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Key dates for 2001 released

Football fans everywhere are starting to make plans for Jan. 28, when the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens will battle for the Super Bowl XXXV title in Tampa, Florida. While all gridiron fans get excited for the big game, Patriot followers may already be marking Jan. 27, 2002 down on their calendars.

The date has been set for Super Bowl XXXVI, which will be played in New Orleans. A spot in the title game next season certainly seems unlikely now, but it is not completely unfathomable.

Of the last six teams to reach the Super Bowl, including the Giants and Ravens this year, only one had a winning record the previous season. That was the Denver Broncos, who went 12-4 in their Super Bowl season of 1997 before going on to defend the championship in 1998. The Broncos opponent in 1998 was Atlanta, which finished 7-9 the previous year.

Last year's champions, the St. Louis Rams, were a lowly 4-12 in 1998. The team they defeated for the title, Tennessee, was just 8-8 two seasons ago. This years contestants, the Giants and Ravens, finished 7-9 and 8-8 respectively last year.

So while the odds seem stacked against their team now, Patriot fans are left to ponder the possibilities. With 227 days left until Kickoff Weekend for next year, here is a schedule of important NFL dates to keep in mind for the 2001 season.

**Jan. 28**Super Bowl XXXV
**Feb. 4**NFL Pro Bowl
**Feb. 8**Deadline for clubs to designate franchise and transition players
**Feb. 21** NFL Europe Draft
**Feb. 22-26**Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, Indiana
**March 1** Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to their restricted free agents whose contracts have expired and to whom they want to retain first right of refusal/compensation
**March 2**Deadline for clubs to submit offer of minimum salary to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with fewer than three seasons of free agency credit whose contracts have expired
**March 2**Veteran free agency period begins
**March 2**Trading period begins
**March 13**NFL Europe training camps open
**March 25-29**NFL Annual Meeting
**April 12**NFL Europe training camps close
**April 16**Signing period ends for restricted free agents
**April 20**Deadline for old club to exercise first right of refusal to restricted free agents
**April 21**NFL Europe season begins
**April 21-22**NFL Draft
**May 22-23**NFL Spring Meeting
**June 1**Deadline for old clubs to tender unsigned restricted free agents or to extend qualifying offers to retain exclusive negotiating rights
**June 15**Deadline for old clubs to withdraw original qualifying offer to unsigned restricted free agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting tender of 110 percent of previous year's salary
**June 23**NFL Europe regular season ends
**June 30**NFL Europe World Bowl 2001
**July 22**Signing period ends at 4 p.m. ET for unrestricted free agents who received June 1 tender
**Aug. 6**Pro Football Hall of Fame Game
**Sept. 9-10**Kickoff 2001 Weekend
**Dec. 31**Regular season ends
**2002 Key Dates**
**Jan. 5-6**Wild Card Weekend
**Jan 12-13**Divisional Playoffs
**Jan. 20**Conference Championships
**Jan. 27**Super Bowl XXXVI
**Feb. 3**Pro Bowl
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