On This Date in Sport January 23, 2000: Super Rams

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The St. Louis Rams reach the Super Bowl, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6 in the NFC Championship Game at the Trans World Dome. The Buccaneers defense successfully held the Rams high scoring offense in check all game. The Rams did not get into the end zone until the fourth quarter. Tampa had a chance to answer, but Bert Emanuel's catch was ruled to have touched the ground as time ran out in a low-scoring game. The Rams would go on to beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV 23-16.

After a decade of struggles, the St. Louis Rams were back in the playoffs. They had moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 and had not made the postseason since 1989. It was a Cinderella season for the Rams and coach Dick Vermeil, who had the ultimate Cinderella story at quarterback. Kurt Warner, who played in the Arena League and NFL Europe and worked as a grocery bagger, became the team’s starter when Trent Green suffered a knee injury. Warner, who would win the NFL MVP, led the Rams to a 6-0 start. They would post a record of 13-3 winning the NFC West. In the Divisional Round, the Rams beat the Minnesota Vikings 49-37 in an old-fashioned shootout. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the NFC Championship for the first time in 20 years. They had been on the rise with a strong defense but had struggled to find a consistent quarterback. After a slow start, in which Tampa sat a 3-4 when Trent Dilfer suffered a season-ending injury. With rookie Shaun King leading the way, Tampa finished strong, posting a record of 11-5 to win the NFC Central for the first time in 18 years. In the Divisional Playoffs, the Buccaneers edged the Washington Redskins 14-13 to advance to the NFL’s Final Four.   

Tampa caught a break on the game’s first play as Steven White picked off Kurt Warner’s screen pass to Marshall Faulk. The Buccaneers failed to reach the end zone with the ball in the red zone, as Martin Gramatica opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal. The Rams responded with a drive that resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins. The score was tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, disaster struck for the Buccaneers as a bad snap resulted in a safety as Shaun King batted the ball out the end zone to prevent a defensive touchdown. The Rams had a chance to add more, but Wilkins missed a 44-yard field goal, as St. Louis held a 5-3 lead at the half. 

The Buccaneers got the ball to start the third quarter and drove down the field to the St. Louis five-yard line but again settled for a field goal to regain the lead at 6-5. Kurt Warner drove the ball down the field but threw his second interception of the game as Hardy Nickerson took away a potential touchdown for St. Louis by jumping in front of a pass for Ricky Proehl. Warner would throw a third pick in the fourth quarter, as Tampa was playing their game, holding down the greatest show on turf. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Rams got the break they were looking for when Dre Bly picked off King at the 50. The Rams would take the ball and scored the game’s first touchdown with 4:50 left as Warner connected with Proehl for 30 yards. Down 11-5, Tampa got the ball down to Rams 22, when Grant Winstrom sacked king for a 13-yard loss. The next play saw Tampa potentially get all the yards pack and more, but Bert Emanuel's catch was ruled to have hit the ground before it was fully possessed. The next two passes were also incomplete as the Rams got the ball back and ran out the clock to advance to Super Bowl XXXIV.