Sunday, February 7

Super Bowl Countdown #3: Super Bowl XXXVIII

During the two weeks preceding the Super Bowl, I will be counting down the best Super Bowls I have witnessed in my lifetime, starting in 1988. I created a ranking system and will go game by game reliving each edition until the top Super Bowl is listed.

Sometimes the greatest contest come from great forces that are unknown. The Carolina Panthers are one of the least known entities in the NFL. People know they exist, but most of their knowledge comes from a stray highlight or what someone in the media blurbed about them. The Panthers have only been in existence for 15 years, but in that time they have reached the NFC Championship Game 3 times and the Super Bowl once. The Patriots entered the game winners of 14 straight and were now seen as the rising power in the NFL. Thus they were favored by a touchdown. Yet, on the biggest stage and for a brief moment in time the country knew the kind of heart, passion and drive the Panthers had. They fell short, but along with New England gave football one of it's most frantic, best Super Bowls ever. The Heater in Houston is at #3.

New England Patriots 32, Carolina Panthers 29

Semi-Lame Nickname: "Raise the Retractable Roof"

Historical Significance- 4.5: While the Patriots were going for 2 in three years, the Panthers were 1-15 just two years ago. Their paths had crossed that year, in Charlotte. I got tickets from a friend and went to Bank of America Stadium(Then Ericsson Stadium). The Patriots were a surprise team with Brady as their QB. The Panthers put forth one of the worst performances I had ever seen. Chris Weinke could not throw the ball to save his life. Carolina won 38-6 and it led to the firing of George Seifert and the hiring of John Fox. Just two years later the Panthers were in the Super Bowl.

Game Enjoyment By the Fans- 5: The game was expected to be a defensive battle throughout. Early in the game neither team could score(first points came 26:55 into the game) and that included a missed and blocked field goal from Pats kicker Adam Vinatieri. The Patriots forced a fumble from Jake Delhomme and turned it into the first points of the game. That strike to Branch seemed to ignite the offensive weapons for both sides. The Panthers awoke all of a sudden and marched down the field for a TD to Steve Smith. The Patriots bounced it right back with a TD 89 seconds later. A botched squib kick and a big run by Stephen Davis set up a 51 yard field goal from John Kasay. 24 points in the final 3 minutes and 5 seconds in the half.

The third quarter reverted back to the defensive battle with each team going scoreless. The teams exploded in the 4th for 37 points in a back and forth battle that came down to the wire.

High Profile Element-4.5: The Patriots had suffered some Super hangover in 2002 as they went 9-7 and lost on a tiebreaker for the playoffs. The two key additions to the Patriots that season were safety Rodney Harrison and big nose tackle Ted Washington. With the development of Brady and Belichick building the defense to where he wanted it, the Patriots ran the table the last 12 games of the regular season. Their final regular season game was a 31-0 win over the Bills, who had beaten them 31-0 in week 1.

The Panthers earned the nickname the "Cardiac Cats" in 2003. Jake Delhomme was not the turnover machine he was now when this season began. He was backing up Rodney Peete when the Panthers went down 17-0. Delhomme got subbed in and lead the Panthers to a 24-23 win. The Panthers went 11-5 and beat the Cowboys in the wild card round. They then defeated the Rams 29-23 in double overtime on a 69-yard touchdown. Carolina next went on the road to Philly and beat the Eagles 14-3. The Panthers gameplan was the same as it is today under Fox, run the football to set up play action and play hard-nosed defense. The Panthers also had Rod Smart as a special teamer, you may remember him as "He Hate Me" from the glorious XFL.

Venue/Atmosphere- 4.5: Reliant Stadium was the first retractable roof stadium to host the game. Beyonce sang the national anthem, yes sir. The halftime show became what people remember; Janet Jackson had her nipple exposed by Justin Timberlake. I assure you greater tragedies in life have happened. It erupted a huge controversy which led to the country wasting huge amounts of time and money on saying it was bad. You here that America, NIPPLES ARE BAD!

Personal Enjoyment- 5: This was my favorite Super Bowl. The Panthers are my 1-A team. I was a Pats fan before the Panthers existed, but I lived in Charlotte when Carolina came about. I root for them in every situation, except one: when they play the Patriots.

Cleet's Rating Index: 24

Where I Was: Some people graduate college and move straight to the desk job. I was fortunate enough to take a coaching job in Miami that allowed me to be on the water everyday and enjoy a little time to be a semi-bum. I went to a friend's house to watch the game on his big screen. It was great food, great drinks and a great game.

What Happened in the World: Two days after the game the CIA admitted there was no imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Record of Note: The 37 points in the 4th quarter were the most ever in any quarter in Super Bowl history.

Game MVP: Tom Brady set the record for completions with 32. He also had 354 yards passing with 3 TDs and 1 pick.

LVP: Anyone that says the kickoff out of bounds by John Kasay cost the Panthers the game. It certainly did not help to give the Patriots good field position, but the Patriots also got hit with an offensive pass interference penalty on the drive that set them back. The Patriots still had to drive the field and Vinatieri still had to make the kick.

Most Memorable Play: A moment that always sticks out for me was after Delhomme threw the record 85-yard TD pass to Muhammad. On his way back to the bench Rodney Harrison bumped into Jake. Delhomme went fiery Cajun on Harrison spouting some talk, I always love seeing that.

NFL Fallout: The Patriots would continue their run the next season, while the Panthers faltered. The Panthers did make it back to the NFC Championship game in 2005 but lost to Seattle. Delhomme led them to playoffs again last year but this season battled an injury and giving the other team the ball all the time. Matt Moore took over and lead the team to late season success. It appears Moore has ended the Delhomme era in Carolina.

90 not pictured

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