This was originally going to be about Torry Holt, my favorite wide receiver ever and him being able to retire as a St. Louis Ram. But after watching his retirement speech and researching pics of him and seeing the great memories from that year, I had to change it to about that whole team. Miracles do happen at times, mostly when you least expect it and when it happens you’ll always remember where you were when it did.
I’m trying to recall as much as this as I can. You have to remember, this was thirteen years ago. Dick Vermeil was entering his third season as head coach with a lackluster 4 – 12 record. He was told things had to change, so gone was malcontent Tony Banks as Quarterback, gone was Eddie Kennison, gone was a running back committee led by Greg Hill and June Henley. First it was hiring Mike Martz to run the offense.Then, Trent Green, a St. Louis boy, was signed in free agency to lead the team back to respectability. They acquired Marshall Faulk (more likely stole) from the Colts for two draft picks. And in the draft they selected Torry Holt with the sixth overall pick. (Many people believed they should have drafted Champ Bailey.) With holdovers Isaac Bruce, Ricky Proehl, Az Hakim, Orlando Pace, they set about reshaping the offense. The defense needed a few tweaks with Todd Collins and Dre’ Bly.
During the preseason, things were looking great. Both Green and back up Kurt Warner were lighting it up. The offense seemed unstoppable. Then the most crushing and devastating thing happened. On a simple and normal pass play, San Diego Chargers Safety Rodney Harrison came crashing into Trent Green’s left knee. Green was done for the year and it looked like the end already for the Rams. Vermeil wanted a veteran to come in. (Jeff Hostetler) Martz pleaded his case with Warner. He can do it, Martz told him. Vermeil agreed and something incredible followed.
First came the Baltimore Ravens and their vaunted defense. All Warner had to do was “steer” the offense. Not much was expected. He threw for over 300 yards in his first NFL start. The Rams won, 27-10. The came Atlanta, then the Bengals. By week seven they were 6-0. Losses to both the Titans and the Lions left them at 6-2 and people wondered if that was it for the Rams. HA! They then proceeded to win their next seven games, including clinching the division against the Carolina Panthers. The offense was so incredible with Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Hakim. The Bears failed to contain Faulk and he proceeded to catch 12 passes for over 200 yards. Faulk would end up being only the second running back to have both 1000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. (Roger Craig, 1985) No one has done it since. Warner threw for over 4300 yards and 41 touchdowns, an NFC record until 2011. Warner was named MVP and Faulk was named offensive player of the year. Though they lost to Philadelphia in week seventeen, the Rams were ready for the playoffs.
First was Minnesota and though it was close for a quarter, the Rams ended up blowing them out. The 49-37 score wasn’t really even that close. Next came Tampa Bay and their great defense. It was a stalemate the entire game and late in the fourth quarter with the Buccs up 6-5 (I know, right!) Warner threw a fade route to Ricky Proehl, the number four receiver for a touchdown that made everyone go nuts. (I remember being at a party and the whole place erupted.) Ricky Proehl to this day is still exalted. It was the only touchdown he scored all year and is today known to Rams fans as “the catch.”
After a late stand, the Rams were now on their way to the Superbowl. It was an improbable run.
One of the things my dad always told me when I was young was to always root for your home team, whether they were good or bad. We watched a lot of bad Cardinals teams when they played in St. Louis, but he always cheered them on. I learned that even if I bandwaggoned other teams, always stay true to your favorite. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, he cheered them on. They weren’t really his favorite but it was a St. Louis team and he rooted for them. They were bad their first four years there. In December of 1998, we watched our last game together, the Rams and the Patriots. The Rams ended up winning (I forget the score) and the most vivid memory of that game was Drew Bledsoe on the sideline, wobbling around form all the hard hits he had taken in that game. It;’s a memory so surreal that it’s always going to be stuck in my head. My dad died twelve days later, two days before Christmas.
So as I watched the Super Bowl, I had a heavy heart. He would have been tickled to have watched them play and had he seen the game, would have been blown away. The Rams started fast against the Titans, the team that had beaten them for their first loss back in October. At halftime, they led 16-0. But the Titans weren’t there for nothing, they came roaring back and ended up tying at 16-16 late in the fourth quarter. With a first and ten from the twenty-four yard line, Warner threw a long pass that Isaac Bruce caught and raced seventy-six yards for the score. With a little over two min utes left, the Rams led 23-16. But Steve McNair led them back. On the last play, McNair hit Kevin Dyson over the middle for what looked like a sure touchdown that would send the game to the Super Bowl’s first ever overtime, but Mike Jones wrapped Dyson up and tackled him with Dyson agonizingly trying to stretch the ball to the goal line. It was over, the Rams had won Super Bowl 34. Th play has come to be known as “The Tackle.”
I was sitting at home watching the game when it happened. I shouted for joy and then I cried. My ex-wife came into the living room and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t talk back to her. I just cried. She asked if the Rams won and I nodded yes. She asked why I was crying and I told her “my dad.” She hugged me and let me get it out of my system. It was so emotional for me. I felt my dad was cheated, because he didn’t get to watch the game, but I realized he probably was watching and that thought comforted me. To this day, I get goosebumps when I remember that season and how special it was not just for St. Louis, but for me personally. So as I watched Torry Holt’s retirement speech, a lot of those memories flooded back to me and I saw the emotions Holt felt when describing that team. A special time, a special team, and a special place in our hearts. You can never forget memories like that.