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A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

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  • A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

    A dream win — a decade ago

    BY JIM THOMAS
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    12/13/2009

    The loud bang of confetti cannons made Mike Gruttadauria's chest shake. He felt the tickle of confetti rolling down his face and arms. And heard the roar of the crowd in the Georgia Dome after one of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history.

    Ten years ago.

    "I'm getting chills thinking about it now," said Gruttadauria, the starting center in the Rams' 23-16 Super Bowl XXXIV victory over Tennessee. "That's the euphoria I remember. That's the one moment. The little snapshot in time."

    For wide receiver Ricky Proehl, his "snapshot" came in the locker room afterward.

    "Just a bunch of grown men — some in towels, some still in their uniforms — just hugging," Proehl said. "Just jubilation. 'Man, we did it!' It was just that bond that stays with you forever."

    The day after the Super Bowl, Tom Nütten boarded a pickup truck in downtown St. Louis. Each truck had a bale of straw to sit on, with two Rams players per truck. It was freezing cold. Nütten heard a din in the background, but couldn't see anything.

    "And then the truck turned the corner onto Washington Avenue, and what was it — a quarter million people on the street cheering?" said Nütten, the starting left guard on that team. "That gave me chills over and over again."

    If you talked to each player on the 53-man roster of that championship team, you might find 53 different signature memories — some that occurred long before that Super Bowl.

    For free safety Keith Lyle that moment came when he showed up for work one day, walked through the players' entrance at Rams Park and saw a framed picture of the Lombardi Trophy hanging on the wall. (It was Dick Vermeil's idea.)

    "Up until that point, there was no talk about Super Bowls," Lyle said.

    And why should there be? Before that '99 season, the Rams had experienced nine straight losing seasons. They were one of the laughingstocks of the NFL.

    "But that year, every day we walked in there, there was a sense of, 'That's what we're playing for. That's what it's about,' " Lyle said. "I think that was one of the first pieces of that season. That was huge for me."

    THE VERMEIL FACTOR

    For defensive end Kevin Carter, who led the league with 17 sacks that season, his watershed moment came that August — in the midst of the hot, grueling drudgery of two-a-days in Macomb, Ill.

    "In the middle of training camp, Coach Vermeil called us up about halfway through practice that day and told us to take it in for the day," Carter recalled.

    Keep in mind, the team had been through two hellish training camps previously under Vermeil. There were three-hour practices in full pads throughout the '97 and '98 regular seasons, a routine that led to a near player revolt in '98. So the team was absolutely stunned in August 1999, to hear Vermeil give them the rest of the day off.

    Yes, Carter recalled, the emotional Vermeil was choked up that day when he addressed the team.

    "It's almost like he surveyed and looked around, and said, 'You guys are ready,' " Carter said.

    The players sprinted off the field quickly, fearful that Vermeil might change his mind.

    "After that, our attitude toward things, it seemed like it was different," Carter said. "We practiced like a championship team, played the preseason like a championship team. ... It was almost like that was when we officially bought in."

    Carter called it the magic before the magic. Now, 10 years after that magical season, the common thread brought up by the '99 Rams is what Vermeil did to unify the team and mold the players into champions.

    "No matter what anybody else wants to say, it was his vision," said tight end Roland Williams. "It was his foresight to see what others didn't see. To believe what others didn't believe."

    "Dick is such a good man," said tight end Ernie Conwell. "Through the whole process of those three years, you couldn't help but love the guy, despite your differences. He was an old school coach. But he was not malicious. ... It was who he was.

    "The way you work is what you become — that's never left me. That was his firm belief. He knew that hard work would produce greatness."

    But what endeared him even more to the players was how he modified his philosophy before the '99 season, shortening practice times and taking a saner approach to preparation and training.

    "He kind of met us in the middle," Conwell said. "That spoke volume to the players, that this guy really is for us. This guy in his 60s is humble enough to change his ways for us."

    So in a game built on teamwork and relationships, no team was closer than those '99 Rams. Right tackle Fred Miller signed a free-agent contract with Tennessee the following season. Miller remembers talking so much about his time with the Rams, and his friends with the Rams, that he was constantly teased about it by his new Titans teammates.

    Of course, lots of successful teams are close. Miller later played on a Super Bowl team with Chicago. Proehl was on Super Bowl squads with Carolina and Indianapolis. But nothing matched the bond of the '99 Rams.

    "I think winning was a sidebar of how close we were," Miller said. "Guys were going out there fighting for one another, vs. just going out there to win a game or get a bigger contract. Of course, we wanted those things, but there was something bigger to what was going on."

    LIFE GOES ON

    More than a year after that game, the bond remained strong. Proehl remembers a magazine photo shoot for ESPN Magazine in 2001. The cover photo was of all the Rams' skill players on offense. Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Az-Zahir Hakim were all in the picture. But Proehl wasn't invited.

    "Where's Ricky?" they asked.

    "We're not going to use Ricky," they were told by one of the magazine officials. "We want you guys."

    "Then we're not doing the photo," the Rams replied.

    So Proehl was included in the photo.

    "How many guys would do that?" Proehl recalled Wednesday, in a phone interview from his office in Greensboro, N.C.

    As he spoke, Proehl was looking at a framed copy of the cover. He owns and runs Proehlific Park, a sports and training complex that includes a 72,000-square-foot facility, with an indoor turf field, batting cages, a weight room and an academic center.

    Outside are baseball, soccer and multipurpose fields. Originally, he built it simply to give area youth a nearby place to play. But now agents are sending players to train for the NFL scouting combine. Pros train there, but high school players as well. Proehl also coaches his son's 14-and-under baseball team.

    "I put a lot of my own money in it, because I believe in it," Proehl said. "A lot of sweat equity."

    Although not on such a grand a scale, many of the other '99 Rams are busy raising families and coaching their kids, be it soccer, hockey, baseball, or football. Many are active in charities.

    And like a ripple effect in a pond, they spread the word about the importance of teamwork, preparation and hard work that they saw reach fruition with the '99 Rams.

    Before his team's little league "Super Bowl," Miller — who has settled in Chicago — spoke to his team of 9- and 10-year-olds, relating stories of what happened in the locker room in '99 and what Rams coaches told them at the time. He passed around his Super Bowl XXXIV championship ring.

    There has been some talk of a 10-year reunion before this season's Super Bowl, but sadly, it doesn't look like it will happen. The '99 Rams don't see each other as often as they'd like. But the bond remains strong when they do.

    "When you win a Super Bowl, you never forget the guys that were on that team," said defensive end Leonard Little, the last member of the '99 team still playing for the Rams. "So every time we see each other, it's always like it was yesterday when we won it."

  • #2
    Re: A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

    great story, brings back alot of good memories.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

      Wow, shows the true bond of the team back then, the skill offense players refused to do a shoot without proehl!

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

        1999 was the first year I ever played fantasy football. The league needed a patsy so I was invited. I got laughed at and ridiculed as I drafted Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az Hakim, Jeff Wilkins, Rams DEF/ST, and a few players from the Raiders. I lost in the championship game when the Rams allowed the Eagles to score 38 points in the last game of the regular season. I still always have a weakness to draft at least one Rams player each year.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: A Dream Win - A Decade Ago

          I was at the home opener against the Ravens in 99'. Much to my surprise, I watched Kurt (who?) Warner and the GSOT torch the Ravens and the rest is history.

          Those were the days........:helmet:
          sigpic :ram::helmet:

          Comment

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