The National Football League is celebrating the Golden Anniversary of it's biggest event this Sunday, February 7th, as Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers take on Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Over the next few days, The Shadow League will continue to share some of our most memorable reflections from the game that has become much bigger than football, morphing into an essential piece of the tapestry that defines who we are as an American society.
There’s nothing more deflating than waiting all year to watch the Super Bowl and witnessing a blowout.
While the camaraderie, guacamole and beer are worthy of praise unto themselves, it’s really a drag. But there are those rare championship confrontations that do live up to our wildest expectations, such as Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.
The St. Louis Rams fielded a squad led by QB Kurt Warner, WR Isaac Bruce, explosive running back Marshall Faulk, who just won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award, then-rookie sensation WR Torry Holt and WR Az-Zahir Hakim, all of them benefiting from the protection of Pro Bowl offensive linemen Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman.
The Tennessee Titans were supposed to be sheep being led to the slaughter. Their QB Steve “Air” McNair had been applauded for his leadership abilities and toughness, but he'd missed five games due to injury.
Much of the burden that season fell on former Ohio State Buckeyes star running back Eddie George, who was coming of career highs in yardage (1,304 yards), receptions (47), receiving yards (458) and receiving touchdowns. Additionally, WR Yancey Thigpen, WR Kevin Dyson and TE Frank Wycheck served as the main deep threats for the Titans’ rather unspectacular passing attack.
The Tennessee defense also featured NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Jevon Kearse, who recorded 14.5 sacks, and talented linebacker Eddie Robinson.
The first half was a defensive contest with all the warm fuzziness of a rabid porcupine. This Rams’ fast- paced offense was relegated to three field goals as they entered halftime with a 9-0 lead. St. Louis would proceed to score the first touchdown of the game in the second half on a 9-yard connection from Warner to Holt. The Titans would respond with a drive that started with a return by Tennessee receiver Derrick Mason to the 34-yard line.
Five Eddie George runs, two Frank Wycheck receptions and a 23-yard scramble by McNair would lead to a TD by George, but an attempt for two would fail.
Then McNair would lead the Titans on a 13-play, 79-yard scoring drive capped by another Eddie George touchdown after the Titans defense forced a Rams punt. The score was 16-13.
Another three and out by the Rams, and another proverbial Sherman’s march down the field would lead to redeeming a 43-yard field goal by Al Del Greco, who missed a field goal to start the second half. With 2:12 left in the game It looked like Big Mo (momentum) walked over and sat firmly on the Titans bench.
On their ensuing drive, Kurt Warner would hook up with Isaac Bruce for his only reception of the game, which would go for a 73-yard touchdown. No one would blame McNair and the Titans if they went belly up at that point. They had a good run. An AFC Championship ring, while not a Super Bowl ring, would suffice. Right?
Starting at their own 12-yard line with 1:48 left , McNair would hit Mason and Wycheck for gains of nine and seven yards. But a facemask and an offside penalty would set up a dramatic play that would solidify the legend of Air McNair.
On 3rd and 5, and with defenders draped all over him like a Steve Harvey suit, McNair escaped some pressure to hit Kevin Dyson for a 16-yard gain. With six seconds remaining and the ball on the 10-yard line, it appeared as if McNair would pull out a miracle.
He would link up with Dyson for the third time on that drive for what appeared to be a walk-in touchdown from five yards out. But Titans linebacker Mike Jones would tackle Dyson at the 1-yard line, to seal the deal.
It is often said that football is a game of inches. This one really was.
This would be the first of two Super Bowl appearances by the St. Louis Rams. The Tennessee Titans have not returned since.
The play, known to football historians as “The Tackle”, is widely regarded as one of the greatest moments in Super Bowl history.