FOXBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — On Feb. 3, 2002, a last-second Adam Vinatieri field goal lifted the New England Patriots over the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Seventeen years to the day later, the two franchises will once again meet on football’s biggest stage after both the Patriots and Rams walked away with dramatic overtime wins on the road Sunday against the top team in their respective conferences.
A Chiefs field goal with just seconds left in regulation sent the AFC Championship into overtime, which started with a coin flip. Patriots captain Matthew Slater called heads – as he always does – and won the toss, giving New England the ball and setting up a game-winning drive by Tom Brady and the offense.
So why does Slater always choose heads?
“I remember as a child watching my father play in L.A. and him going out and doing the coin toss for the Rams,” Slater recalled. “He always called heads, so I asked him one time, ‘Hey, why do you do that? What’s the story behind that?’ I think anyone who knows my family knows faith is important to us, and for him, he was always like, ‘You know, God’s the head of my life, so I call heads.’ That was something he came up with and I’ve kind of just embraced it. I’m glad it’s worked out for us here the last couple times when we needed it.”
Jackie Slater was a lineman for the Rams for 20 seasons. Matthew said he spoke to his father after Sunday’s game and “cleared the air” about who he’ll root for in the Super Bowl.
The Patriots arrived home from Kansas City early Monday morning. Speaking to the media, Slater and fellow captain David Andrews reflected on the team’s success this season.
“It’s been a long year and it’s been a lot of hard work. I’m very proud of the guys,” Andrews said. “We’ve come in each week, worked hard, kept grinding, kept trusting our fundamentals and we knew if we did that, there would be a lot of good things to come. We’ve got another big challenge ahead of us. It’s going to be a good football team we’re playing, best team we’ve played, and it’ll be a big challenge.”
“This year, we faced a little adversity, the story was a little bit different, we weren’t expected to do some of the things that we’ve done thus far, but our belief never changed,” Slater said. “We never doubted one another, and here we are.”
While it’s the third straight Super Bowl appearance for both players and the fifth overall for Slater, they said winning doesn’t get old and they never take it for granted.
“It’s why you play the game. It’s what you dream of as a little kid,” Andrews said. “There’s so many people that play this game for a long time who don’t get to experience it. I’m just fortunate to somehow find my way here, to this organization, and get to be a part of my third now.”
“It’s really remarkable what we’ve been able to do and it’s something that you really can’t take for granted,” Slater said. “We realize how blessed and fortunate we’ve been to have the ball bounce our way, to have the coin toss our way at certain points along the way, but I don’t think that it’s something that will ever be, “Oh, well this is what we do.” It’s so hard to win in this league and every opportunity you have to play in the postseason you’ve just got to be thankful for and try to make the most of it.”
The Patriots are now just the third team in NFL history to reach at least three straight Super Bowls. They’re also one postseason win away from the most all-time by a franchise.
With two weeks until Super Bowl Sunday, the team spent Monday recovering and figuring out their travel plans for the big game. Tuesday will be another day of rest before the team returns to the practice field on Wednesday and begins installing their game plan for the Rams.