January 30th, 2000. Super Bowl XXXIV. The night of “The Tackle”. The evening Mike Jones never paid for a drink again in any St. Louis bar.
My dad and I were nervous. Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans were like the boxer that wouldn’t go down. The St. Louis Rams had outlasted the Titans to this point without completely finishing them off. Jevon Kearse had done his best to rip Kurt Warner’s head off all night, but the Rams were a step in front. The Rams were up 23-16, and McNair was going to drive down the field like there was no defense, only doors that kept opening with short smart and timely passes. Whether it was a handoff to Eddie George or a slant that the Rams didn’t see because they were in prevent mode, the Titans were charging.
In addition to this stressful moment, my best friend Josh wouldn’t put the guitar down. He was in that “I want to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughn” stage where’d he pick up a guitar, strum about 3/4 of a song, struggle and then start over. All night, he wouldn’t put the instrument down. My dad must have thought about tossing him through the window(it was a short fall).
Finally, as McNair started the final march, my dad said, “Okay, Josh, that’s enough. Seriously” I’ve never seen my friend so shell shocked but my dad was right. This was important. My dad and I never saw a Super Bowl team before. I’d only been following this team for five years, freshly scrubbing off the bandwagon paint from my clothing. We couldn’t believe what was happening. St. Louis was in denial for the past four months, thinking they were politely stuck in some fever dream that wasn’t ready to end yet. Warner had been marking up cans of corn in a grocery store a short time ago, and Dick “Glass Case of Emotion” Vermeil hadn’t led a team here since the Eagles years and years before. The Titans, led by the young(and actually good) Jeff Fisher, were tenacious and wanted to shock the world, defeating the Greatest Show on Turf.
After scoring 49 points against the Minnesota Vikings and barely squeaking by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams had done just enough to stay ahead tonight. Or did they?
McNair, suddenly was more elusive than ever before. Kevin Carter and D’Marco Farr couldn’t find him, reach him or chase him down in time. He rolled out and found Kevin Dyson streaking across the field, towards the end zone on a slant that couldn’t be denied. Linebacker Mike Jones, in an interview with Fox Sports, said the defense was running a base 77, which was a cover defense. It was a man to man setup, but a bracket coverage where the safety dictated the play. Jones said he was lined up to stop the tight end, but had his eyes on Dyson the entire time. When he stopped him, tackling him in perfect form, wrapping his legs and having Dyson fall like a tree, it was before the one yard line. To Dyson, it was just another tackle. To the rest of the coaches, players and the city of St. Louis it was the football equivalent of a closer in baseball firing the final strike past the hitter to seal the championship.
When it happened, my dad and I sprung up in elation but had to temper it to make sure it was actually a stop and the game was over. When it was over and Jones had saved the game for the Rams, it was party time. Honestly, all I could focus on was not falling down the stairs which were a short leap away. For the first time in St. Louis, a Super Bowl was in our possession. No matter what has happened since, I will never forget that furiously entertaining fall and winter of football in St. Louis. Warner coming out of nowhere to lead the way with Marshall Faulk driving the car with wingmen Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. I’ll never Jones, a formerly respected yet widely unknown linebacker, being the last line of defense.
The banners can be taken down, but the tackle will never fall. Roger Goodell can slam St. Louis with every possible greedy lying manipulative move, but he can’t take this away. He can hand the extra 100 million to California dreaming teams like San Diego(which is the biggest slap in the face to St. Louis ever) but he can’t demolish memories.
16 years ago, Mike Jones made the tackle and the Rams won the Super Bowl. It may sting now and sit in a bitter corner inside your heart but it should never waver or go away.