As you know, Tom Brady left the New England Patriots this year and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending a 20-season run on the team. Brady’s historic career including nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships, with his resume showing that his first and last titles with New England came against the Rams, St. Louis and Los Angeles respectively.
But what if Brady hadn’t won the first? Would he have even been a part of the most recent? Would the most recent have even happened? And what about in between? And of course, what would that have meant for Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams?
It’s “What if?” Week on SB Nation and that’s the reason I’m asking you this “What if?” question to follow: What if the Rams had beaten the Patriots in Super Bowl 36?
I don’t need to make you re-live the painful memories of Super Bowl 36 too long. The Rams were down 17-3, they came back to tie it 17-17 with 90 seconds left, and Adam Vinatieri hit a 48-yard field goal to win.
What if instead, Brady throws a pick on the 23-yard pass to Troy Brown in the final minute and then Jeff Wilkins makes a 48-yard field goal to win?
The Rams Fallout
Though St. Louis went 14-2 in 2001 as compared to 13-3 in 1999, they were for all intents and purposes a better team during that ‘99 run. A better point differential, a much higher DVOA, and a better head coach. I can never pretend to know as much about that era of Rams football as you do, but disputes against them being better in ‘01 than ‘99 would be interesting to me.
Regardless, we came very close to seeing Kurt Warner as a two-time Super Bowl champion in his first three years. Marshall Faulk, two rings. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and Orlando Pace, two rings. Aeneas Williams, one ring. Plus a ring for my personal favorite, Adam Archuleta.
In the 2002 offseason, St. Louis lost right tackle Ryan Tucker, middle linebacker London Fletcher, linebacker Mark Fields, and returner/receiver Az-Zahir Hakim. They added Jamie Duncan at middle linebacker and Terrence Wilkins to return punts. And drafted linebacker Robert Thomas with the 31st pick (instead of pick 32 if they win), plus Travis Fisher, Lamar Gordon, and for some reason, Eric Crouch in the first three rounds. Crouch did not make the roster, but fifth rounder Courtland Bullard and seventh rounder Chris Massey did.
But does winning another Super Bowl keep Warner from falling apart in 2002?
The Rams started 0-3 under Warner, then 0-4 when he broke his finger against the Dallas Cowboys. Thus began the end of Warner’s St. Louis career just three seasons after one of the most dominant and memorable QB seasons in NFL history. And he was 31.
If Warner had instead been one season removed from winning the Super Bowl, and a two-time champion, does that at all change the outlook of Warner in 2002 and 2003?
The Rams started 0-5 in 2002 and finished 7-9, with Marc Bulger emerging as the future at the quarterback position. With Warner fumbling six times in the 2003 opener, the team ended his era and started one for Bulger. They went 12-4 in 2003, but lost in OT to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round.
Can you imagine a two-time Super Bowl champion QB getting benched two seasons after his second Super Bowl? Maybe because it happened to Warner when he almost won his second Super Bowl, but we also know that a Super Bowl ring has magical powers. People are perceived differently with every one they collect.
Just ask Brady.
People may also wonder what a 2003 Rams team with a healthy Warner looks like. They went 12-3 with Bulger but he threw three interceptions in the loss to the Panthers.
There’s also the question of how Mike Martz would be perceived if he had won one Super Bowl. Would his leash have extended beyond his midseason firing in 2005? Would the Scott Linehan and Steve Spagnuolo and Jeff Fisher eras ever happened? Does a two-time Super Bowl winning team have a longer shelf life in St. Louis than the franchise we saw move to Los Angeles in 2016? If so, does that cost us the Sean McVay era, which could also be very good?
I’m not implying that any of these things will happen. What do you think would be different, if anything?
The Patriots Fallout
I won’t spend much time on this but it has to be asked. The Rams weren’t the only team to stumble after Super Bowl 36. New England went 9-7 and missed the playoffs in ‘02. What do they say about Bill Belichick if he had lost Super Bowl 36 and then missed the playoffs? Maybe not a different story than the one written about Martz. Belichick had no credibility with most fans at that point, not until he won the Super Bowl.
Then two more in 2003 and 2004. Could those have been the Rams, or another team, if they had lost that game? Could the Rams have stopped the Belichick-Brady reign right there at the beginning? Or does New England still go onto win five championships?
The Drew Bledsoe-Tom Brady debate potentially carries a little more weight if the team loses a Super bowl with Brady. Right? Maybe?
Would Rams history be significantly different if they had won Super Bowl 36?
This poll is closed
No, they’d be the same franchise, but with one more championship
Yes, it would have set in motion a Patriots-like dynasty
Yes, but they wouldn’t have won another Super Bowl