The St. Louis Rams will take on the San Francisco 49ers on Monday, October 13th, on Monday Night Football. The game will be significant in that the Rams will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the most memorable period in St. Louis football history.
When linebacker London Fletcher retired last year, he represented the end of an era. He was the last active player to be a member of the iconic “Greatest Show on Turf”.
For nearly a decade, the Greatest Show on Turf created havoc across the National Football League, but it was their performance in the 1999 season that is not only most remembered, but most beloved. The team was predicted to go nowhere, nothing but fodder for other teams to pick on and pick apart.
Not that team, and not that year.
St. Louis defied the odds, and shocked the world, and along with one of the greatest (and most adrenaline pumping) endings to a Super Bowl ever, the Rams would hoist the Lombardi Trophy, and bring prestige to a franchise and fan-base that not only suffered…but endured.
In 1995, the Rams moved to St. Louis, admist controversy. The late Georgia Fronteire stood up to the league, threatening to sue the NFL if they would not approve of her moving the team to the Gateway City. The NFL obliged, and the Los Angeles Rams became the St. Louis Rams.
Their inaugural season started off strong, with a 4-1 record heading into the bye week. However, they would go 3-8 the remaining 11 games, and would finish 7-9. The next three years would see the team regress further, going 6-10, 5-11, and 4-12 in ’96, ’97, and ’98 respectively.
And then came 1999. It was the second season under head coach Dick Vermeil. Before the season started, the Rams had signed highly touted quarterback Trent Green. The belief was that Green would bring a much needed boost to the offense, which had struggled in the past few seasons.
However, things quickly changed.
In the third preseason game of the 1999 season, Green was hit by safety Rodney Harrison and ended up tearing his ACL, causing him to miss the entire season. At that moment, it had suddenly seemed the Rams were back to square one.
Until a quarterback named Kurt Warner stepped into the picture.
His story is legendary.
From stocking shelves in an Iowa supermarket, to becoming an NFL starter, Warner took over after Green’s injury. For the first three games, he threw three touchdowns in each, as the Rams’ surging offense started off with a 3-0 record.
But the real test came in Week 4.
At the Trans World Dome, the Rams squared off against the rival that had their number for years…the San Francisco 49ers. 17 of the last 18 meetings between the two teams ended in a 49ers win, disappointing Rams fans across the nation. But 1999 was a different year, and the 1999 Rams were a different team.
And they dominated their west coast rivals. Warner led the Rams to a 28-10 halftime lead by scoring four touchdowns in the first half. San Francisco didn’t have an answer, and St. Louis kept pounding the ball, en route to a 42-20 win.
That game proved one thing: the Rams were for real, and the whole NFL was put on notice. They would win their next two games, before dropping two games to the Titans and Lions. After that losing streak, the Rams’ winning ways continued for weeks, and they ended up finishing the year 13-3, winning the NFC West division.
For the first time in the history of St. Louis football, the city was the sight of home field advantage.
The Rams first test was the Minnesota Vikings, led by Jeff George. It was an offensive shootout between the two high-powered offenses. The first play from scrimmage for the Rams was a 77-yard touchdown pass from Warner to his top target, Isaac Bruce. The Vikings actually had the lead heading into halftime, up 17-14. But starting with the second half kickoff, the Rams took the lead, and never looked back.
NFL kicking legend Gary Anderson booted it to returner Tony Horne, who, with the wall of blockers leading the way, ran 95 yards to the end-zone, giving the Rams the lead. Seven different Rams’ scored a touchdown, as they propelled their way to a 49-37 victory.
But the next game, the NFC Championship, is where the Rams had met their match.
Their opponent was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were well-known for their tough-as-nails defense, and finished the season with an 11-5 record, despite the offensive woes.
As for the NFC Title game, Tampa Bay held the Rams’ normally strong offense in check, as Warner threw a pick early in the first quarter. The running game was shut down, and the receivers were beaten at every turn. The Rams defense, however, packed their own punch, taking it to rookie QB Shaun King, and preventing running back Mike Alstott from getting any kind of groove going.
With only a few minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Buccaneers had an unusual 6-5 lead over St. Louis. With 4:44 left, Warner launched the ball into the end-zone. Ready for the ball was veteran WR Ricky Proehl, who caught it in the end-zone, to give the Rams the 11-6 lead, and eventually, the win.
The Rams would then move onto the Super Bowl, where they would face the Tennessee Titans. The first half featured three Jeff Wilkins field goals as the only points scored, and St. Louis had a 9-0 lead heading into halftime. The second half was where things really became interesting. Warner threw a TD pass to rookie Torry Holt, and the Rams increased their lead to 16-0. But Jeff Fisher and the Titans were far from being out of it. The late Steve McNair and Eddie George began to wear down the Rams’ defense, and powered their way to tie the game at 16-16 in dramatic fashion.
On the next drive, in the blink of an eye, Warner launched a 73-yard pass to Bruce, with Mike Bush shouting his most famous call “And they won’t catch him today. Touchdown Rams!”
Just like that, St. Louis had the lead, 23-16.
But there was still plenty of time for the Titans. They marched down the field, and on 3rd & 5, McNair was seemingly brought down by Jay Williams and Kevin Carter, but he somehow escaped and launched the ball down to Kevin Dyson.
With six second left, it all came down to one play. And that one play, known as “The Tackle”, became immortalized in football history. Mike Jones was able to tackle Dyson at the one yard line, stopping the Titans just short, and the Rams won the game, becoming the Super Bowl Champions.
Warner won the NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, and the Bert Bell Award. Vermeil won Coach of the Year, Faulk won Offensive Player of the Year, and Holt won Rams Rookie of the Year. In total, seven Rams made the Pro Bowl as well (Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Orlando Pace, Carter, D’marco Farr and Todd Lyght).
It was a record-breaking and outstanding year by the Rams. It gave the Gateway City their first football championship.
In 1999, the Gateway to the West truly was…as Mike Bush put it “The Gateway to the best football team in the world!”
15 years later, all the players from the team have retired, and the Rams of 2014 are fighting their own battles on and off the field.
But through it all, one thing will remain true: The memories made by the Rams in 1999 will live on in the city of St. Louis…forever.