“Get the fuck out of my apartment.”
I wasn’t kidding.
“Chill? You want me to chill? Seriously. GET. THE FUCK. OUT. NOW.”
Lesson learned. If your team is fortunate enough to make it to the big game, no matter how heavily favored you are, never ever throw a Super Bowl party and invite fans of the opposing team or general “I just like the ads” people over. They’re either going to risk getting punched in the face (the two wayward Pats fans in my Bay Area apartment on February 3rd, 2002), or bear the brunt of collateral damage, as described in the brief (but verbatim) bit of dialogue above.
It was not a good day.
After an incredibly lopsided 2000 season where the Rams would score a league-high 540 points and surrender a league-high 471, the 2001 squad retooled the defense under new defensive coordinator Lovie Smith. Smith brought the Tampa 2 D to St. Louis, along with linebacker Don Davis, and defensive linemen Chidi Ahanotu and Tyoka Jackson. The Rams also brought in FS Kim Herring (from Baltimore), LB Mark Fields (from New Orleans), and all-world CB Aeneas Williams (from Arizona).
They then used all three of their first-round picks on defensive players, selecting S Adam Archuleta and DTs Damione Lewis and Ryan Pickett. They also grabbed Florida State LB Tommy Polley in the third-round. Gone were aging veterans like DE Kevin Carter, DT Ray Agnew, CB Todd Lyght, FS Keith Lyle and even LB Mike “The Tackle” Jones.
Oh and let’s all just take a minute and pour one out for DT Jeff Zgonina, shall we?
With the defensive overhaul complete, the Rams would go on to another historic season offensively and cruised to a 14-2 regular season record — including a 24-17 victory over the Patriots in Foxboro. They’d go on to pick Brett Favre off six times in the divisional round en route to a 45-17 ass-shackling, and overpower the Eagles in the NFC Championship to win 29-24.
New England, on the other hand, had lost QB Drew Bledsoe in the 4th quarter of week 2 (on a brutal sideline hit by Jets LB Mo Lewis), and would be forced to start some shitty 6th round pick from Michigan named Tom Brady. After their week 10 loss to the Rams at home, New England would go on to win their final six regular season games to secure a first-round bye. They would then squeak by the Raiders in the famous ‘tuck rule’ game, and defeat the Steelers at Heinz to earn their way to Super Bowl XXXVI.
Juggernaut Rams versus “happy to be there” Patriots. 14 point spread. The Greatest Show on Turf armed with a dynamic defense against a mercurial Bill Parcells disciple who was once fired by the Browns (and coached the Jets for exactly one day) and his barely draftable QB.
Well, a funny thing happened at my Super Bowl party that day. It wasn’t the epic pot of chili I had labored over for hours the day before. Nor was it the fridge full of beer, the queso dip, or the freshly vacuumed carpet and glistening toilet. No, it wasn’t the pre-game grilling or the smiling faces of a dozen cheerful guests ready to watch the slaughter.
It was a cocky second-year head coach being outsmarted by the future G(HC)OAT. The architect of the Greatest Show on Turf unseated and embarrassed by the eventual thronesitter atop what is arguably the most impressive dynasty in professional sports history. If not Martz, surely some other poor coach would have suffered a similar fate, but by the time the Rams trailed 17-3 at half, it was too little too late to say “shoot, we’ll fix that.” His reluctance to run the ball with Marshall Faulk was perplexing/infuriating, to say the least. Kurt Warner would throw for 365 yards to Brady’s 145, but his two interceptions were costly. And as we now know, once the legend of Brady and Bill either has a lead to protect, or needs a late score to win it, your goose is as good as cooked.
Once I successfully cleared my apartment of any remaining humans, the gravity of the moment hit me. We’d just choked away the Super Bowl. The season was over, and had ended on the sourest of all possible notes, for I had no crystal ball with images of Linehan, Spags and Fisher to comfort me.
Amidst a sea of empty bottles, shot glasses, picked-over snack trays and stained chili bowls, I sat at the island in my kitchen and held my head in my hands.
If I would have known it would be 17 years before we’d have another shot, I just might have cried.
(UPDATE: I consciously omitted SpyGate from this piece, as that information came to light after the loss. Also, they recorded our red zone offense, which we didn’t need much in this game. This does not imply that the New England Patriots aren’t a bunch of lowdown, despicable cheaters who deserve eternal payback this Sunday)