- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

HOUSTON — The New England Patriots survived a late rally by the Carolina Panthers and won Super Bowl XXXVIII 32-29 to secure their second championship in three years, a 15th straight victory and a place in history.

Where a second Super Bowl victory in three years puts the mostly anonymous Patriots, whose teamwork and resiliency have made them the face of a new generation, among the ranks of the NFL’s greatest teams can be debated.

The Patriots outweigh few teams in terms of star power, but last night proved the most accurate definition of “team.”

No team since the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins won as many consecutive games. Given the parity created by the NFL’s salary cap and free agency, there has been talk New England might be the modern version of a dynasty.

“However you want to categorize it, go ahead,” linebacker Tedy Bruschi said in a jubilant locker room. “All I know is, we’re a team. Fifteen in a row speaks for itself. If we had a game next week, we’d be focused on winning it.”

Fitting with the distinction of a “modern” dynasty, the Patriots were anything but dominant. Victory wasn’t secure until quarterback Tom Brady led a pair of scoring drives in the final minutes and kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 41-yard field goal with four seconds remaining.

Brady was named Super Bowl MVP for a second time in his young career by completing 32 of 48 passes for 354 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He more than doubled the 145 yards he threw for in winning MVP honors two years ago.

“He has worked himself into one of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League,” Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli said. “His hard work, dedication … Tom’s a special guy.”

Vinatieri, who earlier missed a 31-yard field goal and had another attempt blocked, reinforced his reputation as the league’s best clutch kicker. Two years ago, his 48-yarder as time expired beat the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

“We never give up, never lose poise as a team,” cornerback Ty Law said. “We look to each other for support.”

Carolina, which reached the Super Bowl after going 1-15 just two seasons ago, twice rallied in the fourth quarter, the first time taking a 22-21 lead and the second time tying the game at 29-29 with 1:08 remaining. But the Panthers’ respected defense couldn’t stop Brady from driving 37 yards to set up the winning score.

Panthers running back Stephen Davis, who starred for the Washington Redskins before being cut last spring, was disappointing. After a career season, Davis rushed for just 49 yards on 13 carries and wasn’t much of a factor.

The halftime show brought controversy. The right breast of headliner Janet Jackson popped out as she closed the performance while CBS was on-air. The network later issued a formal apology.

“CBS deeply regrets the incident that occurred during the Super Bowl halftime show,” the statement read. “We attended all rehearsals throughout the week, and there was no indication that any such thing would happen. The moment did not conform to CBS broadcast standards, and we would like to apologize to anyone who was offended.”

Keeping with the wild atmosphere, a streaker sneaked onto the field just before the second-half kickoff. The man initially was dressed as a referee. After stripping down to a pair of skimpy undergarments, he managed to dance around the field for 20 or more seconds, though the incident was not caught on television. He eventually was removed by security.

The first Super Bowl in a retractable-roof stadium was played indoors even though the NFL planned all week to have the roof open. A 30 percent chance of rain threatened as gametime approached, and at about noon, the league issued a release that the roof would stay open only for pregame festivities. After a flyover, the roof was closed for the game.

Among the performers before the game were country singers Toby Keith and Willie Nelson and rock group Aerosmith. Josh Groban sang in honor of the astronauts who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia exactly one year earlier, and pop star Beyonce Knowles, a Houston native, sang the national anthem.

Besides Miss Jackson, the halftime show included Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Nelly rapping a montage that included Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” while Kid Rock belted out his hit, “Cowboy.” Miss Jackson was joined by surprise guest Justin Timberlake for her finale.

Gates opened about 4 hours before kickoff to ease lines at security, but the plan didn’t work as well as expected. A number of fans griped about long lines as they entered the stadium, and some claimed they had been in line as much as 2 hours.

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