Longest yard caps super end to season

January 31, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

ATLANTA -- If it wasn't the best Super Bowl ever, it certainly was the best Super Bowl finish. Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair hitting Kevin Dyson over the middle. St. Louis linebacker Mike Jones wrapping his right arm around Dyson's waist. Dyson lunging toward the end zone, only to be stopped one yard short of the tying touchdown as time expired.

What can you say about McNair, who rallied the Titans from a 16-0 second-half deficit to tie the score with 2: 12 left? What can you say about Kurt Warner, who responded one play later with a 73-yard touchdown pass to cap his Super Bowl MVP performance? What can you say about the Rams' 23-16 victory, a wild, wonderful climax to a wild, wonderful season?

Perhaps the final images from last night said it all: McNair and Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher embracing on the Titans' bench. Warner rushing to the stands to kiss his wife, Brenda, on the lips. St. Louis defensive end D'Marco Farr lying outstretched on the Georgia Dome turf, holding his head in disbelief.

Rams owner Georgia Frontiere told the Georgia Dome crowd that the triumph justified the team's move to St. Louis. Coach Dick Vermeil accepted a congratulatory phone call from President Clinton. But this game was about the players. It will go down in Super Bowl lore because of Dyson and Mike Jones, because of Eddie George and Isaac Bruce, because of McNair and Warner.

Just as he did in the NFC championship game, Warner came up with a dramatic game-winning play at crunch time. He got hammered by Jevon Kearse and actually underthrew Bruce down the right sideline, but the receiver adjusted and Tennessee cornerback Denard Walker stumbled. Bruce then sprinted to the end zone, regaining the lead for St. Louis with 1: 54 left.

Still, it wasn't over.

With the Titans, it's never over.

They lost wide receiver Yancey Thigpen and safety Marcus Robertson in the AFC championship game. They lost their other safety, Blaine Bishop, to a frightening neck injury early in the second half. But they began their final drive at their own 12-yard line with 1: 48 remaining. And despite having only one timeout, they darn near forced the first Super Bowl overtime.

The final play began with six seconds left. Dyson had triggered the Titans' dramatic postseason run with his game-winning kick return against Buffalo after a lateral by Frank Wycheck. If not for Jones' terrific open-field tackle, he would have produced Music City Miracle II.

"Maybe I should have pitched it back to somebody," Dyson said.

Jones, the Rams' left outside linebacker, recalled that George had barreled over defensive tackle Jeff Zgonina for a 2-yard touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter. He expected to cover the tight end on an inside route, but instead he saw Dyson dart to the middle.

"I said, `This time, no matter who it is, I can't let him in the end zone. We've got a chance to win the game. Get him on the ground,'" Jones recalled. "That's what I did."

McNair accounted for 77 total yards in the first half, 201 in the second. He set Super Bowl records for the longest run (23 yards) and most yards rushing by a quarterback (64). He completed 17 of 22 passes in the second half, and the fourth-quarter time of possession was 13: 14-1: 46, Titans.

The only bigger hero was Warner.

One more time, the Warner story must be told, for it is the type of sporting miracle that compels us to watch the games. He was undrafted out of Northern Iowa. He played for the Arena League's Iowa Barnstormers and NFL Europe's Amsterdam Admirals. He became a devout Christian and entered a storybook romance with a single mother of two children.

"It's not a fairy tale. It's real life," Vermeil said. "He's an example of what we'd all like to be on and off the field. He is a great example of persistence and believing in himself and deep faith. What else can you write? He is a book, he is a movie, this guy."

No, the beauty of it is, he's just Kurt Warner.

"As I have always said, if I could be a source of hope to anybody out there, then I'm happy to be part of it," Warner said. "But when it is your life, you just take it day by day. I don't ever think of my life as a Hollywood story. It is just my life."

Warner completed 24 of 45 passes for a Super Bowl record 414 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with eight St. Luis receivers. And as Fisher noted, "He took a pounding. He was hit and hit and hit."

In the first half alone, Warner completed 19 of 35 passes for 277 yards. The Rams moved inside the Tennessee 20 on all five of their possessions. But true to form, the Titans stayed competitive, holding St. Louis without a touchdown.

It seemed absurd that the halftime score was only 9-0 -- the Rams had 18 first downs, and 14 plays of 10 yards or more. The Titans, meanwhile, had failed to establish George, getting him only seven carries. Either the Rams were going to blow out Tennessee or get sucked into the Titans' web.

Initially, it looked like the former.

And then, suddenly, it was the latter.

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