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Super Bowl XXXVIII Thrilling to the End

Pats Fans See Repeat of 2002 Victory Run

By Brian Chase

COLUMNIST

It was 2002 all over again. Janet Jackson was performing, U.S. flags were all over the halftime performers, and the New England Patriots won a great football game on a last-minute field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri. And just like 2002, I was on the edge of my seat for the entire last ten minutes of the game. Super Bowl XXXVIII was great not just because of the last-minute Patriot victory, however. It was great because it was defensive then offensive, because you had two great quarterbacks not willing to give in, because both teams outgrew their supposed weaknesses and used them to score on their opponents.

Going into the Super Bowl, the story was supposedly that the Patriots would take away the Carolina Panther’s run game, Carolina would hurt the Patriots pass game, and the Patriots would win because they would have more offense left. For the first 25 minutes of the game, that’s exactly how the game progressed. Through that time, the Panthers had negative seven (!) yards of total offense, and their only first down had come off of a New England penalty. The Patriots did a little better, getting down field goal range of the Panthers twice, only to see one kick missed and one kick blocked. But then, with five minutes left in the first half, everything changed.

The Panthers had the football at their own 20 yard line when quarterback Jake Delhomme was sacked by Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel, and he coughed up the football. It was recovered by the Pats, and led to their first touchdown of the game. Some might have thought that spelled the end of the game for the Panthers, but they surprised everybody, going 95 yards for a touchdown not on their running game, but on passes by Delhomme. This turnaround of the Panthers offense was completely unheralded, but it kept them in the game. The Pats responded with a drive featuring a 52-yard pass by QB Tom Brady, to go up 14-6 (the Panthers missed a two point conversion). But Panthers answered right back with a field goal before halftime.

The second half started with both offenses punting after their first two possessions, but after that it was all offense. The Pats came out with a balanced run/pass attack, which was very unusual for them, as the running game of the Pats is usually weak. This led to two touchdowns on the half, and one with a two-point conversion. But the Panthers kept coming back, scoring on touchdown drives that featured big plays, one a run by Running Back DeShaun Foster and one an 85-yard pass the receiver Steve Smith. Also, the defense got a good stop with an interception of Brady in the Carolina endzone. At the end, Delhomme, famous for his late-game drives, had two and a half minutes to score a touchdown. It only look him a minute to pass his way to it. That gave the Pats enough time to set up Vinatieri, who made up for his troubles earlier, and solidified his status as the New England Patron (Patriot?) Saint.

Now, time for some awards:

Best Performance: Delhomme. No offense to Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, but I felt Delhomme played better because it wasn’t expected of him. When the Panthers running game was absolutely destroyed by the Patriots, most people assumed they had no offense left. But Delhomme proved them wrong, leading a passing offense rated mediocre at best to 29 points. The reason this was the best Super Bowl of at least the last three years was Delhomme.

Worst Performance: Carolina defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac. When the Panthers’ D was trying to stop the last two Patriots drives, Trgovac (and maybe Coach John Fox) kept calling for blitzes. Not only did these not faze Tom Brady, but they left receivers open, making it easy for the Pats to drive into field goal range.

Most Shocking Moment: MTV keeps setting the bar lower and lower for public displays of gratuitous sexuality. This time, at the very end of the halftime show with Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson, Timberlake reached across Janet’s chest and ripped off her right bra cup, baring everything except for the area covered by a silver-star pasty. It was another jaw-dropping, albeit somewhat disgusting, play for publicity and shock value by the people that brought you the Britney-Madonna kiss.

And finally, the most important award of the Super Bowl:

Best Commercial: Tie. For humor purposes, nothing beats various football stars, including Bill Parcells, singing the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie. Both intentional and unintentional humor abounds. For a pointed message, the award goes to “truth” anti-tobacco ad campaign, which compared its sale to sales of glass-filled popsicles. You have to see it to really get the full, biting effect of it.

And that’s the football season. I, thankfully, end with a 8-7 prediction record, which I hope to improve for next season with some high-end free agent acquisitions. Until next year, long live the NFL.