Friday, September 24, 2004

By Nick Wagoner
Staff Writer

This is the third in a five-part review of the games that made the Rams-Saints into one of the NFL’s most heated rivalries.

With the third game of the 2000 season set to be played on the NFL’s biggest stage, the pot of the Rams-Saints burgeoning rivalry finally boiled over.

One week after a 26-21 win in New Orleans to put St. Louis in the playoffs, the Rams traveled back to the Big Easy for a playoff game. The added pressure of defending their world championship and eliminating their biggest rivals had the Rams’ emotions mounting.

The Saints, on the other hand, seemed to dismiss the loss one week earlier as an aberration, running their mouths as well as Marshall Faulk did against them in the Rams’ win.

Saints’ offensive tackle Kyle Turley fired the first shot, holding back nothing. He told the New Orleans Times Picayune that there was no doubt about his confidence.

“They’re going to come down here and we’re going to beat them…and we’ll move on in the playoffs,” Turley said at the time. “I’m confident we’re not going to settle for losing to anybody in the playoffs. Especially these guys.”

Receiver Joe Horn echoed Turley’s sentiments saying the Saints have nothing to fear by playing St. Louis again.

“I don’t see the same Rams team. I can’t wait to play them,” Horn said. "We're going to be ready for them when they come to New Orleans. I don't mind running my tongue, if they want to put quotes up in their locker room. Put this quote in their locker room: 'We'll see you when you get to New Orleans.' "

Rams’ defensive tackle D’Marco Farr countered with a strong statement of his own.

“We’re not going to take any stuff from any team, especially these guys,” Farr said. “We were coming in to win. Now, we’re coming in here to beat you up.”

Horn stoked the fire more, calling out St. Louis’ defense, which had struggled most of the season.

“I mean, their defense ain’t that good man,” Horn told the Post-Dispatch. “To beat the Rams, you put points on the board. If the defense plays subpar and the offense plays the same game as the Rams, you beat the Rams.”

The war of words wasn’t the only battle going on. New Orleans’ coach Jim Haslett apparently made overtures to some Rams’ coaches who were in danger of losing their job. Haslett mentioned it directly to the coaches. In addition, in the second meeting, one Rams fan was mugged by three Saints’ fans in the stands. That fan was later invited by Georgia Frontiere to attend the playoff game.

St. Louis entered the game on Dec. 30, 2000 with all the motivation it needed, but in the end, turnovers kept the Rams from advancing. New Orleans won a playoff game for the first time in its history 31-28.

Rams’ punt returner Az-Zahir Hakim fumbled away a punt and a shot at completing one of the most remarkable comebacks in playoff history with slightly less than 2 minutes to play.

New Orleans’ Brian Milne recovered at the 11 and the hopes of defending the championship were instantly gone. Those hopes, though, were almost dashed by the Saints’ improbable start. After the Rams scored a touchdown on their opening possession of the game, New Orleans scored the next 31 points and raced to an astounding 31-7 lead with just over 12 minutes to play in the game.

The Rams, as they had done many times in the previous two years, stormed back. Quarterback Kurt Warner, who had a slight concussion in the teams’ previous meeting, led the charge. He hit Ricky Proehl for a 17-yard touchdown pass to begin the comeback. Two possessions later, Warner threw a 25-yard TD pass to Faulk to cut the score to 31-20. Warner took matters into his hands on the next series, scoring from 5 yards out, then passed to Faulk for the two-point conversion to cut the deficit to three.

New Orleans recovered the Rams’ onside kick on the ensuing possession, but were held to three plays and done before the punt. The Saints sat on the ball after the fumble recovery, securing the win.

The Saints made good on Turley’s statement, but lost to Minnesota a week later. The rivalry was hitting its peak and Turley was certain to be heard from again. This time, though, his talking wasn’t done to a reporter.