Headline: Mike Holmgren’s departure means departure from the postseason for the first time in seven years
Regular Season Record: 8 – 8 (Fourth Place NFC Central Division)
Offseason Highlights: While the loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the 1998 playoffs was shocking, Head Coach Mike Holmgren’s decision on January 8 to forsake the Green Bay Packers for the Seattle Seahawks pretty much matched it. Holmgren received not only total control of the Seahawks’ football operation (executive vice president of football operations, general manager, and head coach) but also an eight year contract believed to be worth more than $4 million per year, easily making him the highest paid coach in the NFL. Holmgren wanted to run the whole show, and he got the opportunity from Seattle Owner Paul Allen, receiving the kind of power limited to coaches such as Bill Parcells of the New York Jets, Jimmy Johnson of the Miami Dolphins, and Tom Coughlin of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
As a result of Holmgren’s decision to leave Green Bay one year before his contract ended, the Seahawks surrendered a 1999 second round draft pick as compensation (16th in the second round and 47th overall). The Packers subsequently used that pick on Vanderbilt CB Fred Vinson. Ironically, after one season with Green Bay, Vinson was traded to Seattle for RB Ahman Green and a fifth round draft pick. Vinson suffered a torn ACL during the preseason in a pickup basketball game and was forced to miss the 2000 season. After another injury the following offseason, he was released. Vinson attempted a comeback with the Carolina Panthers in 2004 but did not a play a game. Green, meanwhile, went on to become the Packers all time leading rusher, surpassing Green Bay legend Jim Taylor, in 2009.
During his time with Green Bay, Holmgren posted a 75-37 (67.0%) regular-season record, a 9-5 (64.3%) postseason mark, and two Super Bowl appearances. By winning at least one game in five consecutive postseasons, Holmgren joined John Madden as the only coaches in league history at the time to accomplish that feat. Between 1995 and 1998, Holmgren’s Packers posted an NFL best 48-16 (75.0%) record, finished first in the NFC Central Division three times, second once, and set a 7-3 mark in the playoffs. By taking the Packers to six consecutive postseasons (1993-1998), Holmgren set a franchise record with a team that had had just two winning seasons in the 19 years before he was hired, by far the best run since Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.
As Holmgren’s replacement, Green Bay GM Ron Wolf wasted no time in hiring Ray Rhodes on January 11. Rhodes abruptly became available after a 3-13 season at the end of a four year tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he had been Coach of the Year in 1995. Rhodes previously had been defensive coordinator with the Packers (1992-93) and had won five Super Bowl rings as a key assistant with the San Francisco 49ers (1981-1991, 1994). Wolf was apparently a fan of Rhodes coaching style and he was the only candidate Wolf interviewed for the head coaching position.
In addition to Holmgren, Green Bay lost the cornerstone of their defense when DE Reggie White decided to retire prior to the 1999 season. At the time of his retirement, White was the Packers all-time sack leader with 68.5 as well as the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 198. Counting his time in the United States Football League (USFL), White has 221.5 sacks as a professional, making him pro football’s all-time sack leader. White also recorded 3 interceptions, which he returned for 79 yards. He recovered 19 fumbles, which he returned for 137 yards and 3 touchdowns. His nine consecutive seasons (1985-1993) with at least 10 sacks remains an NFL record. He was named an All-Pro for 13 of his 15 seasons, including eight as a first team selection.
Including Vinson, Green Bay’s 1999 draft yielded seven quality players including DB Antuan Edwards from Clemson (25th overall), DB Mike McKenzie from Memphis (87th overall), DT Cletidus Hunt from Kentucky State (94th overall), QB Aaron Brooks from Virginia (131 overall), P Josh Bidwell from Oregon (133 overall), and future Packers Hall of Fame WR Donald Driver from Alcorn State (213 overall).
Antuan Edwards would play all 16 games of his rookie season, starting one of them. During the course of the year, he made a total of 30 tackles, had 4 interceptions, and was named to the College & Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team. The following season, he started 3 games but saw his tackle total go down to 25, while defending 9 passes and 2 interceptions. Edwards only played in 3 games in 2001 when he suffered a knee injury and was placed on injured reserve. In 2002, he started the season as the team’s starting safety, but was replaced early on by rookie Marques Anderson following a forearm injury. He spent the rest of the season as a backup and totaled 44 tackles.
Edwards beat out Anderson for the starting job in 2003 and started a career high 12 games and recorded 51 tackles. He would finish the season on injured reserve following a late season injury. Edwards left the Packers at the end of the 2003 season to join the Miami Dolphins, ending his five seasons with Green Bay having started 18 out of 53 games with a total of 7 interceptions. He started 8 games for Miami, was released, and finished the season with the St. Louis Rams, starting 5 games. In 2005, Edwards signed with the New England Patriots, was cut, and finished the season, and his career, with the Atlanta Falcons where he started one game.
Mike McKenzie immediately made the 1999 starting lineup and remained there through the 2003 season. In 2002, he signed a 5 year extension with the Packers. However, following a contract holdout prior to the 2004 season that lasted until mid-September, McKenzie was traded on October 4 along with a future draft choice to the New Orleans Saints in exchange for third string QB J.T. O’Sullivan and a second round draft pick. During his 6 seasons with Green Bay, McKenzie started 67 out of 70 games, intercepting 15 passes for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. He finished his 12 year career in New Orleans, retiring after the 2009 season.
Cletidus Hunt played for 6 seasons with the Packers before retiring at the end of the 2004 season having started 60 out of 85 games and accumulating 17 sacks and 118 tackles. Although Aaron Brooks never played a down during his one season with Green Bay, he had a very productive 6 seasons with the New Orleans Saints after the Packers traded the quarterback and TE Lamont Hall to New Orleans for LB K.D. Williams and the Saints’ 2001 third round pick prior to the 2000 season. Brooks retired in 2007 as the Saints’ franchise leader in season and career touchdown passes (27 and 120 respectively), though both records have since been broken by QB Drew Brees. Josh Bidwell punted for Green Bay 4 out of his 12 years in the league, starting in all 16 games for 9 consecutive seasons, from 2000 to 2008.
Finally, Donald Driver spent his entire NFL career with Green Bay and holds the franchise’s all time records for most receptions (743) and receiving yards (10,137), missing only four games in 14 seasons due to injury, while starting 155 out of 205 games. Throughout his career, Driver was very active off the field, making over 300 charitable appearances since his rookie season. In the spring of 2001, Donald and his wife Betina created the “Donald Driver Foundation”, which offers assistance to ill children with unmanageable hospital bills, provides housing for the homeless, and donates to a variety of local charities. On July 22 2017, Driver was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame.
The highlight of the 1999 NFL Draft was New Orleans Saints Head Coach Mike Ditka trading all six of the Saints 1999 draft picks as well as their 1st and 3rd round picks in the 2000 draft to the Washington Redskins for the 5th overall selection, which they used to select RB Ricky Williams from the University of Texas. This was the first and only time that an NFL team has had only one pick in a draft. Williams spent three seasons (1999-2001) with the Saints where he was moderately successful, rushing for two 1,000 yard seasons in 2000 and 2001 before being traded to the Miami Dolphins in 2002 for four draft picks, including two first round picks. Due to suspensions relating to marijuana use, Williams played on and off for Miami over the next 7 seasons before ending his 11 year career in 2012 after one season with the Baltimore Ravens.
Also, for the first time since the 1991 season, the league decided to institute a new instant reply system to aid officiating. The system would mirror a method used by the defunct USFL in 1985 where each team has two challenge flags during a game that can be thrown to start an official review of the play in question. Each challenge will require the use of a team’s timeout. If the challenge is successful, the timeout is restored. Inside of two minutes of each half, and during all overtime periods, all reviews will be initiated by a Replay Assistant. An on the field decision will be reversed only when there is indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call. While modified over the succeeding years, the basic system remains in place to current day.
Finally, the Cleveland Browns returned to the field in 1999 for the first time since the 1995 season. Per agreement between the City of Cleveland and the NFL after Owner Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore, the city built a new stadium and Modell agreed to relinquish the Browns’ name, colors and team history to the new owner of the team. Al Lerner won a bidding war for the new team for $750 million and hired former San Francisco 49ers front office staffers Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark as Cleveland’s President and Vice President respectively. Policy and Clark subsequently hired Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer as the Browns new Head Coach.
The return of the Browns increased the number of NFL teams to 31, the first time the league had played with an odd number of clubs since 1966. As a result, the NFL was forced to give at least one team a bye each week. Previously, barring extreme circumstances, a club never received a bye during the first two weeks or last seven weeks of the season. Under a new system, for ten weeks of the season (Week #1 to Week #2, and Week #10 to Week #17), one team was scheduled a bye; for seven weeks of the season (Week #3 to Week #9), three teams sat out. This format would continue for the next two seasons until the Houston Texans joined the NFL in 2002 and returned the league to an even number of teams.
Regular Season Highlights: Under Ray Rhodes, Green Bay slipped to 8-8 in 1999. The Packers got off to a 3-1 start but ultimately couldn’t win the close ones, losing games by two, four, and one point from midseason on, finishing behind the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 10-6 Minnesota Vikings, and the 8-8 Detroit Lions in the NFC Central Division. Detroit finished ahead of Green Bay based on better conference record (7-5 to Packers’ 6-6).
The final spot in the NFC playoffs came down to an exciting last day of the season. With both the Packers and Carolina Panthers at 7-8 and tied for the last spot in the playoffs with the Dallas Cowboys, the playoff berth would be determined by best net point differential in conference games. Both the Packers and Panthers were playing at 1:00 PM ET on January 2, and both teams tried to outscore the other. Green Bay beat the Arizona Cardinals, 49-24, while Carolina beat the New Orleans Saints, 45-13. The Packers finished ahead of the Panthers by 11 points, but Dallas subsequently defeated the New York Giants, 26-18, later that day to eliminate both Green Bay and Carolina from the playoffs.
Statistically, QB Brett Favre once again finished among the league leaders, completing 341 out of 595 attempts (57.3%) for 4,091 yards, his second consecutive 4,000 yard season, 22 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions, finishing 1st overall in passes attempted, 2nd overall in passes completed, 4th overall in passing yards, and 8th overall in passing touchdowns. However, also for the second consecutive season, Favre finished 2nd overall in passes intercepted, behind only Arizona QB Jake Plummer (24), and his 74.7 QB Rating was his lowest since 1993. WR Antonio Freeman once again led Green Bay in receiving with 74 catches for 1,074 yards (14.5 yards per catch), barely edging out third year WR Bill Schroeder (74, 1,051, 14.2). RB Dorsey Levens finished third in receptions with 71 catches.
Levens also returned to his 1997 form running the football, gaining 1,034 yards on 279 attempts (3.7 yards per attempt) while scoring 9 touchdowns, tied for 6th overall. K Ryan Longwell again led the Packers in scoring with 113 points. Offensively, Green Bay finished 21th in rushing, 7th in passing, and 10th in total offense scoring 357 points, down from 408 points in 1998. Defensively, without retired DE Reggie White, Green Bay tumbled to one of its worst performances in the 1990s, finishing 22nd against the run, 18th against the pass, and 21st in total defense, allowing 341 points compared to 319 points in 1998.
The surprising St. Louis Rams finished with the NFC’s best record at 13-3, winning the NFC’s top playoff seed. The 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the NFC Central title and the second seed with the 10-6 Washington Redskins winning the NFC East and the third seed. The 10-6 Minnesota Vikings (fourth seed), the Dallas Cowboys (fifth seed), and the Detroit Lions (sixth seed), both 8-8, were the NFC’s Wild Card teams. Dallas was the second Wild Card based on better record against common opponents (3-2 to Detroit’s 3-3) and better conference record than the Carolina Panthers (7-5 to Panthers’ 6-6) while Detroit was the third Wild Card also based on better conference record than Carolina (7-5 to Panthers’ 6-6).
Meanwhile, the Jacksonville Jaguars finished with the NFL’s best record at 14-2, winning the AFC Central title and the AFC’s top playoff seed. The 13-3 Indianapolis Colts won the AFC East title and the second seed while the 9-7 Seattle Seahawks won the AFC West title and the third seed. The newly renamed 13-3 Tennessee Titans, formerly the Oilers, (fourth seed), the 11-5 Buffalo Bills (fifth seed), and the 9-7 Miami Dolphins (sixth seed) were the AFC’s Wild Card teams. Seattle finished ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West title based on a head to head sweep (2-0). Miami was the third AFC Wild Card ahead of Kansas City based on better record against common opponents (6-1 to Chiefs’ 5-3).
With the retirement of star QB John Elway after the 1998 season, the World Champion Denver Broncos stumbled to a 6-10 record in 1999. It was their first losing season since 1994, their worst season since 1990, and the worst record in the AFC West. This was also the worst ever season for a team defending their Super Bowl title in a non-strike season. On the other hand, 1999 marked a turning point for Indianapolis, who had only made the playoffs three times since 1977. For Tennessee, 1999 marked their first return to the playoffs since 1993 and their most wins ever as a franchise since the 1970 merger. Similarly, Washington made its first post season appearance since 1992 and Seattle its first appearance in 11 seasons. Finally, 1999 was the first division title for Tampa Bay in 18 years.
Lastly, St. Louis QB Kurt Warner won the NFL Most Valuable Player Award while his teammate, RB Marshall Faulk, won Offensive Player of the Year. Tampa Bay DE Warren Sapp won Defensive Player of the Year. Indianapolis RB Edgerrin James won Offensive Rookie of the Year while Tennessee DE Jevon Kearse won Defensive Rookie of the Year. St. Louis Head Coach Dick Vermeil won Coach of the Year.
Post Season Highlights: In the AFC Wild Card Playoffs, the fifth seed Buffalo Bills traveled to Adelphia Coliseum to play the fourth seed Tennessee Titans while the AFC West Champion and third seed Seattle Seahawks hosted the sixth seed Miami Dolphins in the Kingdome. In the NFC, the fourth seed Minnesota Vikings hosted the fifth seed Dallas Cowboys in the HHH Metrodome while the NFC East Champion and third seed Washington Redskins hosted the sixth seed Detroit Lions in FedEx Field. The winners would advance to their respective Divisional Playoffs.
On January 8 2000, in a game that will be remembered for the controversial “Music City Miracle”, the Tennessee Titans’ Kevin Dyson took a lateral from Frank Wycheck on a kickoff after the Buffalo Bills had booted the go ahead field goal, scoring the game winning touchdown with under 15 seconds left.
After a scoreless first quarter, Tennessee opened up the scoring when DE Jevon Kearse sacked Buffalo QB Rob Johnson in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead. It was the start of a long day for Johnson, who ended up completing just 10 of 22 passes while being sacked 6 times, twice by Kearse. After the safety, the Titans returned the free kick 42 yards to the Bills 28 yard line. Five plays later, QB Steve McNair scored on a 1 yard touchdown run for a 9-0 lead. After forcing a punt, Tennessee drove 56 yards in 11 plays. K Al Del Greco initially missed a 45 yard field goal attempt, but Buffalo was penalized for defensive holding on the play, and Del Greco’s second attempt was good from 40 yards on the last play of the half.
At the end of the half, the Bills were trailing 12-0 and had only managed to gain 64 yards, while also losing 44 yards on 9 penalties. But, in the second half, Buffalo managed to rally back. On the Bills first play of the third quarter, RB Antowain Smith broke off a 44 yard run, sparking a 62 yard drive that ended with his 4 yard touchdown run four plays later to cut the Titans lead to 12-7. Later on, a McNair interception set off a 65 yard scoring drive, featuring a 37 yard completion from Johnson to WR Eric Moulds, with a roughing the passer penalty adding another 15 yards. Smith finished the drive with another 4 yard touchdown run, giving the Bills a 13-12 lead after WR Kevin Williams dropped a pass from Johnson on the two point conversion attempt.
Late in the fourth quarter, Tennessee’s 16 yard punt return to the Bills 45 yard line and 5 carries from RB Eddie George for 17 yards set up a 36 yard field goal by Del Greco, giving Tennessee a 15-13 lead with 1:38 left. But following a 33 yard kickoff return by Williams, Buffalo retook the lead with a 41 yard field goal from K Steve Christie at the end of a 38 yard drive that saw Johnson lose a shoe. Stuck in the no-huddle offense in order to beat the clock, Johnson was forced to play without a shoe for most of the drive, but still managed to lead the team into scoring range with two key completions to WR Peerless Price for 23 yards.
Christie’s field goal gave the Bills a 16-15 lead with only 16 seconds left in the game. On the ensuing Christie kickoff, Lorenzo Neal picked up the ball at his own 25 yard line. He then handed off to Wycheck, who ran to the right sideline before lateralling the ball all the way back across the field to Dyson on the left side of the field. After catching the ball, Dyson ran 75 yards for a touchdown to give his team the win, 22-16. The play would be reviewed by referee Phil Luckett, but it was determined that Wycheck’s lateral did not travel forward, and the play was upheld.
As of the 2016 season, this was the last time that Buffalo qualified for the playoffs, making it 17 straight years since the Buffalo Bills have made the post season.
Meanwhile, Washington Redskins RB Stephen Davis rushed for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half as Washington dominated the Detroit Lions, who had barely made the playoffs after losing their last four games of the season. The Redskins outgained Detroit in rushing yards, 223-45, and recorded 5 sacks.
Washington took advantage of two key penalties against the Lions on their first drive as they drove 79 yards to score on Davis’ 1 yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. The first was a running into the punter penalty, enabling the Redskins to keep the ball, and the second was a 41 yard pass interference penalty. The next time Washington got the ball, they drove 87 yards, featuring a 58 yard run by Davis, and scored with another Davis touchdown run to take a 14-0 lead. Early in the second quarter, the Redskins intercepted a pass from QB Gus Frerotte and returned it 5 yards to the Lions 39 yard line, setting up a 33 yard field goal from K Brett Conway, increasing Washington’s lead to 17-0.
After a punt, the Redskins returned the kick to the Detroit 49 yard line. Davis then rushed 5 times for 45 yards, setting up another field goal from Conway that gave the team a 20-0 lead. Davis was knocked out of the game on Washington’s next possession, but his replacement, RB Skip Hicks, rushed for 13 yards and caught 2 passes for 27 yards as the Redskins drove 82 yards in 8 plays. QB Brad Johnson finished the drive with a 30 yard touchdown pass to WR Albert Connell, giving the Redskins a 27-0 lead with 1:19 left in the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Lions finally managed to get a touchdown when Detroit blocked a 31 yard Conway field goal attempt. Ron Rice returned the ball 94 yards for a touchdown and a 27-6 deficit with 9:23 left in regulation after the two point conversion failed. But, the Lions were unable to score again until Frerotte finished a 90 yard drive with a 5 yard touchdown pass to RB Ron Rivers on the last play of the game for a 27-13 Washington victory.
On January 9, RB Robert Smith helped the Minnesota Vikings beat the Dallas Cowboys by rushing for a team playoff record 140 yards while also catching 3 passes for 58 yards and a touchdown.
Early in the first quarter, RB Emmitt Smith’s 65 yard run set up an 18 yard Eddie Murray field goal for a 3-0 Dallas lead. It was the main highlight of the day for Smith, who gained only 30 yards on 14 carries for the rest of the game. The Vikings were forced to punt on their next drive, but Dallas muffed the kick and Minnesota recovered the ball at the Cowboys 30 yard line. Four plays later, K Gary Anderson booted a 47 yard field goal to tie the game, 3-3. QB Troy Aikman led Dallas back, completing two passes to WR Raghib Ismail for gains of 45 and 25 yards before Smith finished the drive with a 10 yard touchdown run for a 10-3 lead.
In the second quarter, the Vikings stripped the ball from Cowboys RB Robert Thomas and recovered the fumble at the Dallas 26 yard line. Faced with 3rd and 25 on the ensuing possession, QB Jeff George completed a short pass to Robert Smith, who took it 26 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 10-10. Later in the quarter, George threw a 58 yard touchdown pass to WR Randy Moss after a daring 14 yard run by Smith on 3rd and 12, giving Minnesota a 17-10 lead with 22 seconds left in the half. Early in the third quarter, Anderson kicked a 38 yard field goal to increase the Vikings lead to 20-10.
In the fourth quarter, Minnesota drove 67 yards and scored with George’s 5 yard touchdown pass to WR Cris Carter, increasing Minnesota’s lead to 27-10. The Cowboys lost any chance of a comeback due to two more costly turnovers. First, they drove inside the Vikings 20 yard line, but Minnesota forced a fumble from WR Jason Tucker right before he could cross the goal line and the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback. Later on, Dallas drove all the way to the Minnesota 6 yard line, but the Vikings intercepted a pass intended for Tucker in the end zone, solidifying a convincing 27-10 victory.
After three Super Bowl victories during the 1990s, 1999 marked the final season for the trio of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith, the original “triplets”. During the fifth game of the 1999 season, Irvin sustained a non-life threatening cervical spinal cord injury and was subsequently diagnosed with a narrow spinal column, which forced him to retire at the end of the season. Meanwhile, the 2000 season would be Aikman’s last. During the 2001 offseason, Aikman was waived a day before he was due a $70 million / 7 year contract extension, and ultimately announced his retirement on April 9 after failing to find another team. After the 2002 season, Dallas hired Head Coach Bill Parcells, who wanted to go with younger running backs and released Smith on February 26 2003. All three would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Later in the day, the Seattle Seahawks played host to their first playoff game since the 1984 season. But the Seahawks were dominated by the Miami Dolphins defense, who held them to only 171 yards, with just 32 in the second half, and sacked QB Jon Kitna 6 times.
At the end of the game’s opening drive, Seattle P Jeff Feagles’ 35 yard punt pinned Miami back at their own 4 yard line. Three plays later, the Seahawks returned Tom Hutton’s 58 yard punt 15 yards to the Miami 47 yard line. Kitna then completed a pair of passes to WR Mike Pritchard for gains of 12 and 17 yards as the team drove to a touchdown on his 9 yard completion to WR Sean Dawkins for a 7-0 lead. The Dolphins only score of the first half was a 32 yard field goal from K Olindo Mare to cut Seattle’s lead to 7-3. In the second quarter, Miami got the ball with good field position when they intercepted a Kitna pass on the Dolphins 41 yard line, but this merely resulted in three incompletions and a punt.
After a few more drives, a 15 yard facemask penalty against Miami turned RB Ricky Watters’ 14 yard run into a 29 yard gain, setting up K Todd Peterson’s 50 yard field goal with less than a minute left in the half. The Seahawks finished the half leading 10-3, and had limited Miami to just 69 offensive yards. But the Dolphins took the second half kickoff and nearly doubled their yardage, driving 60 yards in 10 plays, including receptions by WR O.J. McDuffie for gains of 11 and 27 yards. Marino, who completed only 5 of 8 passes for 28 yards in the first half, completed all six of his passes for 55 yards on the drive and finished it with a 1 yard touchdown pass to WR Oronde Gadsden to tie the game at 10-10.
On the ensuing kickoff, Charlie Rogers fumbled the ball, then picked it up and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown, giving Seattle a 17-10 lead. After a few punts, Miami drove 32 yards in 6 plays, aided by two runs by RB Autry Denson for 28 yards, to set up a 50 yard Mare field goal, cutting the score to 17-13. With 9:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, Feagles’ 50 yard punt gave the Dolphins the ball on their own 15 yard line. Marino then engineered an 11 play, 85 yard game winning scoring possession.
Marino completed 4 of 7 passes for 84 yards on the drive, including a 23 yard completion to WR Tony Martin on 3rd and 17 from his own 8 yard line, a 20 yard pass to Martin from the Dolphins 49 yard line, and a 24 yard completion to Gadsden at the Seattle 5 yard line on 3rd and 10. Rookie RB J.J. Johnson’s 2 yard touchdown run finished the drive with 4:46 left in the game for a 20-17 Miami lead. The Seahawks could not score again. After being forced to punt, Seattle didn’t get the ball back until 1:05 remained, when Hutton’s 38 yard punt pinned them on their own 12 yard line. They would only be able to reach their 29 yard line before time ran out, sealing a 20-17 Dolphins victory.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the AFC Central Champion and top seed Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the six seed Miami Dolphins in Alltel Stadium while the NFC East Champion and third seed Washington Redskins traveled to Raymond James Stadium to play the AFC Central Champion and second seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Meanwhile, the NFC West Champion and top seed St. Louis Rams hosted the fourth seed Minnesota Vikings in the Trans World Dome while the fourth seed Tennessee Titans traveled to the RCA Dome to play the AFC East Champion and second seed Indianapolis Colts. The winners would advance to their respective Conference Championship games.
On January 15, the Jacksonville Jaguars shredded the Miami Dolphins with 520 total offensive yards in what would be Miami QB Dan Marino’s last game in the NFL and the most lopsided postseason contest since the Chicago Bears defeated the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 NFL Championship Game. Their defense forced 7 turnovers and held the Dolphins to 131 total yards.
On the opening drive of the game, QB Mark Brunell led the Jaguars 73 yards in 9 plays, featuring a 41 yard completion to WR Jimmy Smith, and finished the drive with an 8 yard touchdown pass to Smith 4:28 into the game for a 7-0 lead. After the ensuing kickoff, Jacksonville intercepted Marino’s first pass of the game and returned it to the Dolphins 41 yard line, setting up a 45 yard field goal from K Mike Hollis for a 10-0 lead. Following a three and out for Miami, Tom Hutton’s 57 yard punt pinned the Jaguars back at their own 9 yard line. But two plays later, RB Fred Taylor took off down the right sideline for an NFL playoff record 90 yard touchdown run, extending their lead to 17-0.
Then, on Miami’s next possession, DE Tony Brackens forced a Marino fumble and recovered the ball. With most players on both teams thinking he was down by contact, Brackens got up and started celebrating while the Dolphins offense walked off the field, but his teammate, LB Bryce Paup, realized that no one had touched Brackens and the play was still ongoing. He ran up to Brackens, shoved him in the back, and told him to start running, and Brackens ended up returning the ball 16 yards for a touchdown, extending Jacksonville’s lead to 24-0. The situation never got much better for Miami.
After another three and out, Jacksonville got the ball back at their own 47 yard line and scored another touchdown when Taylor caught a short pass on 3rd and 14, taking it 39 yards for a touchdown, giving the Jaguars a 31-0 lead just 12 seconds into the second quarter. Then, on Miami’s next possession, the Jaguars blocked Hutton’s punt and recovered the ball on the Dolphins 21 yard line. Faced with 3rd and 14 again on their ensuing drive, the Jaguars decided not to pass and Stewart ended up scoring with a 25 yard touchdown run for a 38-0 lead.
Miami continued to turn the ball over throughout the second quarter. Beasley recorded his second interception from Marino on the Dolphins next possession. Then after a punt, RB Autry Denson fumbled a pitch from Marino, and Jacksonville recovered the ball at the Dolphins 7 yard line. This time, the Jaguars could not take advantage of the turnover. Two plays later, the Dolphins intercepted a pass from QB Jay Fiedler in the end zone. But several plays after the interception, Jacksonville forced and recovered a fumble from RB J.J. Johnson on the Miami 30 yard line, setting up a 30 yard field goal from Hollis with 1:47 left in the second quarter for a 41-0 advantage.
Marino, who completed only 3 of 11 passes for 12 yards up to this point, finally managed to respond, completing 7 of 12 passes for 79 yards on an 80 yard scoring drive, finishing it off with a 20 yard touchdown pass to WR Oronde Gadsden with less than 20 seconds left before halftime. But even so, it was clear by now the game was over, as the Jaguars held a commanding 41-7 lead. Marino was benched in the second half and his replacement, QB Damon Huard, completed just 5 of 16 passes for 46 yards during the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, Jacksonville continued to increase their lead. On the third play of the second half, Fiedler threw a 70 yard touchdown pass to Smith for a 48-7 lead. Later on in the third quarter, he threw a 38 yard touchdown pass to WR Alvis Whitted, further extending the Jaguars lead to 55-7. In the final quarter, another Johnson fumble set up the final points of the game, a 5 yard touchdown run by Howard, for a 62-7 final. Jacksonville’s win marked the end of Miami Head Coach Jimmy Johnson’s coaching career as he announced his retirement the next day.
The game also marked the end of an era for the Miami Dolphins. Before the 2000 season, QB Dan Marino decided to retire after declining offers from the Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers, when the Dolphins declined the option on his contract. During Marino’s career, Miami were perennial playoff contenders, reaching the post-season in 10 of his 17 seasons. He was selected to play in 9 Pro Bowls (1983-87, 1991-92, 1994-95), seven times as a starter. He was named first- or second-team All-Pro 8 times and earned All-AFC honors 6 times. Marino has won all three major individual awards; NFL MVP (1984), NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1994), and NFL Man of the Year (1998), which recognizes charitable work off the field. In 2010, he was ranked number 25 on the NFL’s Top 100 Greatest Players list.
Later that day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers forced two key turnovers in the second half to rally from a 13-0 deficit, while their defense held the Washington Redskins to just 157 yards, with only 32 in the second half. The win sent Tampa to its first NFC Championship Game in 20 years.
After a scoreless first quarter, a 35 yard punt from Mark Royals gave Washington great field position on the Tampa Bay 43 yard line. QB Brad Johnson started out the drive with a 19 yard completion to WR Albert Connell and then a 12 yard run by RB Stephen Davis set up a 28 yard field goal from K Brett Conway with 5:37 remaining in the second quarter for a 3-0 lead. In the second half, Brian Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, a playoff record, extending the Redskins lead to 10-0. Later in the third quarter, Washington intercepted a pass from Tampa Bay QB Shaun King, returning it 12 yards to the Buccaneers 36 yard line, setting up Conway’s second field goal, this time from 48 yards, to take a 13-0 lead.
But after a punt, Tampa Bay intercepted a Johnson pass on the Buccaneers 27 yard line. Aided by a 31 yard pass interference penalty, Tampa Bay subsequently drove 73 yards in 6 plays and scored on RB Mike Alstott’s 2 yard touchdown run to cut the Redskins lead to 13-7. Then, in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers sacked Johnson, forcing a fumble, recovering the ball on the Redskins 32 yard line. King then went to work, completing a 17 yard pass to WR Bert Emanuel and a 13 yard pass to RB Warrick Dunn. On 4th and 1, Alstott’s 5 yard run moved the ball to the Washington 3 yard line, and King eventually finished the drive with a 1 yard touchdown pass to WR John Davis to take the lead, 14-13. The Redskins had a chance to win the game with a 51 yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of the game, but the snap was off and the Tampa Bay held on for a 14-13 win.
On January 16, as expected, the match between the high powered St. Louis Rams’ and Minnesota Vikings’ offenses produced a lot of points (86), and yards (880, 405 by St. Louis, 475 by Minnesota). But, after falling behind 17-14, St. Louis stormed to victory with 35 second half points.
Minnesota took the opening kickoff and drove 60 yards in 11 plays, setting up K Gary Anderson’s 41 yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. But, after the ensuing kickoff, Rams QB Kurt Warner, on their first play from scrimmage, threw a 77 yard touchdown pass to WR Isaac Bruce for a 7-3 lead. A 13 yard sack by St. Louis on the Vikings ensuing drive forced a punt, and Warner once again went to work. He threw a 26 yard completion to Bruce and an 11 yarder to WR Torry Holt before finishing the drive with a 41 yard touchdown pass to RB Marshall Faulk, extending the Rams lead to 14-3. Another sack forced Minnesota to punt.
Once again, St. Louis decided to go deep, but this time the Vikings were ready, and intercepted Warner’s pass at their own 4 yard line. After the interception, QB Jeff George led Minnesota 96 yards in 8 plays, completing passes to WRs Randy Moss and Jake Reed for gains of 24 and 41 yards, finishing the drive with a 22 yard touchdown completion to WR Cris Carter, cutting the score to 14-10 with 5:07 left in the second quarter. Later on, the Rams intercepted a George pass on the Vikings 41 yard line. But, on the next play, Faulk fumbled a handoff and Minnesota recovered the ball on the 47 yard line. After that, the Vikings took a 17-14 lead by driving 53 yards and scoring on a 4 yard touchdown run from RB Leroy Hoard with 2:40 left in the half.
Aided by Bruce’s 22 yard reception, St. Louis responded with a drive to the Minnesota 37 yard line, but a 9 yard sack pushed the Rams out of field goal range and the score remained 17-14 at halftime. The momentum seemed to be in Minnesota’s favor, but the Rams suddenly exploded with 35 points in the second half. First, St. Louis’ Tony Horne returned the second half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to take back the lead, 21-17. The Vikings were forced to punt on their next possession giving the Rams a first down on Minnesota’s 49 yard line. Faulk rushed 3 times for 14 yards and then Warner completed an 18 yard pass to WR Roland Williams at the Vikings 14 yard line. After an 8 yard reception by Bruce, Faulk scored on a 1 yard touchdown run, increasing St. Louis’ lead to 28-17.
The Vikings had to punt again on their next drive, and Warner subsequently led the Rams 62 yards in 11 plays on the way to a 13 yard touchdown pass to TE Jeff Robinson with 13 seconds left in the third quarter for a 35-17 lead. After the ensuing kickoff, the Rams recovered a fumbled snap from George on the Vikings 23 yard line. Warner completed passes to Holt and Hakim for 8 and 10 yards, then ran 4 yards to the 1 yard line. Warner finished the drive with a 1 yard touchdown pass to OL Ryan Tucker on a tackle eligible play, increasing St. Louis’ lead to 42-17. After another Vikings punt, Warner led the Rams 62 yards in 8 plays and capped off the drive with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Williams, increasing St. Louis’ lead to 49-17 with just over 8 minutes left in regulation.
George, who had completed only 2 of 8 passes for −9 yards so far in the second half, responded with 3 touchdown passes in the final 5 minutes of the game. His 42 yard completion to Moss on the ensuing drive set up his 4 yard touchdown pass to Reed, cutting the deficit to 49-25 after a successful 2 point conversion. Then Carter recovered an onside kick, and the Vikings scored another touchdown on George’s 44 yard pass to Moss, further reducing the gap to 49-31. However, the 2 point conversion failed, allowing the Rams to maintain an 18 point lead. Following a St. Louis punt, Minnesota drove 85 yards in 16 plays to score on George’s 2 yard touchdown toss to Moss, further narrowing the Ram lead to 10 points after another failed 2 point conversion, but by then only 35 seconds remained on the clock and St. Louis had its first playoff win in 10 years, 47-37.
Meanwhile, although the Indianapolis Colts, behind second year QB Peyton Manning, had posted some gaudy numbers en route to a sterling 13-3 regular season record, the upstart Tennessee Titans paid them little respect. RB Eddie George rushed for a team playoff record 162 yards, including a 68 yard touchdown, to help lead the Titans to victory.
Despite George’s impressive day, he actually struggled for most of the first half, gaining only 38 yards on 9 carries while Ks Mike Vanderjagt and Al Del Greco spent the first two quarters trading field goals. Indianapolis scored first on their second drive with a 42 yard drive that ended with a 40 yard Vanderjagt field goal for a 3-0 lead. After a punt from each team, Tennessee drove 46 yards to tie the score on Del Greco’s 49 yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game at 3-3. Following two more punts, the Colts put together the longest drive so far from either team, moving the ball 62 yards in 7 plays, including Manning’s 33 yard completion to WR E.G. Green, to take a 6-3 lead on Vanderjagt’s 40 yard field goal.
The Titans returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tennessee 47 yard line. Two plays later, a 29 yard scramble from QB Steve McNair set up Del Greco’s 37 yard field goal kick to again tie the contest a 6-6. Manning then completed 5 of 6 passes for 57 yards and rushed for 7 yards on a 66 yard drive, ending with the team taking a 9-6 lead on Vanderjagt’s 34 yard field goal with 6 seconds left in the first half. Tennessee’s inability to get into the end zone came to an end on just the third play of the third quarter, when George took a handoff from McNair and stormed through the middle of the field for a 68 yard touchdown run and a 13-9 lead.
Then, after several punts, the Titans put together a 13 play, 73 yard drive, featuring a 26 yard completion from McNair to WR Chris Sanders. With 12:57 left in the fourth quarter, Del Greco finished the drive with his third field goal, this time from 25 yards out, increasing the Tennessee lead to 16-9. Later in the quarter, the Colts had a great opportunity to come back when they returned a punt 87 yards to the Titans 3 yard line, but it was overruled by a replay challenge from Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher had to burn a timeout to get his challenge heard over the roaring crowd in the RCA Dome, but it paid off, as the replay showed Terrence Wilkins had stepped out of bounds at his own 33 yard line during the return.
The lost opportunity was devastating. Indianapolis went three and out on their ensuing possession and the Titans returned their punt 19 yards to the Colts 42 yard line, setting up Del Greco’s fourth field goal from 43 yards out to make the score 19-9. The Colts then turned the ball over on downs with their next drive, but managed to get it back with 3:11 left, recovering a George fumble on the Indianapolis 39 yard line. The Colts then drove 61 yards in 9 plays to score on a 15 yard touchdown run by Manning to narrow the deficit to 19-16, but by then there was only 1:50 left in the game. The Titans sealed the victory by recovering Vanderjagt’s onside kick for their second straight playoff win.
On January 23, the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the AFC Championship at Alltel Stadium against the Tennessee Titans while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveled to the Trans World Dome to play the St. Louis Rams for the NFC Championship and the right to represent their respective conferences in Super Bowl XXXIV.
In the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars had been one of the NFL’s best teams in the 1999 season, pacing the AFC with a 14-2 record. However, both of those losses came at the hands of their opponents in the AFC Championship Game, the Tennessee Titans. The Titans would prove up to the task of beating their division rival once again by forcing 6 turnovers and a safety.
Jacksonville took the opening kickoff and started out strong, gaining 51 yards on their first two plays. First, QB Mark Brunell completed an 18 yard pass to WR Jimmy Smith and then RB Fred Taylor ran 33 yards to the Titans 13 yard line. Three plays later, Brunell threw a 7 yard touchdown pass to TE Kyle Brady for a 7-0 lead. But Tennessee struck right back. First, they returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards to the Titans 49 yard line. Then QB Steve McNair completed 3 passes for 23 yards and rushed for 14 yards on a 51 yard drive that ended with his 9 yard touchdown pass to WR Yancey Thigpen, tying the game at 7-7.
In the second quarter, the Jaguars drove 72 yards to the Titans 5 yard line, only to have Brunell throw an interception in the end zone. But after forcing a punt, they drove 65 yards in 4 plays and took a 14-7 lead with a 33 yard touchdown run from RB James Stewart. Tennessee was forced to punt again on their next drive, but Jacksonville muffed the kick and the Titans recovered the ball on the Jaguars 19 yard line. After that, K Al Del Greco kicked a 34 yard field goal, cutting the score to 14-10 with 20 seconds left in the half. The Titans defense then dominated the second half, forcing 4 turnovers, while the offense took advantage of key penalties to take control of the game.
On Tennessee’s first drive of the second half, McNair completed a 15 yard pass to RB Eddie George at midfield, with a roughing the passer penalty adding another 15 yards. Two plays later, Jacksonville committed a 28 yard pass interference penalty, moving the ball to the Jaguars 6 yard line. After a 5 yard run by George, McNair scored on a 1 yard touchdown run, giving Tennessee their first lead of the game, 17-14. On Jacksonville’s next drive, Brady lost a fumble and the Titans recovered the ball at the Jaguars 35 yard line. McNair subsequently led his team to the 7 yard line only to see their offense fumble the ball back to the Jaguars at the Jacksonville 1 yard line.
Then Tennessee’s defense stepped up. First, Taylor was stuffed for no gain. Next, Josh Evans and Jason Fisk shared a sack on Brunell in the end zone for a safety. After that, Mason returned the free kick 80 yards for a touchdown, giving the Titans a 26-14 lead. Jacksonville reached the Titans 36 yard line on their next drive, but turned the ball over on downs with Brunell’s incomplete pass on 4th and 2. In the fourth quarter, Brunell turned the ball over when he threw an interception at the Titans 39 yard line. On the ensuing drive, McNair ripped off a 51 yard run, then scored on a 1 yard touchdown run to put the game away, 33-14, advancing Tennessee to the franchise’s first Super Bowl in team history.
In the NFC, in a hard fought defensive struggle in which both teams combined for only 512 yards and lost a total of 5 turnovers, St. Louis Rams QB Kurt Warner’s 11 yard touchdown pass to WR Ricky Proehl with 4:44 left in the game was just enough to edge out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On the first play of the game, Tampa Bay intercepted a Warner screen pass on St. Louis’ 20 yard line, setting up a 25 yard field goal from K Martin Gramatica for a 3-0 lead. The Rams responded by driving 74 yards in 16 plays with Warner completing 7 of 10 passes for 61 yards, including a 22 yard completion to TE Roland Williams. But on 3rd and goal from the Bucs 7 yard line, a fumbled handoff exchange from Warner to RB Marshall Faulk on third down forced them to settle for a 24 yard field goal by K Jeff Wilkins to tie the game at 3-3. The second quarter would be full of missed opportunities and poor play from both teams.
On the first play, a high snap went over QB Shaun King’s head and into the end zone. King managed to knock the ball out of the end zone to prevent a touchdown, but it gave the Rams a safety and a 5-3 lead. Az-Zahir Hakim returned the free kick 15 yards to the St. Louis 40 yard line. Hakim also caught a 14 yard pass and ran for 6 yards as the team drove to the Bucs 26 yard line, but the drive was halted there and Wilkins missed a 44 yard field goal attempt. Following a punt from each team, Tampa Bay also got good field position from a good return, a 14 yarder that gave them a first down on the Rams 45 yard line. Although they would drive to the St. Louis 26 yard line, they would ultimately fair no better than the Rams did.
On third down, King lost a fumble while being sacked. King recovered the ball, but the 13 yard loss pushed the team out of field goal range. The next time Tampa Bay had the ball, King threw a pass from the Rams 41 yard line that went right into the arms of a St. Louis defender. A few plays later, the half ended with the score still 5-3, despite the Rams 159-75 advantage over the Buccaneers in total yards. Just as in the first half, Tampa Bay scored a field goal on their opening drive of the third quarter, set up by a 32 yard reception by WR Jacquez Green and a 15 yard facemask penalty. Meanwhile, Warner was intercepted twice by the Buccaneers defense, including a costly interception on the Tampa Bay 3 yard line.
But late in the fourth quarter, the Rams intercepted a King pass at the Buccaneers 49 yard line. Several plays later, Warner threw a 30 yard touchdown pass to WR Ricky Proehl with 4:44 left, taking an 11-6 lead after the 2 point conversion failed. King responded by leading the Bucs deep into St. Louis territory. With 1:25 left, his 22 yard completion to Williams gave the team a first down on the Rams 22 yard line. But on the next play, King was sacked for a 13 yard loss. After that, his potential 11 yard completion to WR Bert Emanuel was controversially overturned by a replay challenge. The play led the NFL to adopt the “Bert Emanuel rule” after the season which allows for a catch to be made if a receiver maintains possession and control of a ball, even if the ball touches the ground. Then King threw two consecutive incompletions, turning the ball over on downs, giving St. Louis an 11-6 victory.
Thus, the St. Louis Rams would play for the World Championship against the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. For the first time since 1979, when they were still in Los Angles, the Rams would in a Super Bowl. The Titans would be in a championship game for the first time since 1961 when they were the Houston Oilers in the old American Football League (AFL).
Super Bowl Highlights: On January 30 2000, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta GA, the NFC Champion St. Louis Rams, led by third year Head Coach Dick Vermeil, played the AFC Champion Tennessee Titans, led by fifth year Head Coach Jeff Fischer, in Super Bowl XXXIV. This was the second Super Bowl to be played in the Georgia Dome and the fourth one to be held a week after the conference championship games.
The St. Louis Rams entered 1999 having been among the league’s stragglers for a decade. The reasons were many, including, some suggest, mismanagement by executive John Shaw. The franchise moved to St. Louis from Los Angeles for the 1995 season but continued to struggle. In 1997, the team hired Dick Vermeil as their head coach, bringing him back to the NFL after 15 years of retirement. Vermeil had previously turned the Philadelphia Eagles from one of the worst teams in the league into a Super Bowl team in 1980, but his first two seasons in St. Louis were hardly stellar, winning just 5 games in 1997 and 4 in 1998. Little was expected of the Rams for 1999. Indeed, ESPN The Magazine’s 1999 NFL preview predicted the Rams would be the worst team in the NFL, worse even than the expansion Cleveland Browns.
St. Louis proceeded to shock the NFL with an NFC best 13-3 regular season record and outscored their opponents 526-242, the highest scoring margin (284) of any Super Bowl champion. St. Louis was led by undrafted QB Kurt Warner, who started the season as a backup to QB Trent Green. Green suffered a season ending knee injury in the preseason, making Warner the team’s new starter. Warner previously played for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe. In his first NFL season in 1998, Warner played only one game and threw just 11 passes.
But in 1999, he experienced one of the most spectacular seasons ever by a quarterback, recording a QB Rating of 109.2, completing 325 out of 499 passes (65.1%) for 4,353 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just 13 interceptions, earning the NFL Most Valuable Player Award. Warner was not the only Rams player compiling significant statistics, though. RB Marshall Faulk, acquired prior to the season after spending the previous 5 years with the Indianapolis Colts, won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year Award. Faulk scored 12 touchdowns, rushed for 1,381 yards on 253 carries (5.5 yards per attempt), and recorded a team leading 87 receptions for 1,048 yards.
In all, Faulk gained a record 2,429 total yards and became just the second running back in NFL history to gain over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season after San Francisco 49ers RB Roger Craig in 1985. Faulk wasn’t the only weapon at Warner’s disposal in 1999. Veteran WR Isaac Bruce was the top Rams receiver with 77 receptions for 1,165 yards (15.1 yards per reception) and 12 touchdowns while breakout rookie WR Torry Holt recorded 52 receptions, 788 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Even the team’s third WR, Az-Zahir Hakim, was a big contributor by catching 36 passes for 677 yards and 8 touchdowns while also returning punts for 461 yards and another touchdown.
The Rams’ offensive line was led by Pro Bowlers OT Orlando Pace and OG Adam Timmerman. Timmerman, acquired by the Rams prior to the 1999 season, had previously played for the Green Bay Packers. On special teams, Tony Horne returned 30 kickoffs for 892 yards and 2 touchdowns, giving him an NFL leading 29.7 yards per return average. Overall, St. Louis’ offense led the league in total yards gained (6,639), scoring (526 points), and passing touchdowns (42) while finishing 5th overall in rushing yardage.
The Rams’ defense led the league in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,189) and fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (4), while giving up just 242 points. Overall, the defense ranked 4th in the league in fewest total yards allowed (5,056). The line was anchored by Pro Bowl DEs Kevin Carter and Grant Wistrom. Carter led the league with 17 sacks while Wistrom recorded 8.5 sacks and 2 interceptions, returning both for touchdowns. Behind them, the Rams had three linebackers; London Fletcher (66 tackles and 3 sacks), Mike Jones (4 interceptions and 2 touchdowns as well as 2 fumble recoveries and 1 touchdown), and Todd Collins (72 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 interceptions). The secondary was led by Pro Bowler CB Todd Lyght (6 interceptions), CB Dexter McCleon (4 interceptions), and rookie CB Dre Bly (3 interceptions).
The Tennessee Titans advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history after originating as a charter member of the American Football League. From 1960 to 1996, the team was owned by Texas businessman Bud Adams and were known as the Houston Oilers. By 1995, however, Adams, like St. Louis Owner Georgia Frontiere, was lured to move his team from Houston, in this case to a new stadium in Nashville Tennessee. Since this new stadium would not be ready until the 1999 season, Adams decided to move his team to Memphis Tennessee in 1997 after playing before small Houston crowds in 1996.
The renamed Tennessee Oilers also played before sparse Memphis crowds and thus spent the 1998 season playing at Nashville’s Vanderbilt Stadium. After the new Adelphia Coliseum was completed in 1999, the team’s name was changed to the Tennessee Titans. With Tennessee’s Super Bowl appearance, every former AFL team had now played in the Super Bowl, including the original eight AFL teams and the two AFL expansion teams; the Miami Dolphins and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The 1999 Titans were led by QB Steve McNair and RB Eddie George. McNair had missed five games due to injuries during the season but he was still able to put up solid numbers, completing 187 out of 331 passes (56.5%) for 2,179 yards and 12 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions for a QB Rating of 78.6. Despite his injury problems, McNair finished the season as the second leading rusher on the team with 337 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. George also had an outstanding season, rushing for 1,304 yards on 320 carries (4.1 yards per carry). He also caught 47 passes for 458 yards, all career highs. In all, George scored a grand total of 13 rushing and receiving touchdowns, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year.
Another contributor on the Titans’ offense was RB Lorenzo Neal, who frequently served as George’s lead blocker and was widely considered one of the best blocking backs in the league. The team did not have any outstanding deep threats, but WR Yancey Thigpen recorded 38 receptions for 648 yards, WR Kevin Dyson had 54 receptions for 658 yards, and TE Frank Wycheck caught 69 passes for 641 yards. Up front, their line was anchored by Pro Bowl OT Bruce Matthews. Overall, Tennessee’s offense ranked 13th in rushing and passing while finishing 7th in total offense, scoring 392 points.
Tennessee’s defense was also extremely effective. Pro Bowl DE Jevon Kearse anchored the line, recording 14.5 sacks to go along with 8 forced fumbles and was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. The linebacking corps was led by Eddie Robinson, who recorded 64 tackles and 6 sacks. Their secondary was led by CB Samari Rolle, who led the team with 4 interceptions. Overall, the Titans defense finished 10th against the run, 25th against the pass, and 15th in total defense allowing 324 points.
Surprisingly, the two teams’ defenses seemed to dominate most of the first half. St. Louis started the game out strong by taking the opening kickoff and marching to the Tennessee 17 yard line. But, on third down, the Titans pressured Kurt Warner to throw an incomplete pass. Then the ensuing field goal attempt failed when holder Mike Horan fumbled the snap. Tennessee responded by moving the ball to the Rams 29 yard line, aided by Eddie George’s 32 yard reception. However, they also came up empty after K Al Del Greco missed a 47 yard field goal attempt. For the rest of the half, the Titans were forced to punt on all of their possessions.
In contrast, the Rams were able to reach inside the Tennessee 20 yard line on all four of their remaining drives before halftime, but on each one, the Titans’ defense forced St. Louis to settle for field goal attempts from K Jeff Wilkins, who was successful in making three of them (27, 28, 29 yards), missing one attempt from 34 yards. The Rams ended up leading at halftime, 9-0, but their scoring margin over the Titans seemed somewhat small, considering they drove into scoring range on every one of their first half possessions and outgained Tennessee in total yards, 294-89.
Both teams’ offenses started to get going in the second half. The Titans took the opening kickoff of the third quarter and drove 43 yards to the St. Louis 29 yard line. But Tennessee remained scoreless after Todd Lyght blocked Del Greco’s 47 yard field goal attempt. After that, Warner converted a third down situation with a completion to Marshall Faulk, then on the next two plays threw a 31 yard strike to Isaac Bruce and a 16 yard completion to TE Ernie Conwell before finishing the 68 yard drive with a 9 yard touchdown pass to Torry Holt, giving St. Louis a 16-0 lead. On the completion to Conwell, Bishop combined to make the tackle, but suffered a spinal injury and had to leave the game, delaying the contest for several minutes while Bishop was being treated.
Tennessee returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the 34 yard line. From there, 5 runs by George good for 24 yards, 3 completions from Steve McNair to Frank Wycheck for 15 yards, and a run by McNair for 2 yards advanced the ball to the St. Louis 25 yard line. There, McNair scrambled 23 yards to the 2 yard line, setting up a 1 yard touchdown run by George two plays later. The touchdown cut the Titans’ deficit to 16-6 after McNair’s pass to Wycheck on the two point conversion attempt fell incomplete. The Titans’ first score sparked them to rally. After forcing the Rams to punt on their ensuing possession, a pair of 21 yard completions from McNair to TE Jackie Harris and Isaac Byrd aided a 13 play, 79 yard drive that was capped by George’s 2 yard touchdown run to make the score 16-13.
The Tennessee defense then forced the Rams to a three and out, and Horan’s 30 yard punt gave the Titans the ball back at their 47 yard line. The Titans’ offense drove only 28 yards on their ensuing possession, but it was close enough for Del Greco to attempt a 43 yard field goal. This time, Del Greco’s kick was good, tying the score at 16-16 with just 2:12 left in the game. The 16 point deficit was the largest to be erased in a Super Bowl and the first greater than 10 points. It was also the first time in any Super Bowl a team down double digits in the fourth quarter had tied the game. However, the Titans had only tied the game and hadn’t yet gained the lead.
On the Rams’ first play of their ensuing drive, Warner threw a long pass that was caught at the Titans’ 38 yard line by Bruce, who then ran it all the way into the end zone for a 73 yard touchdown to give St. Louis a 23-16 lead. Likewise, in the 1951 NFL Championship Game, QB Norm Van Brocklin’s 73 yard game winning touchdown pass to WR Tom Fears broke a 17-17 tie in the fourth quarter and gave the Rams a 7 point victory to win their last NFL title. Warner’s touchdown pass to Bruce was his only completion of the fourth quarter. The Titans took over the ball at their own 12 yard line with 1:48 left in the game after committing a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
McNair started out the drive with a pair of completions to Mason and Wycheck for gains of 9 and 7 yards to reach the 28 yard line. After an incomplete pass, a 15 yard facemask penalty while tackling McNair on a 12 yard scramble gave the Titans a first down at the St. Louis 45 yard line. On the next play, St. Louis was penalized 5 yards for being offsides, moving the ball to the 40 yard line with 59 seconds left. McNair then ran for 2 yards and threw a 7 yard completion to Kevin Dyson the next play. Tennessee nearly lost the ball when Dre Bly stepped in front of a pass intended for Mason, only to have it go right through his arms. Two plays later, with the Titans facing 3rd and 5, McNair was hit by two Rams defenders, but escaped and completed a 16 yard pass to Dyson to gain a 1st down at the Rams 10 yard line.
Tennessee then used up their final timeout with just 6 seconds left in the game, giving them a chance for one last play. This final play has gone down in NFL history as simply “The Tackle”. The plan was to use Wycheck as a decoy. He would run straight up the field on the right side, to lure Mike Jones away from Dyson. Dyson would then slant left through the middle of the field. With Jones occupying Wycheck, McNair would pass the ball to Dyson, who would be open from about 5 yards out for the score. As the play began, everything appeared to go as planned. Jones ran with Wycheck up the field at the beginning of the play.
However, as the pass was being delivered to Dyson, Jones, who was at the goal line, glanced over his left shoulder and noticed an open Dyson catching the ball. Jones switched directions and ran towards the Titans receiver. Dyson ran directly toward the end zone, but his legs were wrapped up by Jones with about two and a half yards left to the goal line. Since Dyson was being tackled by the legs, there was still the possibility he could reach the ball across the goal line. Both players went into a rolling motion as Dyson outstretched his hand with the football towards the end zone in the hopes of scoring the touchdown. Though his reach was close, and the ball mere inches away from the goal line, it was still not enough to score.
As the rolling motion came to an end, with Jones now on top of Dyson’s legs, Dyson’s shoulder touched the ground with the ball at the 1 yard line and, with that, the game was over. Had Dyson scored and the extra point been converted, it would have been the first Super Bowl ever to go into overtime. Alternatively, had Dyson scored, the Titans could have attempted a 2 point conversion for the outright win. Instead, the Rams had won their first NFL Championship, 23-16, since 1951.
Considering the magnitude of the Super Bowl, and the wild game that preceded it, “The Tackle” is considered one of the greatest and most exciting game ending plays in modern NFL history. The image of Dyson stretching the ball towards the goal line with Jones wrapped around him has become a staple of NFL highlights. As of 2007, ESPN.com ranked “The Tackle” as the 35th greatest moment of the past 25 years in sports. NFL.com ranked Jones’ tackle of Dyson as the fourth greatest clutch moment in Super Bowl history. Fox Sports ranked The Tackle as the Greatest Clutch Play in Super Bowl History.
St. Louis QB Kurt Warner was named Super Bowl MVP, completing 24 out of 45 attempts for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns and a 99.7 QB Rating, becoming the sixth player to win both the Super Bowl and the NFL MVP awards during the same season. At the time, his 414 passing yards and 45 pass attempts without an interception were Super Bowl records. WRs Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt became the fourth pair of teammates to each have over 100 yards receiving in a Super Bowl, joining the Pittsburgh Steelers’ John Stallworth and Lynn Swan in Super Bowl XIII, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Cris Collinsworth and Dan Ross in Super Bowl XVI, and the Washington Redskins’ Gary Clark and Art Monk in Super Bowl XXVI.
Finally, Head Coach Dick Vermeil became the oldest coach ever to win a Super Bowl at age 63. After the game, Vermeil once again retired, turning the reigns over to his Offensive Coordinator, and heir apparent, Mike Martz.
While the Rams were on their January journey towards capturing the Lombardi Trophy, Green Bay GM Ron Wolf was once again overhauling the Packers’ coaching staff. After just a single season and with three years remaining on his contract, Head Coach Ray Rhodes and his assistants were fired on January 3. “Is he a different coach than I thought he was?” Wolf said of Rhodes. “Yes, the answer to that is yes. What I think we have to have here is a well disciplined, tough, hard-nosed football team. That’s the way you’re successful in this business. We have to develop that. We don’t have that here.” Wolf also admitted he saw signs of player dissension in practice during the latter part of the season.
Thus, only two seasons removed from their last Super Bowl appearance and three seasons from their first NFL Championship in 30 years, Green Bay had hired its second head coach since Mike Holmgren’s departure. Mike Sherman would be now be the man to lead the Packers into the new century.
Attached is the NFL Films Super Bowl XXXIV Highlight video. Enjoy!!
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