Michael Jordan revealed last spring that he was suffering from food poisoning as opposed to the flu during his iconic performance in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. The NBA superstar made the revelation during his 10-part documentary with ESPN.
While Jordan's "flu game" was not an entirely accurate description, Tom Brady recently revealed that he had his own flu game in what he called his most satisfying non-Super Bowl win during his 20 seasons with the New England Patriots. The game was the 2004 AFC Championship Game pitting Brady's Patriots against the Steelers, who earlier in the year had snapped New England's NFL record 21-game winning streak.
"Guys were like quarantined in their [hotel] room because we had a lot of guys that were sick," Brady recalled during Episode 3 of ESPN's "Man in the Arena" 10-part series on Brady. "I actually had the flu pretty bad the night before the game. I was in slow motion, and I wasn't sure how I was going to play."
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Along with battling the flu, Brady had to battle frigid temperatures, a rabid fan base and a defense that had bewildered him and his teammates back on Halloween.
"It's a very intimidating place to play because not only do they have a great defense, it's all 65, 70,000 of the yellow towels screaming, yelling," Brady said. "Not to mention, they were 16-1 at that time.
"They had a very unique style of play. That was Dick LeBeau's defense and Blitzburgh."
The game's turning point took place midway through the first quarter. After the Patriots started the game with an Adam Vinatieri field goal, New England's defense stonewalled Jerome Bettis on a fourth-and-1 play on Pittsburgh's first possession. One play after the Patriots' fourth-down stop, Brady zipped a deep pass to Deion Branch for a 60-yard touchdown.
"It was one of the great throws I've ever made in those conditions, because it was freezing out," Brady said.
April 20, 2002— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) April 20, 2021
Patriots, with the 65th pick in the 2nd Rd take WR Deion Branch
Super Bowl Champ - 2x
Super Bowl MVP - 1x
Deion Branch and the Patriots go in to Pittsburgh and stomp on the Steelers in the 2004 AFC Championship game pic.twitter.com/zukLMu20RU
Another Brady touchdown pass, coupled by Rodney Harrison's pick-six of then-Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, gave the Patriots a commanding 24-3 halftime lead. And while the Steelers mounted a mini comeback, the Patriots put the game away on Branch's 23-yard touchdown run with 2:32 left. New England, less than three months after dropping a 34-20 decision in Pittsburgh, left Heinz Field that night with a 41-27 victory. Brady completed nearly 67% of his throws against the Steelers' formidable defense, while New England's defense forced four Pittsburgh turnovers.
"If I would say there was a perfect game of football played at the highest level, I'd say that would be the game," Brady said. "If we could replicate that, we would never lose a game."
Two weeks later, Brady and the Patriots would join the 1990s Cowboys as the only teams in NFL history to win three Super Bowls over a four-year span. And while his Super Bowl wins are in a category of their own, Brady said that his third AFC Championship Game victory stands out among non-Super Bowl wins.
"For as difficult as it was to lose to them on Halloween," Brady said, "it was the most satisfying win, non-Super Bowl, that I had in 19 years of playing football."