"I just remember Tom being really, really cool and calm."
Troy Brown recalls Tom Brady’s demeanor as he stepped into the huddle for the final drive of Super Bowl XXXVI, a drive which would go on to change the course of human history -- or at least NFL history.
Brown, then in his ninth season with the New England Patriots, enjoyed far and away his best season statistically in 2001. As such, he accounted for over half of Brady’s passing yards in the win over the St. Louis Rams, hauling in six passes for 89 yards.
With 1:21 left on the clock and no timeouts, the Patriots had the ball at their own 17-yard line following a less-than-stellar kick return from Brown. St. Louis had all of the momentum, rallying back from a 17-3 deficit to tie the game; what would the unproven Brady, then 24 years old, be able to accomplish?
As you know by now, Brady got New England into field goal range, leaving the rest to the leg of Adam Vinatieri. Now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Vinatieri’s 48-yarder split the uprights as time expired and the Patriots had their first Lombardi Trophy.
Relive some of the Super Bowl XXXVI's defining moments with Brown, who went on to win two more Super Bowls with New England before retiring following the 2007 season.
At what point of the game did you think the Patriots could win?
Forget about any one point during the game -- Brown thought the Patriots could beat the Rams after the teams met in Week 10, a 24-17 win for St. Louis at old Foxboro Stadium in New England’s lone primetime game of the regular season.
Though the Rams won, several events foreshadowed what was to come when the teams met again: St. Louis quarterback Kurt Warner threw a pick-six to Terrell Buckley, mirroring his errant pass that Ty Law picked off in Super Bowl XXXVI.
The Patriots played the Rams tough, proving they belonged on the same field as the "Greatest Show on Turf." New England’s defense held the mighty St. Louis offense to 24 points, the fifth-fewest it would score over 19 games (the 17 the Rams would muster in the Super Bowl wound up being the second-fewest).
"We went toe to toe with them," Brown said of the regular season meeting. "We lost, obviously...but if this is the Greatest Show on Turf, we can play with anybody."
What was Bill Belichick like at halftime of Super Bowl XXXVI?
Even though halftime at the Super Bowl is longer than that of a regular season game to account for the performance, nothing out of the ordinary occurred inside the Patriots’ locker room at Super Bowl XXXVI.
Brown joked (we think) that Tom Brady took a nap, but other than that, there was no yelling or screaming from Belichick while U2 put on stirring renditions of "Beautiful Day," "MLK" and "Where the Streets Have No Name" while the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks scrolled along the backdrop of the stage.
"He just said 'let's go have a good half' like he always does," Brown said.
What changed on New England’s sideline following Willie McGinest’s holding penalty that negated a defensive touchdown?
St. Louis was finally on the verge of scoring a touchdown, until Roman Phifer stripped Kurt Warner and Tebucky Jones returned the ball 97 yards for a Patriots touchdown that would have turned the game into a laugher.
Until there was a flag on the play.
Willie McGinest was called for defensive holding, negating the score that would have made it 24-3 in favor of New England with 10:29 to go in the fourth quarter.
"Guys were pretty dejected and disappointed," Brown said. "I can’t tell you how many guys had to get IVs after celebrating."
Warner scored on a keeper two plays later, and the Rams were within a touchdown of the Patriots.
Tied game, no timeouts, 1:21 on the clock. Tom Brady wasn’t rattled?
"He just called two plays and said 'let's go down and win this thing," Brown said. "And that was it, man."
Brady completed three passes to J.R. Redmond -- the James White of his generation -- before dialing up Brown for a 23-yard gain to get to the St. Louis 36-yard line with 0:29 on the clock.
East Boston's own Jermaine Wiggins caught one more pass, a 6-yard gain, before Lonnie Paxton's snap, Ken Walter's hold and Adam Vinatieri's kick were good and the Patriots stunned the Rams.
"He didn’t show any signs of nerves, didn't show he was scared or the moment was too big for him or anything," Brown said of Brady. "At that point, I knew we had a pretty good chance to win the game."
John Madden (in)famously said at the beginning of the drive that the Patriots should play for overtime. What was your reaction when you heard that?
"With no timeouts, I think the Patriots, with this field position, you have to just run the clock out," Madden said on the FOX broadcast. "You have to play for overtime now."
John Madden's namesake represents the arguably the greatest sports video game ever, but he was proven wrong on New England’s intentions at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI.
"We had no momentum whatsoever," Brown remembered. "They [the Rams] were going up and down the field at that point like it was nothing."
The Patriots defense, after limiting St. Louis to just a field goal over the first 45 minutes of the game, was now gassed.
"Hearing about John Madden saying take a knee, playing for overtime, he couldn't have been more wrong," Brown said.