Super Bowl LIII Precap: Putting Patriots’ dynasty in perspective

WASHINGTON — The date of the game and the opponent is the same, but much has changed since the last time the New England Patriots played the Rams in the Super Bowl.

It was Feb. 3, 2002. With the tragic events of 9/11 still fresh in everyone’s minds, basically any football fan outside of St. Louis was happy to root for an underdog aptly named the Patriots, especially if it came at the expense of a Rams team on the cusp of a second Super Bowl title in three years, coached by the seemingly smug Mike Martz.

Back then, Bill Belichick wasn’t the undisputed best coach in the game. The Patriots quarterback wasn’t the GOAT, just some nondescript 6th round pick named Tom Brady who Wally Pipp‘d Drew Bledsoe and got bailed out by the tuck rule in his playoff debut.

I mean, have you seen the footage of Super Bowl XXXVI lately? The then-24-year-old Brady’s famous face of disbelief wasn’t even in HD! Look at how the world has changed since the that fateful February day.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman hugs quarterback Brett Favre after their 31-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
NFL Salary Cap 2019: $177.2 million
2002: $71.1 million Bonus: Brett Favre was the NFL’s highest paid player, inking a then-record 10-year, $100 million deal before the 2001 regular season. (AP Photo/Morry Gash) (AP/MORRY GASH)
St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz and Kurt Warner stand along the sidelines in St. Louis during the Rams game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sept. 29, 2002. Warner suffered a broken bone in his pinkie finger during the game  (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
Rams city, coach and QB 2019: Los Angeles, Sean McVay, Jared Goff
2002: St. Louis, Mike Martz, Kurt Warner (AP Photo/James A. Finley) (AP/JAMES A. FINLEY)
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2002 file photo, The Edge, from left, Bono and Adam Clayton, of U2, perform during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. At the first Super Bowl following the 2001 terrorist attacks, U2 performed "Where the Streets Have No Name" as a giant scrim behind them unfurled names of the Sept. 11 victims. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
Super Bowl Halftime Show 2019: Maroon 5
2002: U2 (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File) (AP/TONY GUTIERREZ)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams talks with head coach Sean McVay before a game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on October 14, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Key Rams ages in 2002 Sean McVay was 16, Aaron Donald was 11 and Jared Goff was 8 (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe (11) is covered up in confetti after the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI at the  Louisiana Superdome Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans.  (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)
Brady’s backup 2019: Brian Hoyer
2002: Drew Bledsoe (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser) (AP/BETH A. KEISER)
Steve Spurrier, right, is joined by Washington Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder during Spurrier's first news conference as the Redskins' head coach in Ashburn, Va  Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002 . (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
Redskins head coach Hired Steve Spurrier to replace Marty Schottenheimer (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert) (AP/KENNETH LAMBERT)
In this Feb. 21, 2012 photo, a man passes a gas pump showing the price of regular gasoline at a gas station, in San Diego. A sharp jump in gas prices drove a measure of US consumer costs up in February. But outside higher pump prices, inflation stayed mild. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Average price of gas (per gallon) in the United States 2019: $2.88
2002: $1.36 (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (AP/Gregory Bull)
Top Song 2019: “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande
2002: “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback (AP/Gregory Bull)
National theatrical release Feb. 1, 2019: Miss Bala Feb. 1, 2002: Slackers (AP/Gregory Bull)
(1/9)
Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman hugs quarterback Brett Favre after their 31-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2001, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz and Kurt Warner stand along the sidelines in St. Louis during the Rams game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sept. 29, 2002. Warner suffered a broken bone in his pinkie finger during the game  (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
FILE - In this Feb. 3, 2002 file photo, The Edge, from left, Bono and Adam Clayton, of U2, perform during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. At the first Super Bowl following the 2001 terrorist attacks, U2 performed "Where the Streets Have No Name" as a giant scrim behind them unfurled names of the Sept. 11 victims. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams talks with head coach Sean McVay before a game against the Denver Broncos at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on October 14, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe (11) is covered up in confetti after the Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI at the  Louisiana Superdome Sunday, Feb. 3, 2002 in New Orleans.  (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)
Steve Spurrier, right, is joined by Washington Redskins' owner Daniel Snyder during Spurrier's first news conference as the Redskins' head coach in Ashburn, Va  Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002 . (AP Photo/Kenneth Lambert)
In this Feb. 21, 2012 photo, a man passes a gas pump showing the price of regular gasoline at a gas station, in San Diego. A sharp jump in gas prices drove a measure of US consumer costs up in February. But outside higher pump prices, inflation stayed mild. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

And in that grainy, standard definition picture you’ll see Ricky Proehl running routes for the Rams. His son, Austin, has grown from a crying 6-year-old to a spot on the Rams practice squad, coming up just short of a scenario in which the he and his father’s roles could be reversed with another Patriots win.

Another Patriots win. There have been so many in the last 17 years. And New England has so many records, they’ve no choice but to move on to breaking their own. The Super Bowl record books read more like Brady’s personal resume.

There’s a line in the movie “The Dark Knight” that rings true for the New England Patriots: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The Patriots have been so dominant for so long that we forget they were once the Cinderella story nearly everyone wanted — and perhaps, needed — after an emotional 2001 season.

But like their present-day rallying cry states, they’re still here. The reason why fairy tales end in “happily ever after” is because nobody wants to stick around to see Cinderella, now married to a prince, get lost in the fame and wealth and forget her humble beginnings. Or worse, we forget she was once the lovable protagonist, 17 years after her amazing rise to prominence.

While New England’s negative narrative has a lot to do with the Spygate and Deflategate controversies (which I’m on record here and here as saying are overhyped and overrated), it’s hard not to think this vitriol would have died down years ago if they weren’t still in the midst of a stretch of four Super Bowl appearances in five years. If anything has been proven in sports, it’s that so many fans love to hate a dynasty.

But this isn’t a dynasty that should be so readily dismissed. No matter how badly we view the rest of the AFC East, winning 10 straight division titles is impressive. Even more so, nine straight trips to the conference championship game is something we may never see again. And while some might say the Patriots are lucky to not be 0-8 in the Super Bowl, a team being this consistently outstanding in the salary cap era is truly remarkable.

Furthermore, the Patriots have used different styles to advance to nine Super Bowls in 18 years; the teams that won three out of four titles from 2001-04 were predicated on the run and a strong defense, with Brady playing game manager. The teams that lost to the Giants twice in five years were pass-heavy squads that were prolific but perhaps too reliant on Brady. And now, the Pats are in their third straight Super Bowl thanks to the original recipe. Times have changed, and the Patriots have evolved along with them.

Many (myself included) have rushed to end the Patriots’ run before it’s really over. But we should appreciate New England’s all-time greatness while it’s still here, because Belichick is 66 years-old — exactly twice as old as his counterpart, Sean McVay — and Brady turns 42 in August. If McVay lives up to his considerable hype, his Rams might just be the team in best position to pick up where the Patriots leave off.

So if you’re rooting for the Rams to upset the Patriots, returning the favor exactly 17 years later, remember this: You might be rooting on the start of a dynasty you won’t like later.

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