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Rams-Titans rendezvous stirs super memories
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Modest to a fault, Isaac Bruce rates his catch as No. 3 on his hit parade of that magical 1999 season.
"My catch was right under Ricky's, and right under Mike's tackle," Bruce said.
Ricky Proehl's TD catch was the game winner that season in the NFC championship game against Tampa Bay. And Mike Jones' tackle of Kevin Dyson preserved the Rams' 23-16 victory over Tennessee in Super Bowl XXXIV.
But No. 3? After all, it was Bruce's 73-yard touchdown reception that broke a 16-16 tie late in the fourth quarter against Tennessee.
"Ricky's catch got me into the Super Bowl," Bruce said. "So, he helped me achieve a goal that I'd been trying to do for the previous five years. And Mike's tackle solidified it."
Torry Holt, then a rookie, remembers the play well.
"I just remember the ball up and Ike coming back and making an unbelievable play on the football," said Holt, who scored the Rams' first TD that day. "That's Isaac. That's what he does. Vintage Ike."
Holt's eyes were beaming when he recalled that special place in time. ... The downfield block by Az-Zahir Hakim that helped spring Bruce. ... The look of joy on Bruce's face after he crossed the goal line. ... The Bob 'n' Weave celebration that ensued in the end zone.
"He was just so in the moment," Holt said. "We were doing our little dance. There were just so many emotions going through our heads."
They were young and talented. They were the "Greatest Show on Turf." They danced, they won, they had fun.
"We had a lot of things going on," Holt said. "It was a fun time. It's something that we can all remember."
Remember the Titans? Running back Eddie George pounding the football. Quarterback Steve McNair, a fearless picture of leadership. The punishing old-school Tennessee defense. And coach Jeff Fisher, matching wits with Rams head coach Dick Vermeil and his offensive coordinator, Mike Martz.
For a brief time, Rams-Titans blossomed into a white-hot rivalry:
-- It began with a Halloween day matchup of the 6-0 Rams against the 5-1 Titans in Nashville, with Tennessee hanging on for a 24-21 victory.
-- Then came Super Bowl XXXIV, one of the most entertaining and dramatic in the history of the game.
-- The following summer, the Titans came to Macomb, Ill., for three days of joint practices and a scrimmage at Western Illinois. Things grew heated. Fisher didn't like the way his players practiced the first day and challenged them to pick up the pace. Two Rams players, including first-round draft pick Trung Canidate, were injured the next day, angering the Rams coaching staff and front office.
-- Then there were the preseason games in 2000, 2001, and 2002. One year, Martz sniped at the Titans for blitzing so much. Fisher countered that the Titans wouldn't blitz if the Rams wouldn't throw the football 12 times in a row.
The 2000 exhibition game, played in Nashville barely six months after the Super Bowl, was an event in Tennessee. The Titans, who won 30-3, put a lot into that game, right down to having jets fly overhead prior to kickoff.
"Remember that?" Rams tight end Roland Williams said, laughing. "They called that Super Bowl XXXIV 1/2."
It was some rivalry.
"Yeah, it was going pretty well," Fisher said Wednesday. "There's a lot of respect, mutual respect, on behalf of both clubs. I haven't gone down the Rams' roster to see how many are left off that '99 team. But I had a show of hands here just a few days ago, just to illustrate that point, and I'm embarrassed to say it was only a couple."
For the record, the Titans have five players remaining from their Super Bowl XXXIV squad. The Rams have 12 left, but Williams, offensive guard Tom Nutten, offensive tackle Matt Willig, and tight end-long snapper Jeff Robinson left and came back since that game.
Now comes Sunday, the first regular-season meeting between the Rams and Titans since Super Bowl XXXIV. It seems like that game was a long time ago.
"It seems like it was ... about five or six years ago," Martz said, teasing. "No. It has been a long, long time."
Martz can't recall looking at the Super Bowl tape since the 2000 season.
Once in a while, Bruce catches a highlight from the game on television.
"If I'm not sweeping up my house, or anything, I may watch it," Bruce said. "I don't pop the tape in. I don't want to live in '99. I want to live in 2005, 2006."
Pace said there are daily reminders in his house, such as pictures, or the mini-Lombardi Trophy that team owners gave the players to commemorate the Super Bowl victory.
"I'm only asked about it when we play the Titans or we hear something about the Titans," Pace said.
But he conceded, with a chuckle, "Let's just say, I think about it a lot more than I think about the New Orleans Super Bowl."
The Rams, of course, lost that game, two years later, to New England.
Pace wears his Super Bowl championship ring occasionally, mainly when he's making an appearance on behalf of the team.
Once in a while, neighbors ask Nutten for a peek at his ring.
"It has to be a special neighbor," Nutten said. "I don't drag it out for just anybody."
Bruce says: "I haven't worn it in awhile. It's in a safe place. I take a look at it, I glance at it every now and then. But it's something I'll have forever, so I'll definitely cherish it."
And make no mistake, there is a difference between a Super Bowl ring and the conference championship ring that goes to the Super Bowl runner-up.
"One thing: more diamonds," Holt said. "More diamonds in a Super Bowl ring than in a championship ring. More diamonds.
And more pomp and circumstance.
"The conference ring (from Super Bowl XXXVI), we came over here to Rams Park and picked those up," Holt said. "There was no parade, anything like that. We just came to the Park and picked those up. But when you win it all, you get the parade. You get the banquet. And you get that ice.
"And that's what guys play for in the National Football League. That's what it's all about: trying to get those diamonds, that ring."
Perhaps the Titans will get one some day.
"Maybe, one day," Holt said, smiling.