On the night of February 3, 2002, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady was just a young quarterback that the nation expected to be overmatched in Super Bowl 36. The New England Patriots were a surprise story in winning the AFC Championship, but the St. Louis Rams of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk were The Greatest Show On Turf. The Rams were a (-14) favorite to win their second Super Bowl in three years. Instead, the unheralded Brady led a drive for a last-second field goal to pull the 20-17 upset. A Golden Boy and a Dynasty were born, and Brady was named Super Bowl MVP.
The only problem with this story is that Ty Law rightfully deserved MVP honors in the game that officially launched Patriot Dynasty.
New England was a team that relied on its defense and in particular a secondary, that had Pro Bowlers in cornerback Law and safety Lawyer Milloy. To the extent anyone gave the Patriots a chance against the Rams—and few did—those chances were all predicated on Brady simply managing the game, avoiding mistakes and giving the defense a chance against Warner & Faulk.
That’s exactly how it played out. Brady finished with pedestrian numbers of 16/27 for 145 yards. But there were no mistakes, while Warner was intercepted twice. An overall turnover edge of 3-0 helped the Patriots get a 17-3 lead and the game was tied 17-17 late in the game, when they drove for Adam Vinateri’s game-winning field goal.
The biggest part of this game was the second quarter when New England scored two touchdowns and took a 14-3 lead. And the first of those touchdowns was delivered by the defense. Law picked off Warner and went 47 yards to the house for the first Patriot score. That defensive touchdown was the ultimate difference in the game.
It’s not always easy to pick a defensive player as a Super Bowl MVP. To begin with, the context of how the voting takes place works against it. Writers covering the game are asked to submit their votes at the same time they’re getting ready to go down to the field and do their actual jobs. It’s a chaotic environment and not at all conducive to any real reflection.
I experienced this firsthand when I was in the press box for college football’s Capital One Bowl following the 2006 season. Wisconsin was playing Arkansas and the Badgers won a hard-fought 17-14 game. The defense was clearly the story, but as everybody was moving about their business, I was trying to think of a player from the Badger defense that had clearly stood out. There wasn’t one, at least without looking at film.
I ended up voting for Arkansas running back Felix Jones, who had a 76-yard touchdown run and 150 yards overall, on the grounds that the game would never have been close without him. And I could certainly understand why other writers just scribbled the name of Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco onto their slip of paper. Stocco won the award.
But the same kind of slack can’t be given to the writers who were voting at the end of Super Bowl 36. The first thing going through everyone’s mind when they made their decisions should have been “Patriot defense.” The second thought becomes finding an individual player to honor that defense through. Fortunately, we have a player who had a Pick-6 and should have been at the top of everyone’s mind. If there was any lingering doubt, you glance at the final stat sheet, see how average Brady’s numbers were and it’s a done deal. Ty Law gets the individual honor and Brady is a nice story.
It should have worked out that way but it didn’t. To be clear, I’m a huge fan of Tom Brady and there’s no hidden agenda of a Patriot-hater at work here. The only thing at work is a desire for good decisions to be made on these awards that shape players’ ultimate legacies. And Ty Law’s legacy should include Super Bowl 36 MVP.