The NFL post-season is in full swing and before we know it Super Bowl LIV will be upon us.
In the run up to this years’ championship I thought it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
As the NFL is celebrating a 100 seasons I was tempted to do a century long retrospective. However for a lot of modern NFL fans, it feels like the game’s history starts with the, (retrospectively named), first Super Bowl. Not many will mention the undefeated APFA 1920 winners the Akron Pros.
So, we’ll stick to the Super Bowl era then. So far we have looked back 50, 40 & 30 years to Super Bowls past. Now it is time to move on 10 years.
For the NFL the 2000’s started with a championship game witnessed by 72,625 fans at the Georgia Dome as the St Louis Rams won a thriller 23-16 against the Tennessee Titans.
The Run up to the Game
The 1999 season saw the NFL celebrate its’ 80th anniversary. This was the season that saw the return of the Cleveland Browns who had been absent from the league since 1995.
That meant the league had 31 teams, the first time an odd number had been under the NFL umbrella since 1966. Because of that disparity the league had to have at least one team on a bye each week of the season.
Slipping under the radar was the introduction of the ‘Tuck Rule.’ Few knew at the time how important that would become in the playoffs in a few years time & how that would affect the development of a nascent New England Patriots dynasty.
The Rams had moved to St Louis in 1995 and gone 22-42 since arriving. This season however with ex NFLEurope QB Kurt Warner at the helm they had turned into a force to be reckoned with.
The Titans had moved to Tennessee as the Oilers in 1997. Since arriving they had back to back .500 seasons and were 16-16 as a Tennessee team. This year they had become the Titans & the NFL retired the Oilers name.
The Rams were in the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They were in the playoffs as the top seeds in the NFC following a 13-3 season. Once in the playoffs they had dispatched the 10-6 Vikings 49-37. That was the sort of high powered offense the 32.87 ppg Rams team had led people to expect. So the 11-6 NFC championship win against the 11-5 Buccaneers was something of a surprise.
The Titans had not been in the playoffs since 1993 when they were still the Houston Oilers. Now they had finished 13-3 also. However they were the 4 seed in the AFC because the Jacksonville Jaguars had edged them to the AFC Central title with a 14-2 record.
As a Wild Card team the Titans had played 3 games to reach the Super Bowl. They had beaten the 11-5 Buffalo Bills 22-16 before playing 2 games on the road. This game was known for its dramatic finish as the titans won on the Music City Miracle – which deserves an article all of its own!
Tennessee next edged a 13-3 Colts team in Indianapolis 19-16 before travelling to Jacksonville to face the Jags. Whilst Jacksonville took the Division title, this was the Titans day as they beat the Jaguars 33-14.
Dick Vermeil, coaching the Rams had been named Coach of the Year for the 1999 season.
Vermeil had previously coached the Eagles from 1976-1982. During that time the team had gone 54-47. The peak of success came from 1978-81 as the Eagles went 42-22. During that time they made the playoffs 4 times. They made it to Super Bowl XV which they lost to the Raiders.
After leaving the Eagles Vermeil spent 15 years as a TV analyst before returning to the sidelines in St Louis in 1997. His first two seasons there the Rams went 9-23. It was only with the emergence of Warner that things turned around.
After leading the Rams to a Super Bowl win he stepped down. However the Chiefs brought him back in 2001. They would go 6-10 that year. Vermeil would coach Kansas City from 2001-2005 going 44-36 before retiring from coaching for good with an all-time 120-109 record.
Jeff fisher had been coach of the Titans franchise since the 1994 season. During that time they had gone 32-38. that included 3 consecutive 8-8 seasons.
Fisher would coach the Titans for 17 yeas finishing with a 142-120 record when he left after the 2010 season. during those 17 years the Titans would make the playoffs 6 times and this was their best post-season performance of all.
Ironically Fisher would become coach of the Rams in 2012. He was coach until part way through the 2016 season. That year the Rams were back in LA and a 4-9 record saw Fisher ousted. He has an all time coaching record of 173-165-1
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XXXIV
The game is famous for ‘The Tackle’. A game winning last minute stop that guaranteed the Rams would take the Lombardi trophy home.
If you listened to some Titans fans they will often tell you they ‘nearly won’ on that play. Well, no, not really. They nearly had a chance to tie the game on that play if the extra point was good. Or go for the win on a two pointer – but we’ll never know what would have happened.
Although both teams had finished 13-3 during the regular season the Rams were the favourites going into the game. They had the Coach of the Year, The NFL MVP in Kurt Warner, & the NFL Offensive player of the Year in Marshall Faulk.
As well as that they had led the league in total yards per game, passing yards, scoring, rushing D and sacks.
However despite the high powered Rams attack, just like the NFC Championship game they were held in check for the first half of the Super Bowl.
They did not make the End Zone but did get close enough to try for Field Goals on 4 occasions. Jeff Wilkins hit on 3 of them as the Rams took a 9-0 halftime lead.
It was scant return as the Rams D had dominated the Titans holding them to a series of punts and one failed 47 yard Field Goal attempt. St Louis meanwhile had long drives without the rewards and were dominating in total yardage 294-89 at the break.
Extending the Lead
The Rams finally managed to capitalize on that dominance in the third quarter. Following blocking a 47 yard Field Goal attempt, the Rams drove 68 yards in 8 plays including 31 and 16 yard pass plays. It was capped by a 9 yard TD pass to Torry Holt to open up a 16-0 lead.
At this point the Rams had had 6 drives covering 355 yards. 57 plays had led to 3 Field Goals, a TD, a missed Field Goal and a turnover on Downs.
The Titans meanwhile had managed just 33 plays covering 127 yards and leading to 3 punts, two missed Field Goals and no points. Things looked pretty bleak.
It was now though that the Titans finally came to life. They drove 66 yards in 12 plays over 7:06 and scored their first touchdown on a 1 yard plunge from Eddie George. A 2 point attempt failed and the Titans trailed 16-6.
The D came up big forcing a 3 and out and the Titans O got right back to it. This time they drove 79 yards on 13 plays over 7:15 resulting in another TD. Again Eddie George capped the drive, this time from 2 yards out.
Now trailing 16-13 in the final quarter the Titans again forced a 3 and out. The Titans got moving again. This time 8 plays took them 28 yards to a game tying Field Goal.
With 2:12 left in the Super Bowl the comeback was complete as the teams stood locked at 16-16.
Kurt Warner completed one pass in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXXIV. It won the Rams the game. On the first play of the ensuing drive Warner hit Isaac Bruce who ran in a 73 yard touchdown. It took just 18 seconds to undo the Titans comeback in this way.
Ironically this mirrored the 1951 title game where a tie was broken by the Rams hitting a 73 yard TD pass to win by 7 (24-17 in this case).
The Titans weren’t done and now that their O was firing they got driving again. The Titans took over the ball at their own 12-yard line with 1:48 left in the game. They dove all the way to the Rams 10 yard line and took a timeout.
This was followed by the aforementioned ‘tackle.’ McNair hit Kevin Dyson over the middle and he looked destined for the End Zone. Had he scored the Titans could have gone for the XP to tie and force overtime, or a 2 pointer to win or lose on a single play. But it wasn’t to be.
Rams Linebacker Mike Jones made the biggest play of his career as he wrapped up Dyson and brought him down with his outstretched arm agonizingly short of the End Zone. It was all about momentum, but Dyson’s shoulder was down inches from the score and the Rams got to celebrate.
Hall of Fame Players
So far only a few players from this game have made their way into Canton.
For the Rams, Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Orlando Pace have all been enshrined.
For Tennessee, Bruce Matthews is the lone player from this game to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was also picked for the NFL 100th anniversary team.
What Came Next
Mike Martz who had masterminded the Rams O took over as Head Coach the following year. They went 10-6 and lost in a Wild Card game. However they were back in the Super Bowl following the 2001 season.
They were heavy favourites facing the Patriots. However New England won 20-17 and launched a period of sustained dominance.
Following their Super Bowl win the Rams went 51-29 over 5 seasons and made the playoffs 4 times. After that however they dropped away from being competitive.
The Titans were also competitive following their Super Bowl runner-up season. They were again 13-3 the following season but lost in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
The next 4 seasons saw them go 43-21, make the playoffs 3 times and make it as far as an AFC title game.
After that they too had a sustained drop off in form.
The Rams did not make the playoffs this year. However, Los Angeles have gone 33-15 since the arrival of Head Coach Sean McVay in 2017. They made the Super Bowl in 2018 but lost to the Patriots.
The Titans meanwhile have gone 9-7 for four consecutive seasons making the playoffs twice in that time. This year they made the AFC title game before losing to the Chiefs. They were also the first team to keep the Patriots out of the AFC Championship game in a decade.
Both sets of fans will feel they have reason for optimism moving forward.
Featured Image; The Tackle – a matter of inches from glory. Image from abcnews