The faces have changed, on both sides, but the feelings still remain.
Outside of their division mates in the NFC West whom they face twice a year, there may be no more bitter a rival for the St. Louis Rams and their fans than the New England Patriots. A rivalry born in New Orleans over a decade ago will be revisited half a world away when the Rams and Patriots meet in London this Sunday.
The game that started it all – started the rivalry, started the Patriots dynasty, started the legacy of quarterback Tom Brady – was played on Feb. 3, 2002. Super Bowl XXXVI was a meeting of two styles: the Rams, a team with a reputation of being an unstoppable offensive juggernaut, and the Patriots, a team willing to go to any length to upset that offensive flow. And although the Rams were 14-point favorites in the game, the Patriots famously tugged, scratched, held and clawed their way to a 20-17 victory on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
It’s a game and a day Brady still remembers fondly.
“Well, it was a long time ago, but it doesn’t feel like a long time ago,” Brady said. “I think life has really seemed to, kind of, sped up. That was a great time for myself and our team and what we accomplished as a team was very special. I still have really special bonds and feelings with those guys that I played with that were a part of that team. I’m really excited about this week and having the chance to play the Rams in London.”
Rams fans are equally excited about the chance to exact some revenge. Since that day in 2002, the Rams franchise has experienced very little success. The Patriots, on the other hand, went on to win championships in 2003 and 2004 while finishing runner-up for the trophy in 2007 and just last season. If the franchises were within a field goal of each other in 2002, they seem to have gone in very different directions since.
This year’s version of the team looks to be on a return path to relevance, though. There are no holdovers from that Super Bowl team – the closest the Rams will have on Sunday is former receiver Isaac Bruce cheering them from the sideline – but the current group led by Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis is seasoned enough to know the importance of the game, Patriots or otherwise.
“Absolutely,” Bradford said. “It’s a big stage, big opportunity. Obviously, playing over here, it’s going to be broadcast all over the world and we are playing the Patriots, one of, if not the most well-known team in the league. They’ve been one of the best for quite a while now so I think this is definitely a big opportunity for us.”
Winning on Sunday would go a long way toward returning the Rams to equal footing with the elite teams in the league. Doing it against the team that began that downward slide a decade ago would just be a cherry on top.