In the world of sports, athletes often dedicate their entire lives to reaching the pinnacle of their profession, but for many, life at the top can be short-lived. Sometimes all a player gets to experience at the highest level is one minute on the court, one trip to the plate, one shot on goal or one checkered flag, but more often than not, that fleeting moment in the spotlight is a story all its own. This is One and Done, a FOX Sports series profiling athletes, their paths to success and the stories behind some of sports' most ephemeral brushes with glory.
As the Rams embark on their latest move to Los Angeles, some are remembering the team's tenure in St. Louis as an abject failure, due in part to a miserable recent stretch for the franchise, which has seen one winning season in the last 14 years.
Since the start of 2002, the Rams have gone 83-140-1 in the regular season and won one playoff game, and since 2007, St. Louis has won 42 games overall, with a .347 home winning percentage that ranks dead last in the league in that span.
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But there was a time not that long ago, before the downward spiral began, when the Rams were as dominant as anyone in the NFL. And during that time, St. Louis was extraordinary at home, where it lost just five total games at the then-TWA Dome during Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk's heyday from 1999-01 -- with one of those defeats coming by more than one score.
The greatest accomplishment of the "Greatest Show on Turf" era for Rams fans is no doubt the team's win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV -- when Titans receiver Kevin Dyson came oh so close to tying the score on the game's final play. But St. Louis, which two years later also lost Super Bowl XXXVI to the New England Patriots, would have never won the franchise's only Vince Lombardi trophy in Atlanta had it not been for a unique and controversial win at their own dome 16 years ago this week.
The date was Jan. 23, 2000, and the Rams, the No. 1 seed in the NFC and owners of the most electric offense in the league, were coming off of a blowout win over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round. The opponent was the Tampa Bay Bucs, who brought one of the league's preeminent defenses into St. Louis for the first time.
It was a classic matchup pitting strength vs. strength, and for most of the evening the Tampa D -- led by John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Hall of Famers Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp -- held serve against a Rams offense that averaged 32 points per game.
One week removed from a five-touchdown performance against Minnesota, Warner struggled to find open receivers from the game's opening play, as the Bucs intercepted the league MVP's first pass, one of three picks on the day. The result was a much closer game than anyone expected -- the Rams were 14-point favorites -- and through three quarters, all the St. Louis offense could muster was a first-quarter field goal from Jeff Wilkins.
However, Tampa Bay, one of the lowest-scoring teams in the NFL at the time, regularly failed to capitalize on the defense's efforts and struggled throughout the game to get the ball into Rams territory, much less get into the end zone. At the half, the Bucs had moved the ball over the 50-yard line once, right before the half -- they also had two drives that started on St. Louis' side of the field -- and the Rams, thanks to a second-quarter safety, led 5-3.
On the opening possession of the third quarter, Tampa Bay put together what was arguably its best drive of the game. It ended with a Martin Gramatica field goal to give the Bucs a 6-5 lead heading into the seventh inning stretch, and the score stayed that way until midway through the fourth, when the Rams finally found paydirt.
Following a Rams punt out of their own end zone, Tampa had taken over at the St. Louis 49, but Dre' Bly intercepted a Shaun King pass three plays later to give St. Louis the ball at the Tampa 47 with 8:01 to play. Six plays after that, Warner connected with wideout Ricky Proehl, now the wide receivers coach for the Carolina Panthers, on a 30-yard touchdown, and after a failed two-point conversion, the Rams led 11-6 with 4:50 left on the clock.
"I was thinking, 'Go up and get it, don't let it come down,'" Proehl told reporters after the game. "I tried to shield (cornerback Brian Kelly) off. He did a good job trying to get it out, and I kind of bobbled it. But Kurt put it in a good spot."
At that point, it was probably fair to consider the game over. Tampa Bay needed a touchdown and had only been in the St. Louis red zone twice all game -- and one of them was on a drive that started at the Rams' 20. The Bucs weren't moving the ball well and had only 161 yards of offense all night when they took over at their own 23 for their final possession of the game.
But then fullback Mike Alstott picked up 17 yards on two key carries and King started sligning the ball like Warner, completing four straight passes for 43 yards, and suddenly Tampa Bay was on the St. Louis 22-yard line with 1:25 to go. A Grant Wistrom sack backed the visitors up to the 35, and if you ask any Bucs fan, they'll tell you the next play cost them a Super Bowl.
They call it "the Burt Emanuel catch," because virtually any reasonable person would tell you he caught the ball. With 51 seconds left, King dropped back on second-and-23 and hit a diving Emmanuel 12 yards downfield. The 1999 season was the first for instant replay in the NFL, however, and the referees decided to give the play a second look.
At the time, the rules for what did and did not constitute a catch were at times unclear -- some things never change -- and because the ball made contact with the turf, referee Bill Carollo overturned the catch, even though Emanuel never appeared to lose possession of the football.
"It was apparent that the player, as he was catching the ball, he used the ground and the tip of the ball hit the ground," Carollo told a pool reporter after the game. "By rule, you cannot use the ground, or have assistance from the ground to make a catch."
The following season, the NFL changed the rule to allow for apparent catches like Emanuel's. But that was of no use to Tampa Bay that night in St. Louis, and Instead of a third-and-11 from the 23, Tampa Bay faced a third-and-23 situation from the 35. After two consecutive incomplete passes, the Rams took over, and Warner took a knee to run out the rest of the clock. The only 11-6 final score in NFL history was in the books, and St. Louis was on its way to its first Super Bowl.
"You know what? I don't give a doo-doo what it looked like," Proehl later said. "We're going to Atlanta."
That and the Super Bowl that followed are fond memories for Rams fans, no doubt, but now the bigger question to be answered is whether an NFL team will ever be back in St. Louis again to make more.
PREVIOUS ONE & DONES:
May 5: Mario Andretti
May 12: Dean Morton
May 19: Ross Browner
May 26: Dave Salvian
June 2: Mine That Bird
June 9: Kerwin Bell
June 16: MIchael Campbell
June 23: Tyson Wheeler
June 30: Roe Skidmore
July 7: Steven Hill
July 14: LaMarr Hoyt
July 21: Bernard Quarles
July 28: Matt Tupman
August 4: Kevin Melillo
August 11: Roy Gleason
August 18: Cory Aldridge
August 25: Tom Brown
September 1: Tony Cloninger
September 8: Mike Pantazis
September 15: Wilbur Wood
September 22: Doug Clarey
September 29: Danny Young
October 6: Chad Wiseman
October 13: David Matranga
October 20: Brad Fast
October 27: Zenyatta
November 3: Ohio Northern
November 10: Dave Scholz
November 17: Matt Walsh
November 24: Clint Longley
December 1: Steve O'Neal
December 8: 1985 Miami Dolphins
December 15: 1998 New York Giants
December 22: Ed Podolak
December 29: Scott Skiles
January 5: Bram Kohlhausen
January 12: 1968 New York Jets
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