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After Party

'It's a dream come true'

Thousands jam streets to celebrate Rams' championship

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Posted: Monday February 07, 2000 02:24 PM

  Downtown St. Louis Rams fans started lining the streets of downtown St. Louis several hours before the players were scheduled to arrive. AP

ST. LOUIS (CNNSI.com) -- A city used to celebrating baseball victories got some winter cheering practice as thousands lined downtown streets to welcome back the Super Bowl champions.

St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil -- who would later retire -- led the day-after parade down Market Street in a wagon pulled by the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, and players followed in 60 Dodge Ram pickup trucks.

The six-block procession began 40 minutes late and was slowed to almost a standstill as fans overcame a police barrier to swarm the champs. With Sunday's 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans, the Rams had won the NFL title for the first time in the city's 40-year football history.

"Thank you very much world champions," Vermeil told the crowd. "As a representative of these guys, the management and the coaching staff, I'd like to thank you for your support. I'd like you to know that the Rams aren't world champions. St. Louis is world champions."

Not since 1982 had St. Louis celebrated a major championship -- and that team, like most of the rest, came on the baseball diamond.

But in this crowd, Cardinal red gave way to Rams blue and gold. Shirts and hats depicting the team's latest accomplishment were flying off roadside sales carts, and many fans who didn't buy a souvenir made their own.

"After two divorces, this is all I can afford," said Dave Bilyeu, who sported a gold cardboard crown with two spiraling horns on the sides. "If my ex-wife saw me in an NFL hat, she'd want more money."

Dan Morgan had a similar idea but made his horns out of long blue and gold balloons. Within a couple hours in the bitter cold, some of the balloons had deflated.

"This is all I've got," Morgan said. "I'm not carrying any extra horns."

Fans broke into a chant of "MVP" as the truck carrying Kurt Warner made its way through the throngs of people. Warner is only the sixth player in league history to win the award in both the regular season and Super Bowl.

By now this town knows all to well the tale of the former Arena League standout who went from grocery stocker to NFL hero, leading the Rams from worst to first. Never before had a team that finished last in its division gone on to win the Super Bowl the next season.

London Fletcher Rams linebacker London Fletcher basked in the applause of thousands of screaming Rams fans during the parade. AP  

"I'd like to say that we forget about the grocery stores and all that stuff, and we start thinking about a repeat," Warner said.

The parade ended at Kiener Plaza, where several players addressed the fans with the Gateway Arch in the background. Few words were audible beyond the first few rows, but the crowd burst into cheers after every sentence all the same.

"This is great. It's a dream come true," said running back Marshall Faulk, the AP Offensive Player of the Year. "The fans have been great. We appreciate you guys supporting us. Thank you!"

Rams owner Georgia Frontiere, who inherited the team from her late husband and moved it from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995, held up the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

That sparked a deafening cheer, and one male fan shouted, "Georgia baby, I love you!"

Greg Shipley of St. Charles was too far away to get a good look at the trophy, but he didn't mind. He had constructed his own out of aluminum foil, although the football had become a bit deformed due to the crush of the crowd.

Some fans camped out for hours before the rally just to get a good spot. Fran Barnes was part of a group of people who sat on lawn chairs several hundred feet from the stage.

As the crowd filled in, Barnes discovered she wouldn't be able to see. So, she packed some snow and ice together and built her own personal pedestal. From that vantage point, she had a great view.

Monte and Patti Roy, who were also decked out in blue and gold, said the team had certainly strengthened their relationship. They made a pact at the beginning of the season to kiss every time the Rams scored.

But Patti Roy said they aren't fair-weather fans.

"We were the people who were the last in the dome even when they were bad, saying, 'We love you! Go Rams! We're No. 1!'" she said.

St. Louis fans also were signing a large "get well" banner that will be sent to Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas, paralyzed from the chest down following a car crash on Jan. 23.

'The time is right'

Rams' Vermeil decides to leave football as champion

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Posted: Monday February 07, 2000 02:10 PM

  Dick Vermeil With a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV, Dick Vermeil has reached the NFL mountaintop. AP

ST. LOUIS (CNNSI.com) -- Dick Vermeil's voice broke and the tears flowed -- one final time as an NFL coach.

The league's most emotional coach, standing within arm's reach of the Super Bowl trophy his St. Louis Rams won only two days earlier and referred to as "Champ" by the team president, stepped away from the game Tuesday.

It was a scenario that would unsettle the most manly of men. One knew that Vermeil, who seemingly wept at the drop of a hat during his three seasons in St. Louis, would not even attempt to rein himself in.

Vermeil, 63, said it was an "unbelievable feeling" to leave as a champion. He's going out on top.

"I think the time is right," he said. "Very few people in this profession get this opportunity."

Q&A With SI's Peter King
CNNSI.com: Peter, you called it the day after the Super Bowl, but didn't it seem like it came a little quickly?

Peter King: It seems that he's had his mind made up for some time now, that he was going to retire. Some of the people close to him have told me not to listen to what he said about coaching until 2002. They told me that if he won the Super Bowl, it was better then 50-50 that he'd retire.

For the complete Q&A click here 
 
 

Vermeil's quick decision had a lot to do with emotion. He didn't want to be involved with the free agency period that starts Feb. 11, so he leaves with two years to go on a five-year, $9 million contract.

"I don't want to participate in that," Vermeil said. "I don't want to cut the squad. These are my guys."

Owner Georgia Frontiere tried to talk Vermeil out of it, team president John Shaw said he should at least wait to make sure and special teams coach Frank Gansz made an impassioned plea. Rams players just wanted the best for the coach who made it a point to get to know all of them.

"I feel indebted to coach Vermeil," said linebacker London Fletcher, who also urged Vermeil to stick around. "He gave me an opportunity that maybe nobody else would have and I'm very grateful."

Linebacker Mike Jones, who made the game-saving tackle on Tennessee's Kevin Dyson, said looking back that Vermeil dropped a few clues on the flight back from Atlanta but "I never put it together."

"It's a great legacy," Jones said, "going from worst to first."

San Francisco general manager Bill Walsh, a longtime friend of Vermeil, agreed with the coach that the time was right.

"At this stage of his life, he's accomplished everything," Walsh said. "Now it's time for him to thoroughly enjoy the rewards of what he's accomplished."

This exit was a lot different than the first time he walked away from NFL coaching, complaining of burnout when he left the Philadelphia Eagles in 1982.

The decision elevates offensive coordinator Mike Martz to coach. The Rams signed Martz, who directed the NFL's top-rated offense (33 points a game), to a two-year contract in January that assured he would inherit Vermeil's job.

"I told everyone before the season that Mike Martz was the type of coach who would go after it -- from the first game to the last," said Isaac Bruce, who caught the winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
  Click on the image for a larger version. CNNSI.com

Martz, scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday for a neck problem, didn't attend the news conference. A Rams spokesman said Martz would postpone surgery and hold a news conference Wednesday morning.

Vermeil coached two Super Bowl teams 19 years apart. He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl in 1981, and that 27-10 loss fueled his return to the profession in 1997.

Vermeil led the Rams to a 13-3 record this year after winning only nine games his first two years. Following last year's 4-12 mark, there was talk that he could be fired.

The players weren't happy, either. Most of it was only grumbling because of extremely hard practices that often left the players exhausted before they stepped on the field on Sundays.

Four prominent players, including cornerback Todd Lyght, boycotted the final team meeting of the 1998 season. That sent a message to the coach, who described it at the time as a "shot in the back."

Vermeil, however, weathered the problems and led the team to an incredible turnaround.

In his first stint as an NFL coach with the Eagles from 1976-82, Vermeil called the plays and basically ran the whole show with an iron fist. When he returned, he became a benevolent overseer.

As is his trademark, Vermeil fought back tears throughout the news conference. Sometimes, he lost the battle and choked up, especially when he talked about his players and the Rams organization.

Out On Top
Coaches to step down
after winning Super Bowl
Coach  Team  Year 
Dick Vermeil  Rams  1999 
Jimmy Johnson  Cowboys  1993 
Bill Parcells  Giants  1990 
Bill Walsh  49ers  1988 
Vince Lombardi  Packers  1967 
 
 

"I don't have the ability to verbalize how I feel," he said. "I'm so appreciative of what my coaching staff has done. And these players, geez, these guys are unbelievable."

During the Super Bowl buildup, Vermeil hedged on his future. On one hand, he liked coaching. On the other hand, Carol Vermeil, his wife of 44 years, told him: "What else do you have to prove?"

Vermeil said his wife brought up the possibility of retirement after the Rams beat the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs. They talked about it again following the parade through downtown St. Louis on Monday, a day after the Rams' 23-16 victory.

Finally, the couple discussed retirement again, briefly, Tuesday morning. Vermeil said, however, it was strictly his decision.

"I love these guys, too," Carol Vermeil said. "After my own boys, I call them my boys. But there's a time for everything."

Vermeil said he'll pursue a job in television again. During his 15-year hiatus from coaching, Vermeil was a college football analyst. He also plans to spend time at his Philadelphia area ranch with his wife.

Two sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren live nearby.

"We're world champions," Vermeil said. "How many coaches can go out having participated in a world championship contest?"