Friday, January 30, 2015

Down to the Wire

For sheer drama, I suppose it would be hard for any Super Bowl to top the one that was played in Atlanta 15 years ago today.

I'm old enough that I can admit that I saw at least portions of every Super Bowl that has been played so far. I've seen some dramatic games, and I've seen some blowouts. The Super Bowl that was played 15 years ago today was expected to be a blowout, but it turned out to be perhaps the most intense finish anyone has seen in nearly half a century of Super Bowls.

The St. Louis Rams were favored, perhaps not by typical blowout proportions (seven points) but certainly in the minds of most football followers. They scored more points that season than anyone else, averaging nearly 33 points per game. They had scored at least 30 points in seven of their last eight games, including their NFC playoff games. It was not unreasonable to believe that they could do it against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.

The Titans could score, too, but not as much. They averaged 24.5 points per game; they came in at just under that in each of their AFC playoff games.

So it was reasonable to conclude that the Rams would win the game. Just one problem. No one told the Titans.

QB Kurt Warner passed for more than 400 yards, but he completed only 53% of his passes.

If Warner was frustrated, think about running back Marshall Faulk, who ran for nearly 1400 yards during the season but was held to a paltry 17 yards on 10 carries against Tennessee. Meanwhile, Eddie George of Tennessee ran for nearly 100 yards and scored two touchdowns in the second half.

Three Jeff Wilkins field goals gave the Rams a 9–0 lead at intermission, hardly what they were accustomed to. They added to their lead early in the second half when Warner threw a nine–yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt. Then George scored a touchdown in the final seconds of the third quarter, and the Titans went for two. They weren't successful so the Rams took a 16–6 lead into the fourth quarter.

George scored another touchdown, and the Titans trailed by three, 16–13. Then Tennessee held St. Louis to a three–and–out and drove to the Rams' 25, where Al Del Greco's 43–yard field goal tied the game.

But not for long. After the ensuing kickoff, Warner gave the audience what they came to see — a long scoring play. He connected with Isaac Bruce for a 73–yard touchdown, and the Rams led, 23–16, with just over two minutes to play.

At that point, I guess most of the people watching the game figured it was over. I know I did. But it wasn't. George and quarterback Steve McNair took the Titans from their 12–yard line to the Rams' 10. With the final seconds ticking off, McNair completed a pass to Kevin Dyson ...

... who came up a yard short as the Rams' Mike Jones dragged him down and preserved the victory.

It was a fantastic finish to what had been a truly super Super Bowl.

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