Welcome to TJRSports.com. This is the beginning of a journey that I hope leads to intelligent sports discussion amongst fans all over the world. My name is John Canton. I'm a sports junkie. My favorite sport to watch? The National Football League. I love it so much I even took my pen name from the city where the NFL Hall of Fame is located in the state of Ohio.
I love the NFL. I have been following the league for well over twenty years with my first Super Bowl memory being the Bears destroying the Patriots when I was just five years old. I don't know what it was that drew me to it, but I absolutely loved it from the beginning. These days it feels more like an obsession. My TV is on NFL Network all year long. I watch everything from the draft combine to the draft itself, then all the talk in the offseason and even most of the preseason games (at least the first half of the games).
On Sundays during the season I am entrenched in front of my 50 inch HDTV with all my various bets laid out on the table while also having the laptop right beside to check on my fantasy football matchups. I can be found watching the festivities on Sundays flipping from game to game thanks to the best $120 I spend every year on the NFL Sunday Ticket package. Nothing beats Sunday football for me.
My favorite team is a unique one considering where I live: The St. Louis Rams.
Despite the fact that I live in southern Ontario I was never attracted to the Lions or Bills. The Rams were my team because my eldest cousin (also named John) liked them for whatever reason. The only reason he ever gave me was because his brother was a Cowboys fan in the 1970s and early 1980s so he picked a rival of them who was genuinely pretty good and he ended up with the LA Rams.
The first jersey my cousin ever bought me was the #29 of Eric Dickerson. He was an elite running back that ended up in the Hall of Fame. To this day, his 2,105 yards rushing in 1984 remains the most rushing yards in a season. Some have come close in the last decade like Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson, but the record is still intact 28 years later. He got traded to Indianapolis in 1987, but by that point I had liked the team and had learned of some of the other players. I was a Rams fan for life by that point.
One of my favorite childhood memories came during the playoffs of the 1989 season when the Rams went into the New York Giants stadium where they were underdogs. The game was tied at 13-13 with the Rams having the ball inside the Giants 30. Quarterback Jim (don’t call him Chris) Everett threw a TD pass to Willie "Flipper" Anderson for the game winning touchdown and I'll never forget watching Willie run out of the endzone (after bumping into some fat dude) with the ball in his hands. He went into the locker room as they celebrated the 19-13 win. I was just nine years old and it was easy to like a guy named Flipper even before he made one of the greatest catches in franchise history. After that catch he was a God to me.
The next week the Rams got crushed by the San Francisco 49ers 30-3 and I can remember being sad about it, but looking back on it now obviously that 49ers team was better.
Then the 1990s came. Boy did they suck. From 1990 to 1998 the Rams didn't make it to the playoffs once. Those last few years were my high school years. The new school year meant a new NFL year and every year I thought "this is the year we turn it around" and during those nine years the best they could manage was 7-9 in 1995 - the first year in St. Louis. The move from Los Angeles to St. Louis didn't matter to me because I wasn't close to any home game anyway. Due to the internet boom in the late 90s I was able to follow them on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website and that made it a lot easier. Every year in the 90's I'd get myself all excited for the season and be disappointed…until 1999.
If there's a positive to being the worst team in football for nine years it's that it allows you to stockpile high draft picks. In the 1999 season, three of those 90s first round picks were Pro Bowl players: Defensive End Kevin Carter, Left Tackle Orlando Pace and Cornerback Todd Lyght. There was also a second round pick Isaac Bruce, who was clearly the best player on the team during the previous five miserable seasons. In addition to that core, the team drafted Torry Holt 6th overall in that 1999 draft. He would go on to make seven Pro Bowls in his first nine seasons and is the fastest man to 10,000 receiving yards in NFL history. Those guys were all great, but they weren't the MVPs of the team.
Marshall Faulk is my favorite player in the history of the Rams. In the 1999 draft, the Rams traded a 2nd and 5th round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Faulk. It worked out for both teams since the Colts drafted Edgerrin James, who instantly became a Pro Bowl Running Back, but Faulk was the kind of guy that turned the Rams franchise around. Faulk went on to become the NFL Offensive Player of the year three straight years and won the NFL MVP award in 2000 as well. On the field he was unlike any player in Rams history because he was a game changer every time he touched the ball. He was a leader too. That's what the Rams really needed too. Faulk was a shifty runner who could also receive the ball as well as any RB in NFL history and most importantly he made everybody around him better.
In the same 1999 offseason, the Rams signed Quarterback Trent Green who had a breakout season for the Washington Redskins. With the additions of Green, Faulk and Holt that offseason I knew the Rams could finally contend for a playoff spot. You know the rest of the story from here, I think. Green got taken out in the preseason by a cheapshot by Rodney Harrison that tore the ACL in Green's knee. He was out for the year. I remember the visual of Isaac Bruce on his knee looking so sad. I remember coach Dick Vermeil's press conference where he said "we're going to rally around Kurt Warner" and I thought "who the hell is Warner?"
Warner was the Rams backup in the 1998 season, which means he couldn't unseat Tony Banks, who was a bust from the moment the Rams drafted him in round two in 1996. I wasn't sure what to feel about this. A lot of people thought the Rams should sign a veteran QB, plug him in there, hand the ball to Faulk and see if he can carry the team to the playoffs. Instead, Warner started week one against the Ravens, threw three TDs and the magical season began.
The Rams started the 1999 season 6-0, finished 13-3 and scored the second most points in the history of the NFL scoring 32.9 points per game. Warner won the Most Valuable Player award thanks to 4,353 yards and 41 pass TDs, which was the third highest total in NFL history at the time. The offense was quickly dubbed "The Greatest Show on Turf" and all of a sudden I went from nobody wanting to talk to me about the Rams to seeing them become the center of the NFL universe. If I didn't see it with my own eyes I wouldn't have believed it.
In the playoffs, the Rams destroyed the Minnesota Vikings in their first game and then moved on to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Title game. The Rams were the best offensive team while the Bucs were the best defensive team. They ended up playing a low scoring game that the Rams won 11-6 (safety, field goal and TD in case you're wondering about the 11) thanks a clutch TD pass late from Warner to the Rams fourth WR Ricky Proehl. Thankfully for the Rams, the Bucs offense was atrocious led by then rookie Shaun King, so they weren't able to score a TD and the Rams were going to the Super Bowl.
I'll never forget the day of Super Bowl 34 on January 30, 2000. It's easy to remember not just because the Rams won the Super Bowl that day, but also because it's my dad's birthday. Not all of my family watched football, but they knew my team was in it because I was the kind of guy to let everybody know about it. We must have had 25 people at my parent's house that day watching this game. I remember I had on my Isaac Bruce jersey and I was so nervous because I knew the Tennessee Titans were a formidable foe since they had beaten the Rams in October.
I know a lot of people call that Rams/Titans Super Bowl a great game, but it really wasn't. At least early. The score was 9-0 at the half. The Rams missed opportunities to score a TD while the Titans got away from the running game that carried them to the Super Bowl in the first place. Things picked up in the second half after a Warner TD pass to Holt that put the Rams up 16-0. The Titans woke up, though. They ran the ball down the Rams throats and tied it up 16-16 as I remember swearing quite a bit in the direction of Titans QB Steve McNair and RB Eddie George. It didn't seem like they could be stopped. There was 2:12 left when the Rams made the biggest offensive play in franchise history. Isaac Bruce was one on one the outside. Warner threw a deep pass down the sideline, Bruce stepped back into the open space, adjusted his route, caught the ball and he was gone for a 73 yard TD. I was ecstatic. Rams were up 23-16, but did they leave the Titans too much time with just about two minutes left? McNair was incredible that drive. He made every throw and scrambled when he had to as well. He completed a pass to Kevin Dyson to the ten yard line and they called timeout.
The last play of Super Bowl 34 is one of the most famous plays in NFL history. There were six seconds left. The Titans had no timeouts. It was either the last play of the game or it would be the first overtime game in Super Bowl history. The Rams were playing a zone defense. McNair dropped back and found Dyson on a slant pattern at the four yard line. Due to the zone, Rams outside linebacker Mike Jones was in the middle of the field. He put his right arm around the waist of Dyson and wrapped him up. Dyson's knee was down at the two. He stretched the ball out to the one. One yard short from tying the game. The play would come be known as "The Tackle." Jones was an average linebacker. He didn't blitz much or make that many plays, but on that night he made one of the biggest plays ever.
That's the NFL for you. The 1999 Rams were one of the greatest offensive teams in NFL history, yet won the Super Bowl on the last play because of the defense. It's why the NFL is the ultimate team game. You can score all the points you want, but if you can't stop somebody at the right time you're going to lose. We see it all the time. That Rams team didn't have a great defense. It was good enough to win it all though, so that's what matters.
I think the story of the 1999 Rams is one for the record books. I've read over the years that before the season their odds of winning the Super Bowl were 80-1 meaning if you bet $100 on them before the first game of the season you could have won $8,000 just like that. If only I made that bet huh? They went from a 4-12 team to a 13-3 team. Kurt Warner went from a nobody to the league MVP and eventually a Hall of Fame caliber player. It wasn't just about winning the ring. It was about how the team got there that really impressed me.
I could go on with more Rams nostalgia, but I should stop there. Believe me if I go into talking about the 2001 season that should have been another Super Bowl winner (the team was better that year) then it will be full of expletives as I question why stubborn head coach Mike Martz didn't give Marshall Faulk the ball more against a dime defense. Since 2005, after the core of that championship team moved on, it's been a tough time being a Rams fan, but guess what? That's sports. It's not easy.
The 1999 Rams are the reason why I'll always be the most loyal sports fan that there is. I could never root for another team. The Rams are my team. When they sucked I continued to root for them. When they won it all, my family and friends were congratulating me because they know how emotionally invested I was in them. The hats, coffee mugs, figurines, jerseys over the years (Dickerson, Bruce, Faulk, Warner, Holt, Jackson and Bradford), the jacket and hours spent watching their games are why I'm a Rams fan for life. I don't care if Toronto gets a team down the road from me. I'm all about the Rams and always will be.
I wanted to share this story in the hopes that you know what kind of sports fan I am. I'm loyal to the end and no matter where my team is in the standings they will always be my team. That doesn't mean I'll approve of every free agent signing, trade or draft pick because I'd like to think I'm an intelligent fan. What it means is whether they're the worst team in the NFL for nine years in the 90s or one of the worst teams in the league since 2005, I'll always be a fan. Stay true to who you are and always believe.
After watching the 1999 Rams, I'll never stop believing.