The Patriots are headed to their seventh Super Bowl in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era, so perhaps it’s understandable when non-Patriots fans lament that New England is in the big game yet again.
But in looking at the previous six trips to the Super Bowl, it would seem that even fans of opposing teams should be happy about the Patriots playing on the first Sunday in February. Win or lose, these games have been competitive, with all six of the previous games having been decided by four points or less. A few have given us some of the top plays in Super Bowl history.
Even the games that look like they are going to be one-sided end up a one-possession game.
It all started, of course, with Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots entered as 14-point underdogs to the St. Louis Rams. Yet early in the fourth quarter, it was the Patriots who led 17-3, and appeared to go up by three touchdowns when Tebucky Jones returned a fumble 97 yards. The touchdown was negated by a defensive holding call on Willie McGinest, and the Rams rallied with a pair of touchdowns to tie the game with 1:31 remaining.
That of course set up the dramatic ending, with Adam Vinatieris 47-yard field goal as time expired giving the Patriots their first title.
Two years later, Vinatieri had the game-winning kick in the closing seconds to cap a see-saw affair against the Carolina Panthers in a 32-29 win in Super Bowl XXXVIII. The next season, the Patriots and the Eagles entered the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIX tied at 14 before the Patriots added a touchdown and a field goal, and then held on for a 24-21 win.
Not that New England fans need a reminder, but even the two losses against the New York Giants came down to the wire. The undefeated Patriots were 12-point favorites to win Super Bowl XLII, but only led, 7-3, entering the fourth quarter and then fell behind 10-7. Yet when Brady connected with Randy Moss from six yards out for a 14-10 lead with just 2:42 remaining, it appeared a perfect season was within reach. Eli Manning and David Tyree made sure that would not be the case, combining for one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history as the Giants would go on to score with 35 seconds left for the 17-14 win.
It was another spectacular catch in Super Bowl XLVI that propelled the Giants past the Patriots again. This time, it was Mario Manningham on the receiving end of Manning’s pass, hauling in a 38-yard completion down the left sideline while managing to stay in bounds. The Giants scored with 57 seconds remaining and held on for a 21-17 win.
History appeared to be repeating itself two years ago in Super Bowl XLIX, as the Seattle Seahawks were marching for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minute, but Malcolm Butler made the interception of a lifetime to preserve the 28-24 lead and give the Patriots a fourth Super Bowl.
Maybe we’re due for a dud. Perhaps this is the year the Patriots win a laugher, or the Falcons continue their lopsided victories after rolling over both Seattle and Green Bay in the NFC playoffs. But if history is any indication, this could be another close game, with another extraordinary moment for everyone to remember.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney