This weekend is Super Bowl 48, pitting the Seattle Seahawks against the Denver Broncos. Two of the preseason favorites to reach the pinnacle game of the NFL season. It should be a great matchup between the leagues top offense and top defense. But as we near the game it made me recall the years of past playoffs for my home team, the St. Louis Rams.
Unfortunately as a Rams fan, the recent years have not been kind to the home team. While the team has managed back to back seven win seasons they recorded just 15 wins in the previous five seasons. The Rams have not had a non-losing record since 2004 which is also the last year they made the playoffs. But let’s take a look back on a six year stretch when the Rams were not just trying to reach .500 but were in competition for the playoffs on a yearly basis.
Everyone knows the story of the ’99 Rams, an upstart and young, out of nowhere team. That team was the start of a run for the organization that was ever so close to making their mark on NFL history, a near dynasty if you will. Over six years, from 1999 until 2004, the Rams made the playoffs five times and recorded double digit wins four times. Here are my favorite playoff moments from that six year stretch of the Rams.
Super Bowl 34- The Rams offense against yet another stout and physical defense, the Tennessee Titans. The Rams actually lost to the Titans during the regular season, 24-21. Again the Rams offense was held in check with just nine points at halftime. An early touchdown in the third quarter from Warner to Holt put the Rams up 16-0. But then the Titans mounted a come back, tying the game up at 16. Then magic. Again it was another pass, this time falling into the hands of Bruce, for a 73 yard touchdown that put the Rams up with just over two minutes left in the game. The Titans were not done though. However thanks to a game saving play as time expired by Rams linebacker Mike Jones simply known as “the Tackle” the Rams were NFL Champs.
1999 NFC Divisional game– For the first time in the city of St. Louis they hosted an NFL playoff game. The game pitted the host Rams against the Randy Moss led Minnesota Vikings, two of the top five scoring offenses in the league that year. The Vikings jumped out to an early lead but the Rams showed what “The Greatest Show On Turf”was all about with two quick strike scores in the first quarter, a 77 yard pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce and then a 41 yard pass from Warner to Marshall Faulk. The Vikings would actually take a 17-14 lead into halftime but then in the third quarter the Rams exploded. Tony Horne took the opening kick back 95 yards and the fun was on. The Rams scored 21 points in the third quarter on their way to a 49-37 win. The most memorable image for me remains the Rams players Bob-n-Weaving their way to the next round of the playoffs.
1999 NFC Championship game- The Rams fast attack offense faced one of the decades top defenses in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For much of the game the Bucs held the Rams in check, taking a 6-5 lead late into the game (no this is not a baseball score). Then with just under five minutes left Warner floated a ball into the left corner of the end zone where Ricky Proehl, the fourth wide out on the team and with all of 33 catches on the season, made a leaping grab for the go-ahead score. That play could sum up the Rams season, looking like they were dead and then out of no where…..a story book finish.
Super Bowl 36- The Rams rolled through the Packers in the opening round 45-17 and then dispatched of the Eagles setting up a championship game against the New England Patriots. The Rams fell behind 17-3 entering the fourth quarter before rallying to tie the score up when Warner found Proehl in the end zone. But the excitement did not last long as an unheralded rookie quarterback named Tom Brady led his team downfield for an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Only years later did it come out that the Patriots had a practice of taping opponents signals and the Rams walk through, when they practiced red zone offense. Who knows how much of a difference that made but it was against the rules and apparently the Patriots felt it was a big enough difference to break the rules. Amazing how one teams near dynasty coincided with another’s beginning.
2000 wild card game– The Rams, looking to defend their title, were back in the playoffs facing the New Orleans Saints this time. The Rams fell behind 31-7 in the fourth quarter when it looked like the storybook Rams may be back again. They tallied three straight touchdowns to close to within three points. With just 2:36 left in the game the Rams attempted an onside kick, recovered by the Saints. However the Rams defense forced a punt and with the way the offense was rolling a monumental come from behind win looked inevitable. Az Hakim, the electric return man for the Rams, settled under an easy punt at his 11 yard line. And then the dream of a repeat ended, as the ball caromed off Hakim’s chest and into the Saints hands.
2003 and 2004 playoffs- Despite making the playoffs in back to back years, after an absence in 2002, and still featuring one of the NFL’s top offenses this Rams team did not have the same feeling. They had a new quarterback, Marc Bulger, and were transitioning from Marshall Faulk to the talented but young Steven Jackson. Although they went 12-4 in 2003 a first round loss to the Carolina Panthers ended their season. Then in 2004 they got into the playoffs at 8-8, pulled out a win over Seattle in the opening round but then were run off the field by the Atlanta Falcons. The Rams run was over. That 2004 game was the last time the Rams have seen the postseason.