FOXBOROUGH — A lot has changed in the 13 years since the Patriots defeated the Eagles, 24-21, in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The Patriots kicker then was Adam Vinatieri, who played one more season in New England before departing for Indianapolis, where he has played 12 seasons — two more than he played with the Patriots. Mike Vrabel, a three-time champion linebacker with the Patriots who caught a touchdown in that Super Bowl, was introduced as coach of the Tennessee Titans Monday.
Josh McDaniels was New England’s quarterbacks coach and Matt Patricia was an offensive assistant; they’re now the offensive and defensive coordinators, perhaps destined for their own head coaching gigs next season.
Yet for all the change, some things have stayed the same. Dante Scarnecchia is still coaching the offensive line (though he took a couple of years off in between). Ivan Fears is still coaching the running backs. Robert Kraft is still the owner, and the core that drives the team is the dominant coach and quarterback duo of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
Brady will become the first 40-year-old starting quarterback in Super Bowl history when the Patriots play the Eagles Feb. 4. But back then, he was 27 years old, a far cry from the present-day TB12 who is obsessed with avocados, pliability, and his battle with Father Time.
“I would say Tom was eating cheeseburgers in the first life of Tom, the first life of TB12,” former Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch joked during a phone interview. “He was more of a double cheeseburger guy, a pizza guy, a fried chicken guy.
“But over time, you get wiser and you’ve got to change a lot of things, because one thing that is not going to change is your age. The earlier Tom, the first eight years of Tom Brady? TB12 was a little different. He wasn’t an avocado guy and an avocado ice cream guy.
“But I love my brother. He’s doing a great job paving the way for guys who have the ambition to have that longevity in their careers.”
That victory at Jacksonville, Fla., in February 2005 marked the last time a team won consecutive Super Bowls, a feat the Patriots can accomplish again in two weeks. The Patriots had beaten the Panthers, 32-29, the year before, thanks to a Vinatieri field goal with four seconds remaining. Two years before that, the underdog Patriots had stunned the Rams, 20-17, on a Vinatieri 48-yarder as time expired.
New England’s win against the Eagles was different; there was no need for last-second field goals. Trailing by 3, Philadelphia was pinned in its own territory with 46 seconds left and a long way to go to get into field goal range. The Eagles’ bid ended when Rodney Harrison intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass at the 28-yard line with 17 seconds to go.
Branch recalled watching closely on the sidelines with teammate David Patten when NFL officials approached to inform him that he’d be named Super Bowl MVP. Branch, who caught 11 passes for 133 yards, was only the sixth wide receiver so honored, and it was the only time in the Patriots’ five Super Bowl wins that Brady was not MVP.
“I’m just praying and hoping that these guys wouldn’t drive the length of the field to kick a field goal and send us into overtime,” Branch said. “Right behind me was about six guys with suits on.
“And we all turn around, looking, and the guy was like, ‘Deion, if y’all win, you’re the MVP.’ I was like, ‘Huh?’ Because clearly, everybody knows most of the time the team that wins the Super Bowl, the quarterback is going to win the award.
“David Patten was next to me and the guys were so excited. And I’m like, ‘Fellas, we still got a minute and 30 seconds left.’ And these guys can run from our sideline and go over to Philly, because Terrell Owens probably would’ve been the guy.”
Owens turned in a remarkable performance with nine receptions for 122 yards despite playing with a fibula he had broken in December.
A memorable play was Vrabel’s touchdown, which gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead. He lined up as the fullback and tipped the pass to himself. Guard Joe Andruzzi said it was one of the Patriots’ better gadget plays.
They occasionally switched out their fullback, sometimes with backup lineman Russ Hochstein. But part of the trickery was that Vrabel wore No. 50, so he did not have to report to the officials as eligible the way Hochstein had to.
“Nothing to do there but just celebrate,” Andruzzi said in a phone interview.
“Tom was a nobody back then, and we had a bunch of nobodies in 2001 who came together and played hard for each other,” said Andruzzi, who had struggled to latch on with Green Bay and played in Scotland before signing with the Patriots in 2000. “We knew that the team had to come first, going out there week in and week out and don’t overlook the game, and take it one week at a time.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Belichick touts that same message to his players now. Andruzzi also credited Belichick’s ability to plan for the long haul, which is why the Patriots have been able to sustain success in a league where most teams turn over in four or five years.
There will be turnover in New England if McDaniels and Patricia depart, just as coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel did after that 2004 season. It’s fair to wonder how much longer Kraft, Belichick, and Brady can keep it together, a topic that was broached before the playoffs after an ESPN report detailed tension in their relationship.
Andruzzi does not doubt that they will put aside whatever differences there may be, because that’s what Belichick and the Patriots have always done.
“They got quite a few more years, I think,” Andruzzi said. “All the hoopla that is out there, there’s two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.
“It’s part of them and part of what they do. No matter what the turmoil is, a lot of it is the media trying to come up with stories, or there is some truth to it. If there is truth to it, they put it aside and the team comes first again.”
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.