On Sunday, the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams will face off in Atlanta for Super Bowl 53. But what did the world look like the last time these two teams met?
It was Feb. 3, 2002. George W. Bush was President of the United States. Friends was the most popular show on television. And at the Louisiana Superdome, the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots battled for the championship of the 2001 NFL season.
Originally, the game was supposed to take place on Jan. 27.. But when New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia were attacked on Sept. 11, the league went dark, pushing back the schedule by a week.
In October, the United States invaded Afghanistan and began a war that continues on to this day. While the trauma the country faced could not be solved by a few men playing football, the game provided an opportunity to come together and smile.
The game took place in the Louisiana Superdome 3½ years before the trauma of Hurricane Katrina would transform that community forever.
The pregame consisted of a few performances to honor the victims of 9/11, including a performance of “America the Beautiful” by Mary J. Blige, Marc Anthony, and the Boston Pops Orchestra, and a performance by Paul McCartney of his song “Freedom,” which was written in response to the 9/11 attacks.
After that, Mariah Carey sang the national anthem. George H.W. Bush became the first (and only) President of the United States to participate in the Super Bowl coin toss in person.
He did it alongside Roger Staubach, a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.
The teams taking the field looked different too. The Rams, who were still in St. Louis, were led by quarterback Kurt Warner. They finished the regular season at 14-2, earning their offense the nickname “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
Tom Brady was in his second year as quarterback from the New England Patriots. They had gone 11-5 in the regular season, with a highly ranked defense that helped take them to the Super Bowl.
The game started off slow. The only points in the first quarter were a 50-yard field goal from Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins. In the second quarter, the Patriots started to develop a rhythm and found two touchdowns of their own. They went to halftime with a 14-3 lead.
Originally, the halftime show was supposed to be performed by Janet Jackson. But instead, she allowed U2 to perform a special tribute to 9/11 victims. They performed three songs, projecting the faces of 9/11 victims on a screen behind the performers.
At the end of the performance, Bono opened his jacket to reveal an American flag. Many have ranked it as the best Super Bowl halftime show ever.
The second half also got off to a slow start, but late in the third quarter, Otis Smith intercepted Kurt Warner and returned the ball to the Rams 33-yard line.
The Rams defense was able to stop Tom Brady from getting a touchdown, but Adam Vinatieri kicked a 37-yard field goal and the Patriots entered the fourth quarter with 17-3 lead.
It was comeback time for Kurt Warner and the Rams offense, and comeback they did. With two touchdowns by the Rams in the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 17-17 with 1:30 left on the clock.
The Patriots had no timeouts left, but decided to go for it rather than force the game into overtime. They took the ball down to the Rams 30-yard line and Adam Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to win the game. It was the first time a Super Bowl had been won on the final play.
The New England Patriots brought Massachusetts its first championship since the 1986 Celtics won an NBA title.
The energy sparked a resurgence in New England sports, which included seven more Super Bowl appearances by the New England Patriots, four World Series titles for the Boston Red Sox between 2004-18, another NBA title for the Celtics in 2008 and a Stanley Cup championship for the Boston Bruins in 2011.
Tom Brady, who won Super Bowl MVP, became a hometown hero and started a journey that would define one of the best careers in football.
In 2019, the world looks a little different. Kurt Warner is in the studio instead of on the field. The Big Bang Theory is the most-watched show on television. But Tom Brady is still going, chasing that sixth Super Bowl title and maybe even a fifth Super Bowl MVP award.
Only time will tell how history plays out.