The Super Bowl is just 18 days away. Let’s look at the Super Bowl from 18 years ago to honor this not-so-significant occasion!
Atlanta hosted Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30, 2000. The game pitted the NFC Champion St. Louis Rams against the Tennessee Titans of the American Football Conference.
The Rams came into the 1999 season off nine consecutive losing seasons. And, they certainly were not projected to contend for the Super Bowl in ’99. On the plus side, Head Coach Dick Vermiel had turned programs around before in his coaching career. He revived the UCLA football program in the early 70s and the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 70s. However, he suffered from burnout following the 1982 season and went into broadcasting.
In 1997, he came out of retirement to coach the young Rams. After two poor seasons, he realized that his coaching style needed to change. He needed to be more “player-friendly.” He also hired offensive guru Mike Martz to be his OC and added QB Trent Green and RB Marshall Faulk. So, St. Louis figured to be better on offense. Their defense was already competitive. They ranked tenth overall in 1998. With high draft picks all over the field, they were destined to improve and they did. Kevin Carter was a first team All-Pro along the defensive line. And Notre Dame-grad Todd Lyght was a stand out at corner. Veterans D’Marco Farr and Mike Jones along with youngsters Grant Winstrom and London Fletcher all made fine contributions to a unit that finished fourth in 1999.
St. Louis Rams 18 Years Ago
The story of the 1999 Rams, though, was all about their offense. In a preseason game against the Chargers, Green tore his ACL. Vermeil inserted a 28-year old name Kurt Warner and the rest is the stuff of legend. Warner was a Packers’ castoff. So, he tried his luck in the Arena League and NFL Europe before getting a backup job with the Rams in 1998.
His ’99 season was as brilliant as it was unexpected. The Rams scored almost 300 more points than their opponents that season! Warner’s accuracy on long passes to Isaac Bruce and rookie Torry Holt was astounding. It was the greatest show on turf. Therefore, St. Louis marched into the playoffs huge favorites to make it to the Super Bowl.
In the divisional round, they ran away from Randy Moss and the Vikings in a shoot-out, 49-37. Warner was 27 of 33 for 391 yards and 5 touchdowns; not a bad at the office! In the NFC championship game, however, the Rams met their defensive match. Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to play and took a 6-5 lead into the 4th quarter. St. Louis proved it was not just a finesse ball club as they went toe to toe with the Bucs. Finally, late in the fourth, Warner hit Ricky Proehl for the game-winning and championship-clinching score! The city of St. Louis would have its first Super Bowl representative.
Tennessee Titans 18 Years Ago
The AFC champion Tennessee Titans had a similar fairy tale-type season. The Titans as a franchise did not experience the horrible string of losing seasons that the Rams endured. They did experience perhaps the wildest decade, though. Before they were the Titans, they were the Houston Oilers. The Oilers were led by future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Warren Moon. In the early ’90s, Houston famously lost three heartbreaking playoff games. In 1994, with Moon gone, they imploded, finishing 2-14.
Buddy Ryan-disciple Jeff Fisher was hired to take over as Head Coach prior to the 1995 season. With the Oilers unable to generate enthusiasm in Houston, the team announced a move to Tennessee which would take effect in 1997. After spending a season in Memphis, the team moved to Nashville. They got their new name and their new stadium in 1999. Fisher posted just a 31-33 record over 4 seasons but was retained for the ’99 season. The Titans did very well in the draft grabbing a franchise QB in Steve McNair and the All-World RB Eddie George out of Ohio State. On defense, they had the sensational rookie from Florida nicknamed “The Freak.” Jevon Kearse was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie and wreaked havoc on offensive linemen throughout the season.
The ’99 Titans amazingly compiled a 13-3 record, but did not win their division. Jacksonville finished 14-2, but their two losses came…to Tennessee! Anyway, the Titans got the Wild Card game at home against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had made a major move at quarterback earlier in the week when they replaced the struggling Doug Flutie with Rob Johnson. Johnson had killed Peyton Manning and the Colts in the season finale.
Music City Miracle
In the first half, Kearse was dominant leading the Titans to a 12-0 lead. The second half was a different story as Johnson led the Bills back. They took a 16-15 lead on a Steve Christie field goal with just 16 seconds left. Tennessee would need a miracle to win. It happened. Christie popped up the kickoff. Lorenzo Neal fielded the ball and handed it off to Frank Wycheck. Wycheck “lateraled” to Kevin Dyson. Dyson ran untouched along the near sideline to score the miraculous go-ahead score. The win propelled the Titans to the 2nd round. In the divisional playoff at Indy, the Titans knocked off the upstart Colts 19-16. That was Manning’s first playoff game and foreshadowed his struggles in that situation for years to come.
In the AFC championship game, McNair was magnificent in leading the Titans to their third win of the season over the Jaguars. The 32-14 final put the Oilers/Titans franchise in their first ever Super Bowl.
Super Super Bowl
The Rams dominated the first half although the score was not indicative of that dominance. The Rams settled for five field goal attempts and 9-0 halftime lead.
The second half was gripping. The Rams finally found the end zone on a slant from Warner to Holt from the nine giving them a 16-0 lead. At that point, the momentum swung. The Titans scored touchdowns on their next two possessions cutting the lead to 16-13 with eight minutes remaining. They stuck with their game plan which was a lot of Eddie George. George was not stylish. He was a freight train helping the Titans claw back in it. It was vintage Titans.
After they tied it at 16 with just over two minutes left, the Rams responded with an unreal 73-yard TD pass from Warner to Bruce. Warner’s pass was underthrown because Kearse was hitting him as he threw. Bruce made the adjustment and weaved his way home. It was vintage Rams.
Tennessee had one last drive. In a possession that proved to be the signature one of his career, McNair led the Titans to the Rams’ ten-yard line with six seconds left. Tennessee drew up a play for Dyson cutting to the inside. He caught the ball in stride and looked like he would score. At the last second, Jones grabbed him around the waist and tossed him to the turf about two feet short of the goal line. The Rams had won their first Super Bowl!
The Titans came back with a very strong 2000 season, but were knocked out in the 2000 playoffs by the eventual-World Champion Ravens. They have not been to the Super Bowl since.
The Rams’ offense of 2000 was amazing, but their defense was terrible. They were mistake-prone in their playoff loss at New Orleans. In 2001, the Rams got back to the Super Bowl only to get upset by the Patriots. Since then, they have moved back to Los Angeles. Their franchise is going through a revival as we speak.
The 1999 Rams had one of the great offenses in NFL history. Tomorrow, we will discuss one of the greatest defenses of All-Time!
Brandon Fazzolari is a Super Bowl expert…@spot_Bills