Atlanta (January 30, 2000) — A game of yards came down to inches for the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.
The Rams stopped the Tennessee Titans at the 1-yard line on a final, heart-stopping play to save their 23-16 victory in one of football's most thrilling finishes ever.
Kurt Warner's 73-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce with 1 minute, 54 seconds left accounted for the winning score, 16 seconds after Al Del Greco's field goal brought Tennessee back from a 16-0 deficit.
But it took Mike Jones' tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1 to finally give St. Louis the win Sunday night and prevent the Titans from forcing the first overtime in Super Bowl history. Dyson was left sprawled on the ground in Jones' arms, stretching the ball toward the goal line in vain as the game clock turned to zeros.
So, a team known for its high-powered offense won its first Super Bowl with the most memorable of defensive plays.
Warner passed for a Super Bowl record 414 yards and was voted MVP, capping a season that began with him fighting for a backup job and ended with him as the NFL's MVP.
The championship for Warner, coach Dick Vermeil and the Rams seemed no more than a dream six months ago after a 4-12 season in 1998.
"Kurt Warner is Kurt Warner and it's not a fairy tale," Vermeil said. "He is a book. He is a movie." Added Warner: "You may think of this as a Hollywood story, but it's just my life."
But he almost had to rewrite the script after the Titans scored on three straight drives to tie the score at 16. Tennessee's comeback was engineered by Steve McNair and Eddie George.
But it was Dyson who almost pulled off his second miracle finish in four weeks, coming up just short of the tying touchdown after taking a look-in pass from McNair at the 5 and scrambling for the end zone. "I thought we could do it but we came up about 6 inches from having a chance to do it," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "As much as this hurts we have an awful lot of pride in coming so close." Dyson was the man at the end of the "Music City Miracle," the 22-16 win over Buffalo in a wild-card game, taking a lateral from Frank Wycheck and returning it 75 yards for the winning touchdown with three seconds left.
"I thought he was going to get in," McNair said. "But you've got great athletes on both sides of the ball and they made the play. It was a matter of who won the one-on-one battle and they won it."
Jones said: "The name of the game is to get the man on the ground. They won the wild-card game with a big play and we knew they'd come roaring back. We just made the big play at the end. You get tired chasing Steve McNair and making plays."
It was the first NFL title for the Rams since 1951 and the first football title ever for St. Louis, which lost the Cardinals after the 1987 season and gained the Rams from Los Angeles in 1995.
It not only capped an improbable season for the team but also for Warner, who played in the Arena League and NFL Europe and was left unprotected in the expansion draft last spring. He got the starting job when free agent Trent Green was hurt and went on to win the NFL MVP and throw 41 touchdown passes, only the second quarterback in NFL history to surpass 40.
It was also a triumph for the 63-year-old Vermeil, who was out of football for 14 years before joining the Rams in 1997. He had lost the Super Bowl in 1981 in Philadelphia. "You know I'm an emotional guy, but right now I feel so good and so proud of this football team," Vermeil said.
The Rams couldn't quite break open the game while opening up a 16-0 lead. Three straight times they had to settle for field goals by Jeff Wilkins of 29, 27 and 28 yards. Wilkins missed another field goal and another was aborted by a fumbled snap. So even though Warner threw for 277 yards in the first half and the Rams outgained the Titans 294-89, it was only 9-0 at intermission. "We had some problems in the red zone," said Marshall Faulk, who was held to 17 yards on 10 carries but had five catches for 90 yards. "They played us tough but we came away with field goals."
The Rams seemed to put it away when Warner hit Torry Holt with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 3:59 left in the third quarter. Two plays earlier, the Titans, already without free safety Marcus Robertson and top receiver Yancey Thigpen, lost strong safety Blaine Bishop with a neck sprain that delayed the game for about 10 minutes while was taken off.
But suddenly, McNair and George got energized and the Rams' defense began to wear down.
The Titans scored touchdowns on their next two possessions as George, who ran for 95 yards on 28 carries, scored on runs of 1 yard and 2 yards. Tennessee's 2-point conversion attempt failed after the first TD.
Al Del Greco tied the game on a 43-yard field goal with 2:12 left.
McNair completed nine straight passes during the final drive, and threw for 214 yards in the game and scrambled for a Super Bowl-record 64 more. That included a 23-yard run that set up the first score and a 12-yard scramble with a 15-yard face mask penalty added in the final rally.
"He left everything out there on the field," Fisher said. "I told him we will be back. Don't ever forget this moment because we will be back. We will be back because he has the heart of a champion."
But it wasn't enough.
On the first play after Del Greco's tying field goal, Warner went deep to Bruce, who outleaped Tennessee's Denard Walker at the 38, then cut back twice to score. The play was called by offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who will take over as coach when Vermeil retires.
"He said 'Let's take a shot. Let's go to Isaac,"' Vermeil said. "If we didn't make it, we'd try to get it on the next two downs." Bruce said: "We had been getting field goals. We needed to get the ball in the end zone."
That still left the Titans with 1:54 and one time out. They worked the ball methodically down the field with two big plays: 27 yards on McNair's scramble and the ensuing penalty and a 16-yard pass to Dyson to put the ball on the 10 with five seconds left. Then the Titans called their final time out.
The final play was a slant. Dyson grabbed the ball and lunged for the end zone with Jones grabbing him by the ankles. He went down less than a yard from the goal, trying to get his hand with the ball in it over the goal line. "When he got his hands on me I thought I'd break the tackle but he slid down to my foot like you're supposed to and made a great play," Dyson said. "I realized as soon as I stretched out and was going down that I didn't get the point of the ball over the goal line."
That was a huge relief for the Rams. "When I saw that ball go in the air, I said 'It's a touchdown,"' Vermeil said. "I was ready to call coach Martz and tell him to get the script ready for overtime."
Instead they wrote a script for a celebration.