The second game of the semifinals features two of the most explosive and talent-laden teams in Patriots history, Chuck Fairbanks' 1976 team and Bill Parcells' 1996 AFC Champs. Who better to comment on this game than the man that called every game for both teams, the esteemed radio voice of the Patriots Gil Santos.
"I think a game between these two teams would be extremely close," offered Santos. "Steve Grogan was a terrific leader [for the '76 Patriots] and they had a great tight end in Russ Francis. Bill Parcells' '96 team with Drew Bledsoe and Curtis Martin was a very good team. I really couldn't pick one team over the other; they're that close."
After battling through a scoreless first quarter both teams finally get on the scoreboard. Sugar Bear Hamilton sacks Drew Bledsoe knocking the ball loose in the process. The '76 Pats recover and Grogan quickly converts the turnover with a 30-yard strike to wide receiver Darryl Stingley.
Parcells' crew then evens the score after taking advantage of a bizarre play. Sam Cunningham picks up good yardage on a sweep but is engulfed by a horde of tacklers near the right sideline. As the play winds down the ball suddenly rolls free amid the pile of bodies. An alert Willie Clay scoops up the loose pigskin and streaks for the end zone. Stingley finally catches up to him and forces him out of bounds just shy of the goal line.
The '76 Patriots sideline erupts in protest that Cunningham was already out of bounds when the fumble occurred. A replay supports their argument but since they are the home team by benefit of being the higher seed the game is being played under the rules from their era, thus no instant replay to reverse calls. Martin plows over from a yard out and the game is tied 7-7.
The '76 Pats close out the half by scoring 10 unanswered points only to see a whipped up '96 Patriots team take control of the game in the third quarter. Parcells' club forces three '76 Pats' turnovers, and Bledsoe converts them into 13 points to put his club in front for the first time in the game.
With only five minutes left in the game a Tom Tupa punt is downed on the '76 Pats 5-yard line, leaving them 95 yards away from the go-ahead score.
Displaying the leadership that would make him one of the franchise's all-time great quarterbacks, Grogan leads his team downfield in the most impressive drive of the tournament.
Twice he hits Randy Vataha for good gains and then he finds Cunningham out of the backfield for 17 yards. With barely a minute left to play Sam Bam bursts through the a hole on the right side and goes in for the touchdown that decides the game. Bledsoe's last desperation throw sails out of the end zone and the '76 Pats come away with a hard-fought 24-20 victory.
The stage is now set. The Cinderella 1976 Patriots will meet the 2001 World Champion Patriots to decide the mythical title. Cinch up your chin straps for this one, it should be a classic.
Schaefer Stadium, Foxboro, MA
|1996 New England Patriots||0||7||13||0||-||20|
|1976 New England Patriots||0||17||0||7||-||24|
NE '76-Grogan 30 pass to Stingley (J.Smith kick) 14:50
NE '96-C.Martin 1 run (Vinatieri kick) 12:44
NE '76-FG J.Smith 36 9:42
NE '76-Cunningham 4 run (J.Smith kick) 1:19
NE '96-FG Vinatieri 42 13:19
NE '96-Glenn 9 pass from Bledsoe (Vinatieri kick) 10:31
NE '96-FG Vinatieri 23 5:29
NE '76-Cunningham 17 run (J.Smith) 1:13
|**NE '96**||**NE '76**|
NE '96-C.Martin 10-39, Meggett 6-19
NE '76-Cunningham 16-128, A.Johnson 19-37, Grogan 5-21
NE '96-Glenn 8-79, Jefferson 6-63, Coates 6-49, C.Martin 1-4
NE '76-Francis 5-69, Cunningham 3-29, A.Johnson 3-26, Stingley 3-54,
Vataha 2-43, Briscoe 1-26
NE '96-Bledsoe 21-42-0-195, 1 TD
NE '76-Grogan 17-23-2-247, 1 TD
NE '96-Bledsoe 1, C.Martin 1
NE '76-Grogan 2, Cunningham 1, Phillips 1
NE '96-McGinest 1, Clay 1, Reynolds 1
NE '76-Barnes 1, Briscoe 1, Lunsford 1
NE '96-Law 1-3, Clay 1-0
NE '96-Bruschi 1
NE '76-McGee 2, Adams 1, Hamilton 1
MVP: Sam Cunningham NE '76