The Los Angeles Rams partied like it was 1999 when they won the franchise’s first Super Bowl title 23-16 against the Tennessee Titans. Since that electrifying season, the Rams fell short in the Big Game in 2001 and 2018. Will the 2021 team pull off a victory where those other teams couldn’t? We’ll have to wait six more grueling days for our answer.
As we wait to pig out on our chicken wings and beer, let’s have some fun, Turf Show Family! The last part of that sentence might’ve sounded as frightening as winning an all-expenses-paid vacation to the International Banana Museum. This will actually be a blast, so don’t banana split on me just yet.
In this exercise, I will be comparing this season’s Rams team to the Greatest Show on Turf. Given that breathtaking era of football lasted three seasons from 1999-2001, I will only use the ‘99 team as they are the only member of LA’s Lombardi club to date. I will divide this up into three sections: Offense, Defense and Point Differential.
What can’t I say about the offensive production the 1999 Rams put up? This Rams squad led the NFL in total offense (400.8 yards per game), passing yards (272.1 yards per game) and scoring (32.9 points per game). The two main engineers of this buzz saw during this storybook campaign were Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. Warner threw 41 touchdown passes, had 4,353 passing yards, which ranked second in the NFL, put up a 109.2 passer rating that was the third-highest in history and led the league in yards-per-attempt and completion percentage. Warner won the first of his two career MVP awards for his efforts.
Running back Marshall Faulk who was acquired by Head Coach Dick Vermeil in the offseason rushed for 1,381 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the league with a 5.5 average. Faulk was a dual-threat, also catching 87 passes for 1, 048 yards and five touchdowns, becoming only the second player ever to post 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. At the time, his 2,429 total yards set a single-season record. The first-year Ram was named Offensive Player of the Year and finished second in MVP voting behind Warner.
The ‘21 Rams look like underachieving scrubs compared to the Greatest Show. LA finished the season ranked ninth in total offense (372.1 yards per game) and finished a dismal 25th in rushing offense (99 yards per game). Thanks to the first season of the Matthew Stafford experience, (hopefully coming to a Disney World near you), the ‘99 team fell one yard short of these Rams in passing yards (273.1 yards per game). However, that total ranked fifth in the NFL.
Much like the GSOT, Los Angeles had a two-man army running the show in Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Stafford tied Warner’s 41 touchdown passes and easily outgained him in passing yards with a franchise-record of 4,886. Matt was dwarfed in passer rating by Warner but still put up a respectable 102.9 mark.
Cooper Kupp won the receiving Triple Crown, accumulating 145 catches, 1,947 yards, and 16 touchdowns. He broke Calvin Johnson’s 2012 record for most yards from scrimmage by a wide receiver in NFL history (1,965 yards). Kupp also became the first receiver to ever accumulate over 2K receiving yards in regular season and postseason combined (2,191).
Both offenses were able to pile on the points but the 1999 team easily wins the head-to-head here. That squad remains one of only five teams in league history to score more than 30 points twelve separate times in a single season. In contrast, the 2021 team was only able to muster that feat seven times.
Everyone knows the Greatest Show on Turf could put up the points, but they could also stop anyone with one of the league’s best defenses. Defensively, they ranked sixth in yards allowed and fourth in points (15.1 points per game). Their run defense ranked first in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (74.3 yards per game) and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed with only four given up all season.
Defensive end Kevin Carter turned in a dominant All-Pro campaign, tallying 17 of the Rams’ league-high 57 sacks. To put this in perspective, this team would’ve still led the NFL in sacks this season, beating out the Pittsburgh Steelers by two. How could I mention this team without including the defensive play that ended up winning them the title?
January 30, 2000: “The Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis #Rams defeated the "Music City Miracle" Tennessee Titans by 1 yard when LB Mike Jones tackled WR Kevin Dyson at the 1-yd line for their 1st and only championship since 1951— Pro Sports Outlook (@PSO_Sports) January 31, 2022
Defensively, a team with Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller should’ve easily beat the Greatest Show in this category, right? Wrong. Despite all that talent, the ‘21 Rams finished a pedestrian 17th in total defense (344.9 yards per game). They ranked in the bottom half in passing defense (241.7 yards per game) but their run defense was a top-10 unit, giving up 103.2 yards per game (sixth in the NFL).
The sack department is probably the only category this year’s Rams have that is even close to the ‘99 squad. LA had 50 sacks (third in the league) which was seven behind the Greatest Show. Aaron Donald led the team with 12.5 sacks. Again, the 2021 Rams are no match for the 1999 team because their defense badly underachieved far below their potential.
In 1999, the Rams scored 526 points compared to giving up only 242, a point differential of 284 which set a single-season record. This record stood until the New England Patriots broke the 300-point threshold in 2007 (315). (I believe the Pats must get off to tormenting the poor Rams.) Regardless, this level of dominance was quite unprecedented and it could’ve been far greater for the team if they hadn’t already clinched home-field:
“Had the Rams not rested their starters in the final regular season game against the Eagles, they likely would have posted a point differential well above 300. They easily would have won 14 games. Had they held the Eagles to fewer than 14 points, they would have posted the NFL’s number one defense in points scored and would have joined the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 1996 Green Bay Packers as the only NFL teams to lead the NFL in most points scored and fewest points allowed.” via Bryn Swartz at Bleacher Report
There’s no comparison to that incredible team in franchise history and 2021 is no exception. This season, the Rams scored 460 points and gave up 372 for a puny point differential of 88, setting them almost 200 points behind the ‘99 squad. That Rams team was truly one of a kind and NFL fans might never see anything quite like them again even as the game progresses more offensively.
The Dynasty that Never Was
There’s nothing like Super Bowl week to reminisce about the great NFL teams of old. The Greatest Show on Turf was powerfully potent and far ahead of its time. Within those three glorious years, the Rams had scored 1569 points, an average of 523 per season, which made them the only team in league history to average more than 30 points per game over a three-year span (32.7).
Typically, NFL dynasties require teams to win at least three to four Super Bowl titles. Rings are apparently the only way for teams and players to be remembered by. These Rams may have won a single title, but should that make them any less special? What the Rams accomplished in that span paved the way for the offensive spectacle the sport is currently. To me, that’ll leave a lasting impression on me much like those football dynasties we grew up idolizing. The best way for LA to honor the Greatest Show and the 1999 team in particular is to beat the Bengals this Sunday. This Rams team might not leave the same lasting mark, but the Lombardi has a way of immortalizing all who have raised it.
What are your most favorite memories of the Greatest Show on Turf?