When the Kansas City Chiefs face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, they will aim to become the eighth franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowl titles in NFL history.
NFL Network analysts Willie McGinest and Scott Pioli know a little something about repeating as Super Bowl champions, seeing how both were with the last team to accomplish the feat -- the New England Patriots of 2003 (Super Bowl XXXVIII) and '04 (Super Bowl XXXIX). During those two seasons, McGinest played a major role on the field as an outside linebacker on the Patriots' dominant defense, while Pioli was the team's vice president of player personnel.
Ahead of Super Bowl LV, McGinest and Pioli discuss the challenges they faced in the Pats' pursuit of a repeat. Plus, they weigh in on the Chiefs' chances to lift the Lombardi Trophy for the second straight year.
No rest (or extended celebrations) for the weary
McGinest: You have to remember that we didn't make the playoffs in 2002, the season after we won Super Bowl XXXVI. So after the '03 Super Bowl, we understood how hard it was to get back to it and that nothing we had just accomplished would translate over to the next year.
Pioli: There's no time to rest. For teams that play in the Super Bowl, there's this duality of work going on in the home stretch of the season: You're focused on trying to win games each week ... but also preparing for the offseason. So almost immediately after the Super Bowl ends, you have to fully immerse yourself into player acquisitions and end-of-the-season evaluations.
From a personnel standpoint, it's very bittersweet. You know nothing remains the same year over year, because each player is a year older -- some are entering their primes and others coming out of them -- and, of course, there are salary cap casualties. We knew the roster we won with this time wasn't going to be good enough the next year with every other team getting better.
A moment I will never forget was after we won our first championship in the 2001 season, Bill Belichick and I were huddled together on the flight home the very next day putting together a list of five players under contract who we'd make available for the 2002 NFL Expansion Draft. We all know the NFL is a business, but I'll tell you, there are parts that really suck. This was one.
McGinest: The 17-week regular season and additional month-plus of the postseason really wears on you physically and, perhaps more than anything, mentally. By mid-February, most of the league has already had time to be away from the game and rest, but we had to reset quickly.
It's extremely hard to do, especially when you're coming off a Super Bowl win. There's the parade and guys are planning trips, parties and celebrating for much of the spring. And look, it's hard not to succumb to the Super Bowl hangover because players work their entire careers to win it, so it's definitely worth celebrating the accomplishment. But you quickly learn to not stay at the party too long.
Reconstructing the roster
Pioli: After we identified our needs for the upcoming 2004 NFL season, the next step was to know which market to tap into -- free agency, trades or the draft -- for each position. We knew running back was a big need of ours and that Corey Dillon wanted out of Cincinnati. We asked the Bengals for permission to have trade conversations with Corey and his agent, Steve Feldman (also the agent for Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, whom we had signed the year prior), and wanted to keep this pursuit quiet to the rest of the league. So, Bill and I got in the car and drove from Foxborough to Rocky Hill, Connecticut, and met Corey and Steve at a Residence Inn. We fell in love with Corey, but told him we couldn't handle his salary on our payroll. His response told us everything we needed to know about him:
"I don't care what I get paid. I just want to win football games."
We signed Corey at an affordable rate and were able to spread money across the team. He joined the '04 Patriots and rushed for 1,600 yards that season. Incredible.
McGinest: As a player, you have no control over the changes the team undergoes in the offseason, so all you can do is stay dedicated to your own training and let the front office handle the rest. Defensively, we knew our core was going to stay in place with guys like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour and Ty Law, so we had to continue to set the standard.
Pioli: Willie's right. We did have our defensive core in place, but there was also a lot of turnover along the defensive line, as we lost our starting nose tackle Ted Washington, defensive ends Rick Lyle and Bobby Hamilton, and DL Anthony Pleasant. So we looked to the draft for a big body in the middle of the D-line and we ended up nabbing Vince Wilfork, who became an integral part of our defense for years. And luckily, we didn't expect most of our draft picks -- with the exception of Wilfork, due to the significant turnover -- to contribute in a major way in 2004 because we had a good veteran team, which allowed those players time to develop.
Moments of doubt during regular season?
McGinest: We never thought about losing or the possibility of losing. We worked tirelessly to make sure we were as prepared as possible each week, and fortunately, everyone in the building was on the same page about that. If there was ever any stress, it was felt during the preparation period because, naturally, you didn't want to be the player or the unit to let anybody down. It was like this every day and every week from Week 1 through the Super Bowl.
Pioli: Along those lines, we as an organization never thought, Are we going to make it back to the Super Bowl? We knew we had a good team, so we knew if we focused on each game, we had a good chance at winning the division and making the tournament.
I will say, there was a period at the end of October when we lost or two starting cornerbacks, Ty Law and Tyrone Poole, to injury. Stepping in at the position were second-year pro Asante Samuel, undrafted rookie free agent Randall Gay, practice squad player Earthwind Moreland and veteran wide receiver Troy Brown. It's pretty amazing when you look back at that group, but those guys took the challenge head on and rose to the occasion.
Super Bowl XXXIX: Lifting the Lombardi ... again!
McGinest: Just because you've won before doesn't mean you'll automatically do it again. The thing that is advantageous for teams and/or players who've been to the big game before is you're familiar with everything that comes along with the Super Bowl, mainly outside distractions like the media, getting tickets and reservations for family and friends and going to events along with game preparation. This year is a little different due to the pandemic but the game is still elevated to an unmatched level. If you're able to bear down and keep the most important thing (the game) in perspective, which is what we were able to do, a repeat can certainly happen. Repeating as champions was really special, and there was the feeling around the locker room that we could do it because of the chemistry and cohesiveness of our team.
Pioli: Looking back on the repeat seasons, I am most proud of the overall process we went through as an organization. Every department did its part, from the coaching staff to players, training staff and player development, but what made it so great is just how difficult it is to win one title, let alone back-to-back Lombardis. I've been on both sides of it, as part of the Patriots team that was a wild underdog but upset the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI and the 2007 Patriots team that was a significant favorite but lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
Chiefs to become the next repeat team?
McGinest: If there is a team that can do it, it's Kansas City. The team has retained a ton of its players from last year's championship team, so Andy Reid and the returning players know what it takes. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers have a lot of players who are new to the Super Bowl -- with the exception of Tom Brady, of course -- but they've become more in sync in the postseason. Anything can happen.
Pioli: Knowing all of the things that have to fall in place, I would have tremendous respect for the Chiefs if they repeat. In order to repeat, teams have to have a lot of talent and really good coaching. There are plenty of instances where a team gets really hot at the right time, but when you win multiple titles within a small window, it's a reflection of the system and process in place. That's what Kansas City has.
McGinest: I have to be honest -- I don't want to see the Chiefs repeat. It has nothing to do with the fact that they'd become the first team since our Patriots teams to do so; rather, I selfishly want to see my former teammate, Tom, make more history and win his seventh ring.
That said, I don't think this is necessarily the last Super Bowl we'll see the Chiefs play in during the Reid-Mahomes era. With that duo leading the way in Kansas City, the Chiefs could certainly be in position to go back-to-back in the future.