The quotes featured here are from the six-part podcast: 2001: A Super Bowl Sound Odyssey, featuring retrospective interviews with over 20 players, coaches, management and media members, mixed with the iconic sounds that defined the Patriots' first Super Bowl season.
The 2001 Patriots were surprisingly streaking into the playoffs. Following a mid-November loss to the reigning Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, New England reeled off six-straight wins to end the season, capturing the AFC East title and an unlikely bye for the first round of the playoffs.
Their opponent, the Oakland Raiders, had an opposite ending to the year, losing their final three games and the bye to New England, despite owning one of the most high-powered offenses in the league, featuring names like Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown at receiver, and versatile running back Charlie Garner, who had over 1,400 all-purpose yards.
After avenging a season-ending loss to the Jets by beating them in the Wild Card Round, the Raiders headed to New England for the Divisional Round and were greeted by an incoming snow storm that would come to define the historic game, soon to be dubbed "The Snow Bowl."
"I felt that we had built the team intentionally a certain way and I personally felt good going into that game," said Director of Player Personnel Scott Pioli. "I thought the Raiders were a fantastic team. I mean, I really did. They were talented. They were good. They had a really good quarterback that was playing well, but I also knew that again, we were built for what that day was like. We were built to play in bad weather on the grass."
By the time Saturday night came around, the weather lived up to the forecasts, with snow immediately complicating the evening.
"We knew it was going to be bad," said Raiders executive Michael Lombardi. "We felt like with our running game, we could run the ball. You know, you always worry about quarterbacks and that kind of weather and how they handled it, but Rich had been a cold-weather quarterback."
"I knew there was going to be some type of weather, but I didn't know it was going to be anything close to that," said Patriots offensive lineman Damien Woody. "It all just seems like it came out of a fairy tale."
The conditions hampered both teams through the first half, with the Raiders finding some success via their passing game to put together a touchdown-scoring drive early in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. But from there the game would devolve even more, as the two teams would combine for just two first downs the rest of the half.
That slow start would set the stage for one of the most memorable second halves in NFL history.
The Patriots put together a field-goal scoring drive to open the third quarter, but the Raiders countered with two field goal drives of their own to extend the Oakland lead to 13-3 as the fourth quarter began.
Needing a drive, Tom Brady and the offense would start to find their stride, putting together their first touchdown-scoring drive of the contest to cut the lead to 13-10, with Brady spiking the ball into the snow as he fell in jubilation on top of it.
That score held as the teams traded punts, setting up a potential game-sealing possession for the Raiders with just 2:41 left in the game. Charlie Garner ran for seven yards on first down, putting the Raiders just three yards away from putting the game away. He'd pick up two more on second down, setting up a 3rd-and-1 for the game, one of the biggest, and often forgotten, plays of Patriots history.
"Well, Richard Seymour beat the guard across his face so deep, the Raiders had never been stopped in short yardage up until then," said linebackers coach Rob Ryan of the pivotal play. "Crockett, you know, running the dive play every single time for a first down, but then Seymour hit him so deep and Bryan Cox finished him off. That's how we stopped them, just to get the chance to go beat them."
With the game-saving stop, the Patriots forced the Raiders to punt, and with Tom Brady and the offense getting the ball back at their own 46 with 2:06 remaining.
And just three plays later it looked like the Raiders had sealed the win.
Brady dropped back to pass and was hit by Charles Woodson, with the ball hitting the turf and ultimately recovered by Raider Greg Biekert. For a moment, it looked like it was all over for the 2001 Pats.
"I was like most people like, 'man, we just lost this game,'" said Jermaine Wiggins. "And I was so close. I was one step being away from recovering the football, but Greg Biekert beat me to the spot and he landed on it."
Up in the press box, it looked to Raiders executive Amy Trask that her team was about to move on to the AFC Championship.
"I remember reaching over and our CFO grabbed my arm and squeezed and I grabbed his arm and squeezed, and my husband was grabbing another executive," said Trask. "And then all of a sudden, I realized they're going to review this play. I think they're going to review this play."
The officials focused in on Brady's arm as he went to reload the pass, while the collective NFL universe hung the monumental decision.
"I turned around and sitting behind me was Art McNally, who was then the Director of Officiating," said Trask. "I turned around to him and I looked at him and I said, 'you better call 911 because if you overturn this f-ing call, but I didn't say f-ing, I said the word... if you overturn this call, I'm going to have an f-ing stroke."
Moments later the announcement came from referee Walt Coleman, with what was known as the Tuck Rule being invoked, deflating the Raiders' sideline and giving new life to the surging Patriots.
It was also the second time in the 2001 season the Patriots had seen a Tuck Rule call, with the call going against them earlier in the season against the Jets.
"That's the great thing about Bill [Belichick] as a coach," said Wiggins. "He prepares you for every possible situation that you could get in… He knew exactly it had happened to us, earlier in the season."
Trask noted the timing of the call was a critical part of the momentous call.
"That play happened just inside the two-minute warning and the significance of that is had it happened a few seconds earlier, game over," said Trask. "Biekert falls on the ball, it's ours. New England is out of time-outs.
"It's a game of seconds and seconds matter, and had that play happened seconds earlier, game over."
With renewed life, the Patriots continued to drive, down by a field goal with the snow continuing to fall. Three plays later they were at the Raiders' 28-yard-line, with Adam Vinatieri lining up a seemingly impossible kick through the storm.
"Adam was like, 'you know, fellas, y'all, gotta hold it down upfront,' because he was like, 'I have to kick a line drive in order for me to have any chance of making this kick,'" said Damien Woody. "We cleared off a path for him to make his kick, but we knew that we couldn't give up an inch because of the difficulty in that kick, it was just ridiculous."
"I mean, I just can't even comprehend how much snow and the thickness of the snow, that he kicked that ball from," said Mike Vrabel.
For those on the field, they were lucky if they could even see to the uprights. Up above in the press box, Scott Pioli was doing his best to see anything at all.
"I was standing right behind Ernie Adams the entire game and the infrastructure at the stadium was awful," recalled Pioli. "We couldn't have the windows open because it was snowing. And the crowd was literally right in front of us and we were just slightly above them.
"The problem was there was no air circulating so the windows were completely fogged up and I was sitting there with a towel, I had a job in there to identify personnel groupings in players, go and coming on and off the field. But I kept getting interrupted because I had to keep wiping the glass for Ernie and one of the other coaches, so we could actually see out to the field. So not only was there the blizzard, the blinding snow, but we had this layer of fog on the window that was brutal."
As Pioli would soon learn, Vinatieri's kick was true, and the greatest kick in NFL history, as the Patriots tied the game.
The Patriots and Raiders headed to overtime and the streaking Patriots would never give Oakland another chance, with a 15-play drive that Vinatieri closed out with a 23-yarder for the win that sent New England to the AFC Championship.
An uneventful game for nearly three quarters, it turned in three epic plays in the final frame that would be remembered forever, providing a final exclamation point for the Patriots first permanent home.
"I give the Patriot organization credit for what they went on to accomplish thereafter," said Trask. "A lot of teams in that situation might've won that game and not gone on to win the Super Bowl that year or continue to succeed thereafter. The Patriots deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the dynasty they built, and it starts with the Krafts and Bill Belichick."
For Belichick, the historic evening would end with a surprising nightcap with an old friend, ESPN's Chris Berman.
"As the Patriot started winning, Bills and I had a tradition that, you know, I worked late on Sunday nights and… I would leave him a voicemail after maybe not every win, but after a lot of them," recalled Berman. "We call them red lights specials, that he'd get to the office at five or four in the morning and he would notice the red light on for a couple of messages.
"[The Snow Bowl] was over at what, 11:30, midnight…. It's snowing. I'm in Connecticut doing NFL Primetime after the game… and now it's about two in the morning. I'm done and packing up to leave to go home. And I want to just leave him my usual message, congratulations.
"So I call it like 2:05 am, right? One ring. 'Patriots,' he answers the phone. 'Bill? Boomer. You're still, you're still answering the phone?' He goes, 'where am I going, Boomer? Have you looked outside?' And I said, 'Well, I'm not really going anywhere either. I'm only a hundred miles away. He goes, 'I know.' And then we talked about the game for about five minutes. I was surely not calling him to ask him questions, but we had a live discussion after 2:00 AM about that game. I'll never forget it."
20 years later, the Patriots dramatic win over the Raiders is still considered the game that sparked New England onto their six Super Bowl championships. It was an unforgettable contest featuring one of the most controversial plays in NFL history followed by the greatest kick in NFL history, all in a snowstorm.
The NFL doesn't get much better than that.
"You know, we caught a break along the way," said running back Antowain Smith. "And once that call was overturned, it was our sense that this is meant for us... And I think that just really propelled us, gave us really the confidence that man, this is our year."
2001: A Super Bowl Sound Odyssey
An aural history of the 2001 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. The six-part podcast features interviews with over 20 players, coaches, media members and others who were there to witness this historic season, mixed with the iconic sounds that detailed every dramatic twist and turn of an unforgettable season. Every memorable moment from the 2001 Patriots season is revisited with new-found perspective 20 years later. It's a fresh and thorough look back at the team that started a football dynasty.