by Jeff Stahlhut
When the St. Louis Rams went out and picked up free-agent quarterback Trent Green in early 1999, optimism was abundant for local fans starved for a competitive NFL franchise that suffered for nearly 30 years of disappointment with the St. Louis Football Cardinals. A hometown product, Green was the centerpiece of what was to be a new offense and a new attitude to St. Louis.
It never happened.
Or, perhaps more accurately stated, a hit from Rodney Harrison knocked Trent Green right out of the lineup and in turn put a virtual unknown named Kurt Warner into the spotlight. Who could ever forget Rams coach Dick Vermeil announcing (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Kurt Warner is our quarterback, we have confidence in Kurt Warner, Kurt Warner can lead this team.”
Yeah, right. Forgive us for not buying it, Dick. I mean… really?
Well, as it turned out the Coach was right. Warner led the Rams to 13 victories and a Super Bowl win over the Tennessee Titans – a victory that was only secure when Mike Jones made “the tackle” to end the game as Kevin Dyson gave it all he had to reach the end zone, to no avail.
The question here really should not be what my favorite team of all time might be. I’m from St. Louis, and therefore unless you go back to the Don Coryell led Cardiac Cardinals or the Jin Hanifan led 1984 team that missed the playoffs when Neil O‘Donohue missed a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the final game (but I’m not still bitter about it), you would almost have to go with this incarnation of the Rams.
What wasn’t to love? Here you had a team that was absolutely miserable the season before (and for many years before). You had an unknown quarterback stepping in where a hometown hero was supposed to be taking snaps. You have Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace, the emerging Tory Holt, et al.
When you look back now, it’s difficult to fathom just how many years have gone by since those days of the team that was often referred to as “the Greatest Show on Turf.” Gone are Warner, Faulk, Green (though he did swing through town last year for a cup of coffee), Holt, Pace, Bruce and even Coach. But they’re not forgotten.
From out of nowhere they came, the 1999 Rams. And early in the season, as they were blowing out their opponents by embarrassing margins, many still weren’t sure and didn’t believe. It took some until the playoffs to even start to notice what was happening – the story and odds of such an about-face were just too shocking, too surprising, too much – even for the NFL.
But in the end, they were for real. Just two years later, the Rams were back in the Super Bowl as heavy favorites against the New England Patriots and despite a valiant fourth quarter comeback, fell, 20-17. That loss to New England was, for all intents and purposes, the end of an impressive three year run for the Rams – but what they did in 1999, coming from nowhere, etched them forever in St. Louis and NFL lore.
What’s my favorite NFL team ever? No contest. The 1999 St. Louis Rams.
by Jeff Stahlhut