The day was September 11, 1999. I remember it well, because I was throwing an event for The Rocket, the northwest music magazine I worked for at the time. The party took place at the infamous Satyricon, a club that birthed many of Portland’s formative bands and served as a home away from home for the much higher-profile grunge scene emerging in Seattle.
That party remains the one and only show I ever personally booked. It featured local Judas Priest cover band British Steel (who, when I handed them their check before the party started, asked me if I knew of a good wig shop nearby), legendary Portland punk rock trio Dead Moon, and the one and only John Doe, frontman for LA rock band X.
It was a fun job, the kind you take when you’re younger and they ask you to do everything and you do even more because you love it. So naturally, between booking the event, selling the sponsorships, and packing the room, I took the first shift at the door.
A friend wandered in, and I knew he was a Rams fan.
“What do you think of this Kurt Warner guy?” he asked.
“He looks ok,” I shrugged. “Did you know that heading into tomorrow’s game we’re tied with the Bengals for worst record of the 90s?”
Suffice to say, the party was a blast. But in the back of my mind, I was really excited to watch the Rams play the Baltimore Ravens the next day. We’d brought in Marshall Faulk, drafted Torry Holt, and even though Trent Green went down in the preseason, maybe this Warner guy wasn’t that horrible. You know, a guy we could rally around and play good football.
At the time, I was watching Rams games at a place called Micky Finn’s, out near Reed College here in Portland. For those of you who have visited my beautiful city, you’ve surely set foot in a McMenamins brew pub or music venue — and Micky Finn’s was kind of a knock-off of one of their spots. Solid food, a nice beer selection, and a back room with a humongous old-school big-screen where about eight die-hard Rams fans (including the owner of the bar) would gather each week. It was usually somber back there, as we angrily suffered through the Tony Banks years, often leaving with a “maybe I’ll be here next week.... I don’t know, man.”
We all know what happened next, as the Rams went from 4-12 in 1998 to 13-3 (would have been 14-2, but they started QB Joe Germaine in the finale to rest some guys) and secured the #1 seed in the NFC and home field at the Trans World Dome. Somehow, in one offseason, the Rams had transformed from doormat to dominant. Add Faulk, Holt, Warner, Mad Mike Martz, and gallons of Dick Vermeil tears, and we had lightning in a bottle.
The Greatest Show on Turf was born.
We went on to stomp the Jeff George-led Minnesota Vikings by a count of 49-37 in the divisional round. I wasn’t able to watch it with my Dad, as he and my Mom were vacationing in Florida — lifelong Rams fans aren’t used to playing in January. Later, they framed this photo of him watching the game:
I remember my Dad and I watching the NFC Championship at Micky Finn’s. I’m sure he was still drinking beer at the time — we needed every drop for that one. Thank you, Ricky Proehl. Side note: during last week’s NFC Championship, I reminded my friends that Warner threw an INT to the Bucs on the Rams’ first drive in that game — and we won. Faith was restored, if only slightly.
And then came the big game. Back then, there was no two-week gap between Championship Sunday and the Super Bowl. It was just grip it and rip it. The upstart St. Louis Rams featuring the Greatest Show on Turf and Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans, led by Steve McNair and Eddie George, and recipients of the Music City Miracle lest we forget, Jeff Fisher’s lone appearance in the Super Bowl was a gift much larger than any missed calls the Rams may have benefited from last weekend:
To watch Super Bowl XXXIV, I was joined at Micky Finn’s by my Mom and Dad, two of their oldest friends (RIP), and a much larger group of Rams fans out of the woodwork for the big game huddled in the back room, nervously nibbling on pregame snacks by the flickering light of the 600-pound big-screen TV.
The Rams started out moving the ball well, but settled for field goals and a 9-0 halftime lead. We were nervous, of course, because we hadn’t capitalized on our red zone opportunities (hello, Sean Payton) — and nearly 300 yards passing from Warner. The Titans looked to get on the board in the third, but a blocked field goal by Todd Lyght kept them scoreless. The Rams would go on to take a 16-0 lead on the ensuing possession on a Torry Holt TD which he caught against his facemask. Things were looking good. However, Jeff Fisher’s Titans rallied to tie the game, displaying a resilience and wherewithal his Rams teams never dreamed of. What followed was my favorite play in Rams history, a 73-yard TD pass from Kurt Warner to Isaac Bruce to take a 23-16 lead. At first, the pass looked errant like it could be picked off, but then the good Reverend plucked it from the sky at the 38-yard line and took it to the house. For me, it was almost an out-of-body experience, as I simply felt my body jumping up and down, an involuntary act of pure joy.
The feisty Titans would once again drive the length of the field. Steve McNair was so strong and somehow so elusive — a bigger, slower version of Russell Wilson — as he shed Rams tacklers to put his team in position to tie. And then the final play, Rams LB Mike Jones wrapping up Titans WR Kevin Dyson on the one yard-line.
I remember shouting. “He’s down! It’s over! Rams win! Rams win!” before anyone else was quite sure what had happened. In an instant, that dimly lit back room at Micky Finn’s became pandemonium. Jumping up and down, hugs and laughter, champagne and confetti, blue and gold face paint streaked with tears of joy. I hugged my parents like my life depended on it. This was a day I never thought would come.
Pretty sure I closed a bar down that night, and “worked from home” the next day. I even recall finding the number of an old college buddy who was a Niners fan and giving him a buzzed buzz. It was our first conversation since 1994.
Warner would later say:
“How can you be in awe of something that you expect yourself to do? People think this season is the first time I touched a football; they don’t realize I’ve been doing this for years – just not on this level, because I never got the chance. Sure, I had my tough times, but you don’t sit there and say, ‘Wow, I was stocking groceries five years ago, and look at me now.’ You don’t think about it, and when you do achieve something, you know luck has nothing to do with it.”
Sounds a little bit like our young QB, doesn’t it?