Rams-Bucs: A history of intensity
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Saturday, Oct. 16 2004

"I can say I hate these (Rams). . . . This is a team that I want to beat,
and I don't even like watching them on TV. I mean, Devin Bush, I don't like.
D'Marco Farr, I don't like. (London) Fletcher, I don't like. I can name the
whole defense - I don't like them, and if they don't know it, they will by
Monday."


- Then Tampa Bay OG Frank Middleton, in December of 2000.

* * *

Ah, those were the days. Tampa Bay, with its bare-knuckle defense and its
ugly-duckling offense. St. Louis, with its video-game offense and all the hype
that came with being dubbed the Greatest Show on Turf.

The contrast in styles made for a fascinating NFC championship game at the end
of the 1999 season - a slugfest won by the Rams 11-6 on Ricky Proehl's dramatic
"Catch for the Ages" late in the fourth quarter.

That's where a white-hot rivalry was born.

"It just kind of rode on from that game," Rams offensive guard Tom Nutten said.
"They probably wanted to get some revenge from that particular game. . .and it
just snowballed."

Actually, the Bucs wanted revenge right after that game, with Middleton getting
into a scuffle with Bush - then a Rams safety - outside the Rams locker room at
what was then called the Trans World Dome. Punches were thrown, and police had
to step in, but no charges were filed.

"It was a very intense game," coach Mike Martz would recall later. "You look at
tape, you can see it was a slugfest. It was a heavyweight fight."

The ABC television network thought so, too. So much so, that for the next three
seasons the Buccaneers and the Rams squared off annually on "Monday Night
Football."

"They've always been really close games that always came down to the wire,"
Nutten said. "The fans love it, and the media love it."

And ABC still loves it. The teams didn't play in 2003, but with the Bucs back
on the Rams' schedule in '04 - surprise! - here they are in St. Louis for
another prime-time tussle this Monday night at the Edward Jones Dome.

"We've had some battles," Rams offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "We've
battled them here, down there, I mean they've all been tight games. Just
hard-fought games."

With one common theme: Since that '99 NFC title game, the Bucs have won every
time.

On Dec. 18, 2000, just a couple of days after Middleton's outburst, Tampa
surprisingly outscored the Rams 38-35 at Raymond James Stadium.
Marshall Faulk scored four TDs, Torry Holt had 165 receiving yards, but it was
the Bucs who came up winners on Warrick Dunn's 1- yard TD run with 48 seconds
remaining.

On Nov. 26, 2001, Dunn's fourth-quarter TD run gave the Bucs a 24-17 victory at
St. Louis. The Rams were guilty of six turnovers that night, including four
lost fumbles.

"We just looked at what is reality," Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks would say
afterward. "Reality is they score a lot of points. But they also lead the
league in turnovers. They either blow you out, or they turn it over and you can
play with them for 60 minutes."

On Sept. 23, 2002, Brooks returned an interception 39 yards for a TD with 59
seconds to play, staving off a St. Louis comeback attempt in a 26-14 Tampa
victory. Kurt Warner was pummeled by the Bucs pass rush all night long, and
threw four interceptions, matching his career high. The Rams fell to 0-3 in a
non-strike year for the first time since 1963.

"What's wrong with Kurt?" was the cry from Rams Nation after the game.

"Oh gosh! I don't know. You tell me," Warner chided reporters afterward. "I
know I'm healthy. I know the thumb hasn't bothered me at all."

Which brings us to this Monday night.

"All those games are gone and done with," Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson
said. "No one's really thinking about that. Every year is different and every
team is different."

Jackson has been on both sides of the rivalry - as a Buccaneer in 1999 and
2000, and as a Ram in '01 and '02. His comments about football players and
coaches living in the present are on the mark.

"Did we play them last year? I can't remember," Timmerman said.

Only in the 2003 preseason, Timmerman was told.

"OK, I couldn't figure out that film we were watching, because Kyle (Turley)
was in it," Timmerman said.

Turley didn't join the Rams until 2003, so it obviously was tape from the '03
Rams-Bucs preseason game.

"I probably couldn't have told you we were 0-3 against them (since the NFC
title game)," Timmerman said. "I would have probably guessed we won one of
those."

Nope, 0-3. It's a number Martz is painfully familiar with. Martz, of course,
was Rams offensive coordinator in that '99 NFC title game. Despite having the
NFL's third-best regular- season winning percentage among head coaches in the
Super Bowl era (.667, with a 46-23 record), Martz is winless against Tampa.

In his four-plus seasons as an NFL head coach, Martz has at least one victory
against every team he's faced, except Dallas (0-1), Kansas City (0-2),
Washington (0-2) . . . and Tampa Bay (0-3).

Ask Martz if it would be nice to get that first victory over the Bucs, and the
eyes narrow, the intensity rises in his voice, and the answer is succinct:
"Sure it would. Absolutely. No question."

Spoken in a tone normally reserved for a rival.