Monday, February 7, 2005

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The New England Patriots last night confirmed their status as the millennium’s first NFL dynasty, pulling away from the Philadelphia Eagles for a 24-21 victory in Super Bowl XXXIX to secure the organization’s second straight championship and third in four years.

Philadelphia didn’t fold under the pressure, but New England, as it has done so often in recent years, simply made more plays. The Patriots turned a tie game into a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter while the Eagles, occasionally seeming casual with their clock management, didn’t have enough time to come back all the way.

“I just can’t say enough about this team,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s been an unbelievable year. To think you can repeat as Super Bowl champs … it really didn’t start out as a goal of ours.”

New England coach Bill Belichick improved to 10-1 in postseason competition, moving ahead of Vince Lombardi (9-1) for the best all-time record, while Brady remains undefeated (9-0) in such games. Brady’s record also is the best ever.

Edging out Brady, a two-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, for MVP was wide receiver Deion Branch, who tied a Super Bowl record with 11 catches. Although Branch didn’t score a touchdown, he had eight receptions for 106 yards on New England’s four scoring drives.

Just one other team in the Super Bowl era, the 1992-95 Dallas Cowboys, won three titles in four years. The Chicago Bears of the 1940s and Green Bay Packers of the 1960s accomplished the feat, but not fully in the Super Bowl era.

The Patriots also are the first club to win it all back-to-back since the 1997-98 Denver Broncos, though New England players mostly shrugged off the “dynasty” moniker.

“We’re champions now,” safety Rodney Harrison said. “That’s it. I don’t know about ‘dynasty.’”

The Eagles remain without a Super Bowl title despite being widely recognized as one of the NFL’s current best organizations. Philadelphia lost in the NFC Championship game each of the previous three years.

After a week in which Jacksonville absorbed criticism as a first-time Super Bowl site, logistics at Alltel Stadium appeared to be handled extremely well and the game largely lived up to the hype.

Philadelphia’s last chance ended when quarterback Donovan McNabb was intercepted by Harrison with nine seconds left.

“It was a tough game against a good football team,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said.

The halftime show went according to plan, which is to say rock star Paul McCartney and his band stayed firmly within the bounds of good taste. The NFL was determined to avoid controversy last night after Janet Jackson’s right breast was exposed in an infamous cap to last year’s risque, MTV-produced halftime show.

Mr. McCartney played four songs, opening with “Drive My Car” and closing with “Hey Jude.” Fireworks exploded overhead accompanying “Live and Let Die.” Young fans crowded around the stage and cheered, although it is uncertain how many young viewers across the country remained tuned in to a performer so associated with 1960s and 1970s music.

Conditions for the game were clear but brisk after a sunny and windy day with a high of about 65 degrees. As is typical in North Florida in early February, temperatures dropped significantly as the sun went down, and spectators shivered and could see their breath.

Fans enjoyed generally hassle-free entry into the Alltel Stadium grounds, a year after long security lines at Houston’s Reliant Stadium had some ticket-holders waiting as long as 2 hours to enter. One couple yesterday, interviewed about three hours prior to game time, said it took just “50 seconds” to get through security.

Security wasn’t as scrutinized this year as it was for the three previous Super Bowls that followed September 11, 2001, but it remained a major factor at the riverside stadium. Coast Guard patrols along the St. Johns River and a 30-mile no-fly zone over Alltel were in effect as Jacksonville was expected to spend as much as $5 million on protecting visitors.

The pregame show included four musical performances representing a range of tastes. Country star Gretchen Wilson sang her hit “Here for the Party” and the Charlie Daniels Band followed with their famous 1979 single, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Rounding out the set were current hip-hop group the Black Eyed Peas and R&B legends Earth, Wind & Fire.

Grammy Award-winning Alicia Keys sang “America the Beautiful” with the Florida School for the Deaf, which is based in nearby St. Augustine. The performance was a tribute to recently deceased Ray Charles, who used to sing the song frequently and was shown during Miss Keys’ performance on the giant video screen at Alltel.

The national anthem was sung by a joint service choir, which included cadets from the U.S. Naval Academy, the Air Force Academy, West Point and the Coast Guard Academy. Actor Michael Douglas introduced several groups of World War II veterans prior to the performance — a tribute to the “Greatest Generation” and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, on hand to raise awareness of the tsunami relief effort, were introduced on the field during the anthem ceremony.

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