The St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans were not likely candiates to give America a great championship battle. They weren’t even good candidates to make the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl when the 1999 NFL season began. But in an unpredictable year, a great battle is exactly what America got, as the Rams-Titans Super Bowl came down to but a single yard.
Both franchises were recent relocations. The Rams came to St. Louis prior to 1995 and hadn’t won more than six games in a season in their new home. The Titans departure from Houston, where they were called the Oilers, prior to 1997 was marginally more successful, but there were still no playoff appearances.
St. Louis captured everyone’s attention with a 6-0 start, particularly its journeyman quarterback Kurt Warner, who transformed himself into the league MVP. The offense was “The Greatest Show On Turf”, with Marshall Faulk in the backfield as one of the great combination running/receiving threats the league has ever seen, along with Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt outside. Orlando Pace was a first-team All-Pro at left tackle and Kevin Carter was the team’s best defensive player with seventeen sacks.
The Rams finished the season 13-3 and were the top seed in the NFC. They lit up the Minnesota Vikings in the first playoff game, 49-37. Then St. Louis showed they could win the hard way, in a grueling 11-6 NFC Championship win over the Tony Dungy-coached Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tennessee was built around the run, as Eddie George rolled up 1300 yards, and quarterback Steve McNair could both run or pass. Jevon Kearse was a havoc-wreaker at defensive end, with 14.5 sacks. The Titans went 13-3, and even though that put them a game back of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the old AFC Central (which included the four teams in the current AFC North), Tennessee had handed the Jags both of their losses.
The Titans then won one of the most stunning playoff finishes of all time. “The Music City Miracle” saw them trailing the Buffalo Bills 16-15 in the closing seconds. Tight end Frank Wychek fielded the squib kickoff at the 25, threw an across-the-field lateral to Kevin Dyson, who ran it in for the game-winning touchdown.
Thus inspired, Tennessee then knocked out Indianapolis and Peyton Manning, and finished the AFC run with a third straight win over Jacksonville.
St. Louis was a seven-point favorite at the Super Bowl in Atlanta. The game was ugly early on, with only three Rams’ field goals in the first half, but when the Rams scored the first touchdown of the second half, it looked like it might be getting out of hand.
Tennessee chipped their way back to tie it 16-16 with five minutes to play. On the ensuing possession Warner hit Bruce on a 73-yard scoring strike down the sidelines to give the Rams a 23-16 lead.
Then began the drive. Tennessee started on its own 12, got a key facemask penalty and a clutch catch by Dyson and slowly but surely they were on the St. Louis 10-yard line with time for one more play.
The throw went to Dyson over the middle. He caught it inside the 5, and had one man to beat. Mike Jones, a linebacker of no particular note, put the tackle on. Dyson turned his body and reached to the end zone with the football. He came up a yard short. Jones had made a history-changing tackle. The Rams-Titans Super Bowl had ended on the one-yard line.
St. Louis had their only Super Bowl win, regardless of location. Tennessee still awaits their first title. Three feet separates those two destinies.