The NFL family lost a beloved and legendary person Tuesday with the passing of John Madden.
Few people have had more of an impact on a single sport than Madden, who was an all-time great in so many areas, most notably as head coach of the Oakland Raiders and a color analyst for various television networks.
His longtime play-by-play partner was Pat Summerall, another football legend. You knew it was an important game if these two men were in the broadcast booth.
Summerall and Madden did many Super Bowls together, and one of the most memorable was a matchup between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI at the end of the 2001 NFL season.
The Patriots started out great, earning a 14-3 halftime lead after Tom Brady's first career Super Bowl touchdown pass to wide receiver David Patten.
Brady found Patten in "the perfect spot", Madden said.
The Rams battled back, though, and tied the score 17-17 with 1:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.
When the Patriots got the ball at their own 17-yard line, Madden explained what he would've done in that scenario.
“With no timeouts, I think that the Patriots, with this field position, you have to just run the clock out,” Madden said. “You have to play for overtime now. I don’t think you want to force anything here. You don’t want to do anything stupid because you have no timeouts and you’re backed up.”
Now, it's easy in hindsight to chuckle at that statement based on what Brady and the Patriots have accomplished over the last 20 years. But at the time, it was a view that made a lot of sense and likely was shared by many of the millions of people watching. The Patriots had no timeouts, very little time and an inexperienced quarterback going up against a top-tier defense.
But early in the drive, after the Patriots picked up a first down to about the Rams' 30-yard line, Madden praised Brady's poise under pressure.
“This guy is really cool though,” Madden said with 41 seconds left on the clock. “I’ve been impressed watching Tom Brady on film and television games and so on, but the way he's played in this game today, he has been very, very impressive with his calmness.”
Madden was not afraid to admit he was wrong about the Patriots' approach after they marched into Rams territory. It was a refreshing display of humility.
“This is amazing,” Madden said. “This is something, and I will admit as a coach and as an analyst, I don’t think they should have done. But they had the guts, they have a young quarterback and they did it. They were backed up inside their own 20-yard line and had no timeouts left. They're calling these plays, and not only calling these plays but making these plays. At some point, when you’re in the Super Bowl, you have to let it all hang out, and I’ll say this -- Charlie Weis and this Patriots team, they are letting it all hang out.”
Once the Patriots got into field goal range to set up Adam Vinatieri's eventual game-winning kick from 48 yards out, Madden gave one of the most memorable lines of his career.
"I'll tell you, what Tom Brady just did, gives me goosebumps."
For Madden, who had been around football for many decades and seen some of the greatest players and games first hand, to say that about a second-year quarterback like Brady was pretty special. It gave the moment and what Brady had just accomplished a real sense of historical significance. It was a great line that will forever be part of the Patriots' history.
This game also was the final Super Bowl with Summerall and Madden together on the call. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another as the Patriots went on to win five more Super Bowl titles in the next 17 years.