Rams and Patriots ready to rumble
St Louis Rams are preparing to take on the New England Patriots in the annual international NFL match at Wembley on Sunday.
When the New England Patriots beat the mighty St Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI 10 years ago it was one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NFL's showpiece game.
The Patriots' Bill Belichick was in his second season as a head coach, one year removed from a 5-11 record.
His quarterback was a young Tom Brady, an unheralded sixth-round draft pick, thrust into the team when Drew Bledsoe burst a blood vessel in the second week of the season as the team were sinking to 0-2.
To reach the Super Bowl was unlikely enough. Nobody was giving them a chance against a Rams team dubbed 'The Greatest Show on Turf'.
But a new age dawned as the Patriots won 20-17. Power shifted, and the last decade has passed very differently in St Louis and New England.
The Patriots won two more Super Bowls as Belichick and Brady built a perpetual contender that has reached the playoffs in eight of the past 10 seasons.
The Rams snuck into the play-offs twice more before everything unravelled, but never again has their team carried the same aura.
The two teams meet at Wembley on Sunday for the third time since that famous night in New Orleans, as evenly matched as they have been since 2002.
This season, the Patriots have stumbled to a 4-3 record while the Rams see cause for hope in their 3-4 mark.
It is exactly the kind of match-up the Wembley series needs in its sixth year.
The novelty value is gone, and fans need something more to keep them engaged.
From next year, they will have annual visits from the Jacksonville Jaguars to look forward to - not the most stylish of teams, but at least a common element for fans to hang their hat on and watch develop.
That role was supposed to belong to the Rams, owned by Arsenal chairman Stan Kroenke, but they withdrew from the deal to focus on stadium redevelopment.
One visit will have to do, but it is well-timed as they begin their re-birth.
"This is an opportunity for us to spread the word," said coach Jeff Fisher. "As I like to say, the Rams are back."
The Patriots do not need a revival. They are just trying to see how long they can keep this going.
At 35, Brady's best days might be behind him, but he remains as driven as ever.
"He continues to improve," Belichick said. "As a player each week is a different challenge for him. There are always new things to get a read on. He's very diligent, always looking for the little things that may prove an edge."
The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years starting in New Orleans, but have lost twice in the big game since -including last season - something that keeps Brady hungry.
"Sometimes you have to experience difficulties and challenges in order to move forward and be better at what you're doing," he said.
"I don't think you ever get over really important losses. They stick in your mind, but at the same time you don't let them affect what you're doing."
For Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, 11 years Brady's junior, Brady remains a role model.
"He's one of if not the best quarterback in the league," Bradford said. "He's been playing at a high level for a long time and any time you turn on the tape and watch him, it's very evident he's in total control."
If Brady's work ethic is admirable, it pales in comparison to that of his coach.
Belichick borders on the obsessive, even though he has occasionally crossed the line - 2007's 'Spygate' scandal involving Patriots assistants illegally taping practice sessions of other teams will remain a stain on his legacy.
Coaching keeps him young and he shows no sign of slowing now he is in his 60s.
"I enjoy what I'm doing, I love the game of football," he said.
"I love every aspect of coaching."
Belichick's total commitment rubs off on his players.
"He's the only coach I've ever played for and the only coach I ever want to play for," Brady said.
"Nobody works harder at this job than coach Belichick and what he brings in terms of preparation every single week, his commitment to the team, is exceptional."
The rewards have been an exceptional record of success and a surefire place in the Hall of Fame one day. But nothing lasts forever, certainly not in the NFL.
The Rams have not beaten the Patriots since Super Bowl XXXVI.
If they can change that on Sunday, perhaps this will come to be seen as a game where power changed hands once more.
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