JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 6 -- When the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots reported to training camp in Foxboro, Mass., last July, they were greeted by signs that read: "Don't Believe The Hype."
Now, seven months later, they can.
Coach Bill Belichick and his dad are doused in the closing seconds of New England's 24-21 victory over the Eagles.
(David J. Phillip - AP)
The Patriots won their third Super Bowl in four years tonight at Alltel Stadium, beating the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21. New England joins Green Bay, Oakland/Los Angeles, and the Washington Redskins as a three-time Super Bowl winner. San Francisco and Dallas have won five and Pittsburgh four.
In addition, the game's broadcast, which attracts around 140 millions viewers annually, managed to skirt the kind of controversy that resulted in indecency fines for Viacom and its CBS subsidiary last year. Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction wasn't to be repeated with sexagenarian former Beatle Paul McCartney keeping sex out of his performance. Instead, McCartney sang a medley of his hits, each of which was more than 30 years old.
This year, the halftime show didn't upstage the Patriots. They joined the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s as the only two teams to have won three Super Bowl championships in four seasons and cemented their status as the first National Football League dynasty of the new millennium, even if their head coach, Bill Belichick, has never seemed to care much for the term.
"We started at the bottom of the mountain this year and we're thrilled to finish at the top," said Belichick, the 52-year-old son of a longtime Naval Academy football coach who grew up in Annapolis. "I'll leave the comparisons and the historical perspectives to every one else."
Belichick soared into rarified air, becoming the most successful coach in playoff history with a 10-1 record, breaking a tie with Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Belichick becomes the fourth coach with at least three Super Bowl championships. Chuck Noll of the Steelers, who won four, and Joe Gibbs of the Redskins and Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, with three apiece, are the others.
"You join the elite teams in the history of the NFL," said Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as he presented the Lombardi Trophy, awarded annually to the Super Bowl champion, to Patriots owner Robert Kraft. "As I give you the Lombardi Trophy, I suspect Vince Lombardi would have a deep admiration of how your team played in these three Super Bowl championships."
Lombardi had Bart Starr, a Hall of Famer who won nine straight playoff games as the Packers' starting quarterback, and Belichick has Tom Brady. In only his fifth season and fourth as a starter, Brady, 27, had another brilliant performance, completing 23 of 33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The performance came after a tough week for Brady, who learned Wednesday night that his 94-year-old grandmother, Margaret Brady, had died after suffering a stroke several weeks ago in San Francisco.
Brady, the Super Bowl's most valuable player in 2002 and 2004, is 9-0 in the playoffs, and for a second straight Super Bowl he had a lot of help. A year ago, Deion Branch caught 10 passes for 143 yards in the Patriots' 32-29 victory over Carolina. On Sunday night, the 5-foot-9 wide receiver was equally effective, with 11 catches for 133 yards, tying a Super Bowl record for receptions on a cool, clear evening when New England's defense also forced four Philadelphia turnovers. A third MVP award was not in the cards for Brady, though, who was trying to join Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers as the only three-time winner. Branch was named this game's MVP.
That success has made swagger synonymous with Boston, what with the Patriots winning the Super Bowl last February, the Red Sox winning the World Series in October and the Patriots making a victorious return to the Super Bowl. Only Pittsburgh, in 1979 and 1980, had given fans two Super Bowls, with the Steelers, sandwiched around a World Series victory by the Pirates.
Thousands of fans from Boston and Philadelphia headed for this northern Florida city in hopes of securing a ticket for the event, making it even more of a scalper's market. Each team only received 17,500 tickets for the game, and both distributed them through a lottery system to season ticket holders.
Eagles fans appeared to outnumber Patriots fans. Playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 24 years, the Eagles were trying to win their first NFL title since 1960 and the city's first in any sport since 1983. The Philadelphia 76ers were the last to win a pro title, winning the National Basketball Association championship in 1983. That is the longest drought of any city with teams in all four major North American team sports.
The only suspense of Super Bowl week had surrounded the Eagles and their stellar receiver, Terrell Owens. Acquired from the San Francisco 49ers to help the Eagles get to the Super Bowl, Owens had been sidelined since injuring his ankle on Dec. 19 and undergoing surgery. Playing against his surgeon's advice, he caught nine passes for 122 yards, including one for 36 yards.
"My hat goes off to the New England Patriots," Owens said. "We're a good team. It was a hard-fought ball game. . . . Anybody knows you can't win with turnovers. We just didn't take care of the ball. We made too many mistakes."
Still, the Eagles were close until the very end. The Patriots had to recover an onside kick late in the fourth quarter and have Rodney Harrison intercept a pass with nine seconds left to preserve a victory that had gotten far closer than Belichick would have preferred when the Eagles' Greg Lewis caught a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute 48 seconds left in the game.
But close wasn't enough against this dynasty.