Having debuted as a charter member of the American Football League in 1960, the Patriots have been playing on Sundays for more than 50 years. And, lest young fans of the club forget, not all eras in Patriots' history were as successful as this particular stretch of merciless, unrelenting excellence helmed by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
These Belichick-Brady Patriots are making their fifth Super Bowl appearance in 11 years. However, the franchise managed just two visits to football's biggest game for the balance of its existence. The first of those earlier Super Bowl visits came in 1986 when the team was relegated to supporting actor status in the climactic scenes of a dominant season by the Chicago Bears. The other Super Bowl berth came in 1996.
The arrival of Bill Parcells in Foxboro in 1993 was not only the first step down toward that '96 Super Bowl but was truly the beginning of the club's ascendance into the upper echelon of NFL teams. Certainly, the quarterback that Parcells started in Super Bowl XXXI, Drew Bledsoe, has a prominent role to play in the creation myth of this current team. After all, it was an injury to Bledsoe that propelled the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft -- an unathletic quarterback out of the University Michigan named Tom Brady -- into the starting lineup in the autumn of 2001.
From there, well, you probably know the rest of the story.
Here are highlights from each of the Patriots' previous Super Bowl appearances. Re-live each game's key moments and vote for the most memorable performance.
The Patriots didn't have a very easy draw in their first Super Bowl ever, taking on a Chicago Bears squad that is widely considered to be one of the best teams in NFL history. The Patriots entered the game a Cinderalla team of sorts, having begun the season losing three of their first five games before getting on track. The Bears had demolished their competition on their way to a 17-1 record entering the contest. For obvious reasons the game was deemed to be a David vs. Goliath affair prior to kick off, and once the ball was kicked off, Goliath would absolutely run away with the game. The latter day Monsters of the Midway left no doubt in the final outcome demolishing the overmatched Patriots by a score of 46-10 in one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history.
The franchise's second trip to the Super Bowl would prove more successful than their first. In other words, the Pats would keep this game within 20 points. Playing against Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre in the prime of his career, the Patriots entered the game as underdogs. Although the Packers boasted future Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball, it would be a special teams player that would rule the day. Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard would become the first return man to be named Super Bowl MVP as a result of his 99-yard kick off return for touchdown that would seal the 35-21 victory for Green Bay.
Again entering the Super Bowl as underdogs, the Patriots would score an upset that would start a dynastic run through the NFL. Not only did St. Louis boast the top offense and one of the best defenses in the NFL, but the Patriots were led by a mostly untested second-year quarterback named Tom Brady. New England surprised many by dictating the pace of the game, holding a 17-3 leading entering the fourth quarter. But the Rams would battle back, tying the game at 17-17 with just 1:30 remaining in the contest. It was at this point Brady would take his first step towards immortality, leading his team on an 8-play, 53-yard drive capped off by a 48-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to win the game.
The Patriots' second Super Bowl victory would prove to be every bit as thrilling and memorable as their first. New England would face off against an upstart Carolina Panthers squad that had finished with a 1-15 record a season earlier. The back-and-forth contest would see the game tied at 29-29 with just 1:09 remaining, making it seem as though this would be the first ever Super Bowl to go into overtime. But Tom Brady was no stranger to this situation, and once again led his team on a drive that would be capped off by a 41-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal to win New England its second Super Bowl in three years.
The Patriots and Eagles would meet in the Super Bowl after securing the distinction of being the top seeded teams in their respective conferences. The Patriots appeared to have the game sewn up after going up by 10 points with less than 9 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles would embark on a comeback bid that would ultimately come up short, with Donovan McNabb throwing the game-sealing interception with 9 seconds remaining. New England would win its third Super Bowl by a final score of 24-21.
So in case you haven't heard, the Giants and Patriots actually played in a Super Bowl against each other before...and it was pretty good. The Patriots entered the game undefeated and as big favorites to defeat the Giants, who barely made the playoffs. Unfortunately for Tom Brady and company, nobody gave New York the memo that they had no business in this game. The Giants would play New England close throughout and would ultimately win the contest on a late fourth quarter drive that stands as amongst the most dramatic and improbable in NFL history.