Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 30, 2000: The Rams Win A Thriller In Super Bowl XXXIV

     On January 14, 2000, the St. Louis Rams capped off what was a magical season with a 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. The game had one of the most thrilling finishes in Super Bowl history. Tennessee had found themselves down 16-0 before they came storming back to tie it. With just under two minutes left in the game Rams quarterback Kurt Warner found Isaac Bruce on a 73 yard bomb that would prove to be the game winner. Steve McNair and the Titans were not about to give up, McNair engineered a drive that nearly tied things up, only to have linebacker Mike Jones make "The Tackle" of a lifetime at the one-yard line to preserve the Rams victory.

     When the Rams began the season in '99 they were coming off a 4-12 mark a year before and were considered to be one of if not the worst teams in the league. During the offseason they signed quarterback Trent Green and the players and the fans alike were excited about where he could take them. Then in the third preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, Green suffered a devastating knee injury. The hopes of a good season seemed to be washed down the drain in one moment. Then came Kurt Warner, a 28 year-old quarterback that turned to stocking shelves at a grocery story in Iowa after not being able to make the cut in the NFL. Warner did find work in the Arena Football League and quickly turned the heads of many as he showed off his arm at that level. One of those heads turned was with the Rams organization and in 1998 the team signed him then sent him to play in NFL Europe for the Amsterdam Admirals where he led the league in passing yards and touchdowns as well. It was enough to get him an invite to play with the Rams the following season to backup the newly obtained Green. When the injury happened to Green, suddenly Warner was in the spotlight. Nobody could have predicted what that quarterback who had taken the long road to the NFL would do next.

     What he did was almost instantly gel with the team and with his head coach Dick Vermeil standing behind him 100%. He led them to a 13-3 record with a high-flying aerial assault that was complemented by Marshall Faulk who stood behind him in the backfield. The cast of players on that Rams squad has too many great names to mention them all but I'll go ahead and ring off a few. Along with Warner and Faulk, the offense had Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Ricky Proehl, and and offensive line that was anchored by Orlando Pace. Their defense, often unheralded, had names such as D'Marco Farr, Kevin Carter, London Fletcher, and Todd Lyght leading the way. While many might have thought their early season success was a flash in the pan, they would soon prove those naysayers wrong by winning the NFC crown and earning a berth in the Super Bowl.

     The Titans posted a 13-3 record, most seasons one would think that it would easily earn a division title, this season it was  good for second as the Jacksonville Jaguars went 14-2 to take the AFC Central. The Titans were led by Steve McNair and Eddie George on offense and Jevon Kearse and Samari Rolle on defense. Like the Rams they too had a wide variety of names in their cast of players that had performed at the top level and earned their way to the Super Bowl.

     The road to the Super Bowl was not a road easily traveled for either team. In the wildcard round the Titans pulled off an unbelievable win over the Buffalo Bills in a game that became known as "The Music City Miracle." The Bills led 16-15 in the waning minutes when one of the craziest plays in the history of the NFL happened that sent them to the next round. It all began with a kickoff to Lorenzo Neal who lateraled the ball to Frank Wycheck who then lateraled it to Kevin Dyson, and Dyson took it to the house and sealed a Titans victory. Truly an unbelievable game. The Titans had to face the Indianapolis Colts next and pulled off a 19-16 victory before they toppled the Jaguars 33-14 in the AFC title game. They would be facing a Rams team that had knocked off the Minnesota Vikings 49-37 in the divisional round, then eked out a 11-6 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game thanks to an unbelievable catch by Ricky Proehl late in the game which set the stage for the big game that would be held in Atlanta.

     After all the media coverage that led up to the big game was in the books and the game was underway, it seemed like it could turn into a defensive contest at a rapid rate as the Titans held the Rams to three field goals in the first half that led to a 9-0 St. Louis lead as they headed to their locker rooms. After a missed field goal by the Titans, Warner and company went to work. The Rams quarterback hit Isaac Bruce, Ernie Conwell, then found Torry Holt on a 9 yard grab that capped off a 68 yard drive and put them ahead 16-0. The deficit was not something that would cause Tennessee to lie down, they would not go down without a fight. A pair of Eddie George touchdowns put the score at 16-13, then with just 2:12 left in the fourth Al Del Greco kicked a 43 yarder through the uprights to tie it up. The joy of tying the ballgame was short lived when Warner found Bruce at the Titans 38 yard line on the next drive. Once Bruce found it in his hands, he did the rest, once again the Rams were ahead.

     With 1 minute and 48 seconds left on the clock, McNair took over on his own 12. The task of moving it 88 yards was in front of him and it was a challenge he readily accepted as he began a march up the field that will not soon be forgotten. As they marched deep into Rams territory, McNair was facing a 3rd and 5 and escaped the Rams defensive rush that looked like they had his number. The elusive McNair then fired a pass to Kevin Dyson for a 16 yard gain that put his team at the 10. Tennessee called a timeout with just six seconds left, it was their final timeout, which meant there was only time for one more play.

     That play was something. McNair targeted Dyson once again, and for a moment it looked like a tie ballgame was imminent. Then came Mike Jones who dragged him down from behind. With Dyson's arm extended in an effort to cross the goal line with the ball the clock ran to zeros. The Rams were Super Bowl Champions.

     As someone who grew up right outside of St. Louis, I can tell you this was a more than exciting time in my life. St. Louis was starved for a contender in football. The years of mediocrity with the Cardinals football team that headed to Arizona in 1988 simply seemed to continue when the Rams arrived on the scene in 1995.  The turnaround in 1999 was almost like living a dream. The story of Kurt Warner seemed like it was something you could only see on the silver screen, especially with it ending with him as the Super Bowl MVP. Warner threw for 414 yards on his way to winning the award, it is a still standing Super Bowl record. It was just simply amazing. Even if we might be from different cities, I think most of us have lived through the euphoria of a championship with one of our favorite teams. It does seem like the stars just align every so often and we get to feel that feeling. For me, there is nothing like it. I truly do hope that every fan gets to feel that feeling at least once in their lifetime.

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