As a long-suffering Los Angeles Rams fan, the heartache of seeing the Rams flee to St. Louis was hard to take. As a diehard, I asked myself when they left, “Do you junk your allegiance for another team discarding years and decades of memories or stick with it?”
After endless inward debate, it came to me that the Rams moving to a new city just wasn’t enough to throw away the something special I had shared with my Dad, so I decided to buy Sunday Ticket and watch every game on TV. I was able to rationalize this by saying to others who disagreed with me, “Well, you can’t take Brooklyn out of the Dodgers and therefore you can’t take Los Angeles out of the Rams”
Suffering as if they actually played in Southern California, the Rams stunk. I was happy that Dick Vermeil was hired as head coach. He had ties to the organization having been George Allen’s Special Teams Assistant Coach. He was a “winner” having upset the then Number 1 ranked mighty Ohio State Buckeyes as UCLA’s head coach in the Rose Bowl leading to his getting the Head Coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. He led Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl appearance, lost to the then-Los Angeles Raiders and ultimately coined the phrase “burned out” when he retired.
He was a hard-working coach who said to the Ram fans who questioned his time away and questioned whether the game had passed him by, “I am ready to resume what I do best—coach football.”
However, in his first three years, he struggled with the Rams. Coming into the 1999 season, his tenure with the team was on the line.
During the 1999 preseason, the Rams looked good with QB Trent Green at the helm. The Rams played like they might even make the playoffs with a offense that was wide open under the guidance of new Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz.
Then it happened. Trent Green went down against the San Diego Chargers, thanks to Rodney Harrison. At that moment when WR Issac Bruce pounded his hand on the turf in frustration, so did all the long suffering Rams fans whether in Los Angeles or St. Louis. The hope and dream of just making the playoffs seemed like a distant memory—here we go again.
Coach Vermeil tried to cushion the blow stating publically with tears in his eyes that, “Kurt Warner will be our starting quarterback. We will rally around Kurt and we will win football games.”
Who’s Kurt Warner? What little I knew of him then. He had led the Amsterdam Generals to the NFL Europe championship. Small consolation to Rams fans, since NFL Europe is far cry from the real NFL played on our shores—a D-league for players hoping to get a shot in the big leagues.
So, I waited. Waited to see what Kurt Warner could do. I had no expectations. Indeed if Kurt just played decent, maybe the Rams could forge to win five or six games.
After beating the Baltimore Ravens at home in the season opener, it was still “ho hum.” A nice win, but it’s just one game and a long season.
But then it happened. In the weeks that followed Kurt Warner performed as the most amazing quarterback I had ever seen, which at that time was 43 years of watching the Rams. When the Rams destroyed the Niners at home, they were 4-0. I said to myself, this is a Super Bowl team. I only wished that the season was 4 games.
Shortly thereafter an article appeared in the Sports Illustrated with the title “Who Is This Guy?” I ran down to the newsstand and read the story about the guy who had been boxing groceries and now was taking the NFL by storm.
Sports is about competition, but it’s also about inspiring us to greater heights and aspirations. The Sports Illustrated story about Kurt Warner’s reminded us of the great American dream of working hard, never giving up and believing in yourself. We do it everyday with our own family, working hard so that our children will have a better life then we have. So it was as much about us as it was about the Rams and Rams fans long suffering dream to win a Super Bowl.
The remarkable season continued. The Rams wound up with the best record in football, won the division and as a result had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rams’ first opponent in the playoff was the Minnesota Vikings, a team which the Rams were previously 0-4 against in the playoffs—I hated the Vikings for that. Minnesota had the weapons to upset the Rams again with Chris Carter, Randy Moss and a resurgent Jeff George at QB.
I said to myself, IF the Rams can just win this game, they’ll go to the Super Bowl cause the Tampa Bucs have no offense and with one TD the Rams having the 3rd ranked defense will shut those Bucs down. Having staked everything on this game, I was a basket case by the time of kick-off. Please Kurt win this game! Please!
The Rams won, and it was Kurt Warner leading the Rams to touchdowns, not field goals that cinched it. The next week with just that one TD to Rickey Proehl, the Rams were NFC Champions and Super Bowl XXXIV-bound.
As the Super Bowl approached, I thought to myself about the decision I had made years earlier. I had stuck by my Rams, and now with Kurt Warner at the helm, the team was on the verge of winning that long elusive Championship I had dreamed about in my youth.
Through the years I had waited for a moment to reoccur. The moment I harkened back to when I was a child. That day of the “blocked punt” against the Green Bay Packers with seconds left. Crowded in the tunnel with what seemed like a hundred others, I was on the shoulders of my Uncle and watched as Roman Gabriel stepped back to pass and hit Bernie Casey for the game winning touchdown. The Rams had beaten in the NFL Champions Packers in a most improbable way and a victory next week against the Colts would clinch a spot in the playoffs for the Rams.
The Rams did indeed beat the Colts but lost against Green Bay the following week in the playoffs.
However that one play the “blocked punt” stayed with me my entire life. The moment when my life changed from being a Ram fan, to being a diehard. Never give up. Never give up on your dreams! Never give in! Believe, and great things will happen.
In the Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans with the game tied Kurt Warner, cocked his arm, at that moment the ball floated, I was holding my breath. Would it be complete? Would it be picked off? Out of the blue appearing on my TV screen was Issac Bruce.
He caught the ball!
Then he made a move to the inside and was gone! Touchdown Rams “and they won’t catch him today” and my memories of that game against the Packers in 1967 came back “One play! One play!” That moment had arrived again.
I knew it, the Rams will not be denied this victory. The Rams are going to win this game. It’s our destiny! And with the tackle, the years of frustration, anger, depression were swept away—the Rams were finally Super Bowl Champions.
Having seen the great Ram players like Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, Eric Dickerson, I know Kurt Warner to be in a separate category. The player who was bagging groceries was now the Super Bowl MVP for the Super Bowl Champion Rams.
This weekend, Kurt Warner will be honored by the Rams for his induction into the Hall of Fame. When he was voted in, every American who lives his life working hard, believing in himself with that “Never Give Up” attitude went into the hall with him as well.
Sports is about inspiring to achieve goals, records and achievements beyond possibility.
This Sunday, It will be with great pride and maybe even a tear in my eye that when I hear “And now ladies and gentleman Kurt Warner” It will be my first chance, as well as all the Los Angeles Ram fans who stuck with the team all those years to say “Thank you.” It will be a thunderous standing ovation well deserved. My thoughts at moment will be “Hey Dad, if your looking from heaven—there he is, Kurt Warner, our quarterback, a hall of famer who made our dream of a Super Bowl Championship come true.”