Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Super Bowl Countdown #4 - Super Bowl XXXIV - Rams 23, Titans 16

Over the next four days, Lattanzi Land is continuing a top ten countdown of the greatest Super Bowls of all time. This is a collaborative effort between myself and my good friend and football expert Dustin Holt. Every day, Monday through Friday, the next one will be put up, climaxing with #1 on Friday, February 5th. Some of these may surprise you, and some may make you ask what we are smoking. Enjoy, and any feedback can be made in the comment boxes or via email at joshua.lattanzi@gmail.com or dholt13@gmail.com - we continue our countdown with #4...

The most unlikely ending in Super Bowl history was a fitting conclusion to a season featuring new stars and unlikely heroes.

In 1999, five of the six division champions were new from the previous season. That season was a year of transition with the retirement of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway following the 1998 season and the retirements of Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Steve Young after the 1999 season.

However, the 1999 season saw the emergence of future superstar quarterbacks in Peyton Manning Tim Couch Akili Smith and Donovan McNabb. These quarterbacks saw some success in 1999, but none of them reached the heights as former Arena League quarterback and grocery store employee Kurt Warner did in that season.

Warner started the year as the backup quarterback for the St. Louis Rams behind newly signed free agent Trent Green. The Rams' promising season seemed to be derailed before it even got underway as Green blew out his knee after San Diego Chargers safety Rodney Harrison hit Green on the knee as he planted to make his first throw of the preseason.

With tears in his eyes, Rams head coach Dick Vermeil told the world that the Rams would win with Kurt Warner as their quarterback. And win they did - accumulating a 13-3 regular season record and backing it up with two wins in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl. Warner was simply brilliant, racking up 4,353 yards passing and 41 touchdown passes with only 13 interceptions.

Warner wasn't alone; he had plenty of help from running back Marshall Faulk, who gained over 1,300 yards rushing and over 1,000 yards receiving. Faulk, for whom the Rams traded in the offseason, became the second playing in NFL history with over 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving.

Wide receivers Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Hakim appeared to be unstoppable throughout the year for the Rams, and they all played a huge role in Super Bowl 34.

Another surprise team was the Tennessee Titans, who were led by quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George. The Titans, unlike the Rams, relied on power running and defense through the season, which also resulted in a 13-3 record.

In the first round of the playoffs, the Titans used trickery to stun the Buffalo Bills. With 15 seconds left in the game, the Bills kicked a 51 yard field goal to go ahead by a score of 16-15. On the ensuing kickoff, the Titans executed one of the greatest and most memorable plays in NFL history, the 'Home Run Throwback'.

Titans tight end Frank Wycheck caught the squib kick, and started running to the right. He then spun around and threw a lateral back across his body to receiver Kevin Dyson. Dyson took of behind a wall of blockers and an empty sideline for a 75-yard game winning touchdown and what would forever known as the 'Music City Miracle'.

The Titans went on to beat the Colts in the divisional round and then the Jaguars in the AFC Title Game, which was their third win over the Jaguars in 1999, the only losses the Jaguars suffered all year.

Super Bowl 34 in Atlanta matched two opposite teams: the powerful Titans and the high octane Rams. The Rams were seeking revenge as the Titans had defeated them in the regular season.

Throughout the first half, Super Bowl 34 seemed to have a feel of a defensive struggle, at least if you looked at the 9-0 lead the Rams obtained by halftime. But the score doesn't always tell the whole story. The Rams got three field goals from Jeff Wilkins, but also missed one and had a botched snap. The Rams also gained nearly 300 yards of offense in the first half alone - many more than the Titans' 89.

The second half, however, made for a fun ride, beginning with the Rams blocking a 47 yard field goal attempt by Al Del Greco (the Greatest Player Ever, if you recall the Nike ad campaign). The Rams built on this special teams stand by driving 68 yards to the end zone, culminating in a 9 yard touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Torry Holt and a 16-0 Rams lead.

The Titans began a historic march back from the brink that would ultimately end up with a tie score with just over two minutes remaining. A combination of good, efficient offense and shutdown defense made it possible. The Titans made it 16-6 on an Eddie George 1 yard touchdown run after Steve McNair had scrambled 23 yards to the 2 yard line to set up a first and goal. The two-point conversion attempt to cut the score in half failed, but the defense came up big and the Titans scored on another Eddie George touchdown run (2 yards) to cut the lead to 16-13.

Another inspired defensive stand forced yet another Rams three and out and with a horrid punt by the Rams' Mike Horan, the Titans got good field position at their own 47 yard line. With the clock running toward the two-minute warning, the Titans got stopped at the Rams' 25 yard line and were forced to attempt a tying field goal from 43 yards. Del Greco nailed it and for the first time in Super Bowl history, a team was able to come all the way back from a 10 point or greater second-half deficit.

What followed was a shocking sequence. The first play for the Rams on their next possession was a 73 yard catch and run by Isaac Bruce that gave them a 23-16 lead with two minutes remaining. That kind of play truly is the type that takes the wind out of one's sails, especially after clawing to come back from a 16-0 hole. The Titans were not finished yet, however.

After getting the ball, and after a holding penalty, the Titans were staring at 90 long yards to even get the opportunity to tie the score. There was 1:54 remaining. After a few completions and a 15 yard facemask penalty by Dre Bly, the Titans were all the way down to the Rams' 40 yard line with just under a minute to play. The most exciting play before the end actually came on a third and five at the Rams' 26 yard line. McNair dropped back and in a play eerily reminiscent of Eli Manning's escape in Super Bowl 42, he escaped two Ram defenders and was able to get off a pass to Kevin Dyson at the 10 yard line with just 6 seconds left.

After a timeout, the last chance the Titans had was to score a touchdown, and the play called was actually flawless. It called for Frank Wycheck to run a go-route and take the linebacker with him while Dyson ran a short slant underneath, with ostensibly a clear path to the end zone. The play looked like it would be executed to perfection as McNair dropped back and saw Dyson open as planned and threw the ball to him. Open field lurked toward the end zone, but there was only one man who could stop Dyson from scoring: linebacker Mike Jones.

Dyson was on the way to scoring what could have been the tying touchdown when Jones wrapped him around the legs. Dyson lunged forward toward the goal line hoping to put the nose of the ball over the plane, but his hips hit the ground and he was unable to push the ball over the line until after he hit the ground. In vain he put the ball over the line, but it was too late. The clock read 0:00 and the St. Louis Rams had become Super Bowl champions.

Kurt Warner, as an exclamation point in his grocery bag to riches story, was named the MVP of Super Bowl 34 thanks to his record 414 passing yards and 2 touchdowns. But what people will remember is probably the most exciting play to ever end a Super Bowl and a game in which two teams played their hearts out and left everything there on the field - something that no fan can ever complain about in any circumstance.

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