The similarities are obvious. So are the contrasts.
Adam Timmerman is a two-time All-Pro guard for the St. Louis Rams, who were prohibitive favorites to win Super Bowl XXXVI. Grant Williams is a part-time offensive tackle for the New England Patriots, who was thrust into the game when the starting left tackle, Matt Light, went down with an injury.
The St. Louis Rams, winners of Super Bowl XXXIV, came into the season with high expectations. With a high-octane offense, and a vastly improved defensive scheme and an upgrade in defensive personnel, the Rams were the team to beat.
The New England Patriots, with a 5-11 record in 2000, stumbled out of the gate. They had suffered the preseason death of Coach Dick Rehbein, then started 0-2, and, in the process, lost their starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, to injury.
The Rams moved through their season with dispatch, scoring early and often. The Patriots lumbered through game after game, staying close till the fourth quarter, and then finding a way to win.
The Rams and the Patriots played once during the season, at Foxboro, on November 18. The Rams racked up nearly 500 yards of offense and won the game, 24-17.
Ironically, that was the last game the Patriots lost.
Reeling off 8 straight victories, including the playoff game against Oakland that will become an NFL classic, the Patriots chose to be introduced at the Super Bowl as a team, rather than as an offensive or defensive unit. "It was the way we did it all year," said Williams.
The early part of the game was key, for both teams. "Coach Belichick showed us film of how often the Rams scored early, "Williams stated. "It was always the same. The other team would fumble, there'd be an interception, and boom, the Rams were on the board and running away. We knew we needed to stay away from turnovers."
It wasn't the Patriots who committed the early turnovers, it was the Rams. "We usually come out smoking in the first quarter, "said Timmerman. "We scored a lot of points in the first quarter during the season. We hurt ourselves with turnovers, not capitalizing on mistakes, and penalties in key spots. We moved the ball early, but didn't get in the end zone, and it seems those are the kind of games you end up on the wrong side of the score."
That's exactly the way it would turn out, although at half-time, with the Patriots leading 14-3, neither Timmerman nor Williams thought the game was in any way over.
"At half-time, we were still confident," said Timmerman. "We talked about adjustments we needed to make. We felt we could score."
In the other locker room, the Patriots were far from over-confident. "No one thought we already had the game won," said Williams. "We know we're not the type of team that finishes off people early. But it was exactly the position we wanted to be in. We wanted to go into the 4th quarter with a lead, and then just run the ball."
It was in the 3rd quarter that Timmerman began to feel the urgency. "The pace of the game had slowed to what we're not used to. The clock started ticking down too fast."
Williams had a different perspective. In the third quarter, "the clock was moving way too slowly."
In the 4th quarter, the Rams had some decent drives, but it was "a little too late" said Timmerman.
And then came the drive that led to the winning field goal off the foot of Adam Vinatieri. "We were going no-huddle, "said Williams. "We were trying to communicate up front, on the line, picking up our assignments. And then the ball would be snapped, and we'd line up again. There's really no time to check to see where you are on the field. Everything is just happening. I didn't even realize where we were on the field. I was exhausted, and then I saw Vinatieri coming out, and I thought, Wow, are we in field goal range?'"
The kick was good, the game was over and the season was complete. The Patriots became the NFL champions.
And next year? The Rams face of task of gearing up to get back to the Super Bowl. Timmerman knows how difficult it is to lose the Super Bowl, having lost to the Denver Broncos while a member of the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII. "It's tough to bounce back. Getting to the Super Bowl and not winning is mentally tough to rebound from. It's so much different than going to the NFC Championship game and losing. That's motivational. It's like being one game away. Losing the Super Bowl is very hard to come back from. You've got all those games staring you in the face all over again."
There'll be an entirely different pressure on the Patriots next year. Timmerman knows about that as well, having won Super Bowl XXXI with the Packers, and Super Bowl XXXIV with the Rams. "It's tough to re-inflate, even when you win. There are whole new challenges."
Williams, who is a free agent and might not return to New England, knows that if he does, next year will be different. "All year long, the coaches told us no one expected us to win. We used that as motivation. Next year they'll have to come up with something else. We'll have to start all over. There'll be a different pressure. We'll have a new stadium. And I don't know how Tom Brady could have a better year than the one he had this year."
The similarities are obvious. So are the contrasts. The greatest similarity between Timmerman and Williams is that life is bigger than football. In fact, life is bigger even than the Super Bowl. Both have a strong faith in God.
Timmerman knows that win or lose, there are things of greater consequence. "My faith keeps me on an even keel. I know God loves me whether we won or lost. I don't put Him in the middle. I simply pray for focus, and for health."
"I'm just thankful toward God," Williams said, "It's only because of Him I'm able to be here, to have had the ability and opportunity to play in a Super Bowl. For me, it's not about how much you make or how much playing time you get. It's about making the most of what Give gives you. I wasn't supposed to play a down in the NFL, and I just won a Super Bowl! I'm thankful for that."
Two football players. Both linemen. Both believers. Both winners.