A game I still can’t bring myself to watch

There are two old VHS tapes lying somewhere around my house that I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch. One, of course, is Super Bowl XXXVI, which I’ve been subjected to watch repeatedly on NFL Network. While I still get mad at that game (are you aware that at the beginning of New England’s winning drive, Tom Brady committed a clear intentional grounding penalty?), I deal with it.

The other game I’ve never watched is perhaps the most entertaining Monday Night game ever. It happened ten years ago, on December 18, 2000. The Rams went to Tampa for a rematch of the 1999 NFC Championship game, but couldn’t overcome an early deficit and lost 38-35.

This game was the essence of the Greatest Show on Turf. Marshall Faulk scored two first half touchdowns for the Rams, but Shaun King hit Keyshawn Johnson twice for scores and the Bucs led 24-14 at the half. Because this WAS The Show, pensive Rams fans on a snowy night in St. Louis figured Kurt Warner could lead St. Louis back.

Sure enough, toward the end of the third quarter, Warner hit Faulk for a 27 yard TD to get the Rams within three at 24-21, building the confidence of fans of the Super Bowl Champs. But Tampa Bay got a 41 yard kickoff return from Karl Williams, and on the final play of the third quarter, Warrick Dunn took off down the right sideline for 52 yards to give Tampa their ten point lead right back. Anger set it. How could this happen?

Were the Rams done? Not by a longshot. Warner led the Rams 73 yards in seven plays…and Faulk scored his fourth touchdown of the night to make it 31-28. Tampa rumbled to the Rams three yard line, but Dexter McCleon intercepted King’s pass in the end zone to give the Rams the ball back, and lift the spirits of an entire community deep into a winter’s Monday night.

What happened next was classic Warner, classic Greatest Show. He hit Roland Williams for eight yards on first down…then went down the middle to Torry Holt for the lead score, a 72 yard touchdown pass that brought about a collective roar from the Gateway City that could be heard at Raymond James Stadium. Euphoria. Pandemonium. Craziness. And that was in a house a thousand miles away from the play.

Both teams had bad possessions…and we felt good. Rams up 35-31, and a punt forced the Bucs all the way back to their own 20 yard line with no time outs and 2:22 left. Tampa picked up a first down, and had it at the 35 with 1:48 left. Kevin Carter had…HAD…Warrick Dunn wrapped up for a 14 yard loss. But Dunn somehow slipped away…passing the ball back to King…who picked up 29 yards. Mike Jones hit King out of bounds at the 50. Punch to the gut. Depression. Morose. But still…some hope. Just make one play. One play!!! Alas, King turned in virtuoso quarterbacking…and Dunn went over from the one with 53 seconds remaining.

The Rams got it back at the 21 with 48 seconds on the clock. Warner dropped back…and lofted a rainbow deep across the middle. Isaac Bruce, wide open. Here we go again! The Super Bowl, all over!!! But, arrrgggghhhh…HE DROPPED IT! Wow. Devastating. That was a touchdown. And Bruce couldn’t hang on.

Warner was intercepted on the next play, and Tampa had their revenge for the NFC Championship game. What a game. If I didn’t have a horse in that race, I would have been incredibly entertained. One day I may find that tape and watch it. But ten years later…as great as the game was…I’m not ready to.