players and culture really can sustain something good — something great. As Brady said when asked if retirement had even slipped into his mind at all, as he surveyed the celebration around him: “Look at this! How can this not motivate you?”
Perfect. Just what the rest of the NFL wanted to hear.