NEW ORLEANS - The most valuable player didn’t wear a uniform, never made a tackle, or got off the sideline.
But there was no one more important to last night’s heart-stopping Super Bowl victory than the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel.
He did the near impossible, under the greatest pressure anyone can endure in the game of football.
Faced with trying to stop the best offensive team ever to play the game, he wrote out the plan before he started, and then had the heart to see it through.
’’There were three things we had to do,’’ said Crennel, just after being slapped on the shoulder by Drew Bledsoe (’’You’re the man,’’ Bledsoe said). ‘’I told our players we had to keep Marshall Faulk from getting to the outside, we had to keep him in the middle of the field. Then we had to jump on their receivers and play them tight, and not give up the big play. We really didn’t give up many big plays. And finally, we had to get some pressure on [Kurt] Warner and we got that near the end of the game. Most of all, we wanted to make it a physical game. We thought our guys on defense could outhit them.’’
The defense was brilliant. Sure, Adam Vinatieri had the courage to make one of the greatest field goals ever in the pro game with the clock rushing toward the final tick.
And Tom Brady, handcuffed most of the day, and perhaps rightfully so, by a conservative game plan, came through when it counted in the final minute of play to set up Vinatieri’s kick.
But what mattered most was the way Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, and Otis Smith just hammered the Rams’ talented receivers.
They knew this was the only way they could win. They had to play a physical game.
’’That’s what it was all about,’’ said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. ‘’We wanted to outhit them and we did. We wanted it to be physical.’’
The Rams came into the game 14-point favorites, and rightfully so. Warner was the league MVP and Faulk the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Guiding them on the sideline, and calling the shots, was Mike Martz, one of the most creative offensive minds in the game.
’’We wanted to make them work for everything they got,’’ said Crennel, who said his toughest spot, and biggest disappointment, came when the Rams drove for a TD to tie the game in less than 30 seconds, after getting the ball back inside the two-minute warning.
’’I wasn’t quite sure how to play that,’’ said Crennel. ‘’I talked to Bill [Belichick] about it and it was hard to decide before playing off and stopping them that way. They were out of timeouts. Our plan was not to blitz and give them the big play. But we also wanted to keep them from getting to the outside, getting out of bounds, and stopping the clock. We didn’t keep them in bounds.’’
However, Crennel and his players on defense had done their job.
Now, it was up to the offense and Brady to get some points.
’’This is one of those games, when you are a coordinator, you had to subvert your own ego,’’ said Charlie Weis. ‘’There were times we might have hit the play with play-action passes, but the way our defense was playing, the No. 1 thing we wanted to do was not turn the ball over - not give the Rams a fumble, or an interception, and give them a chance for an easy score. We didn’t do that. Our defense was playing so well, we thought we could win it that way.’’
But St. Louis tied the game, and the Patriots had to make a key offensive decision.
’’I went to Bill, and we decided to go for it and win it in regulation. We didn’t want to get into overtime with St. Louis. So we opened up the offense.’’
Brady and his receivers moved the ball consistently upfield, to set up the winning 48-yard field goal.
’’I didn’t say anything to Adam before the kick,’’ said special teams coach Brad Seely. ‘’I didn’t have to. I don’t think he has ever missed a kick in a dome.’’
Vinatieri also had made six overtime kicks in a row.
’’In the offseason, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli did a good job of bringing in players who are high-character, solid people,’’ said Vinatieri. ‘’That showed all year.’’
And so, the Patriots won their first world championship in 42 years, in the greatest game in Super Bowl history.
In terms of who they were playing, where they were playing, and what they had to do to win, no one ever has done it better.