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21 years ago: Ricky Proehl's catch vaulted the Rams to the Super Bowl

21 years ago: Ricky Proehl's catch vaulted the Rams to the Super Bowl

Warner No. 4

Wide receiver Ricky Proehl makes the touchdown catch that sends the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl, on Jan. 23, 2000 at the Trans World Dome. (Chris Lee photo / Post-Dispatch) 

Editors note: On January 23, 2000, the Rams defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6 at the Dome and advanced to the Super Bowl. The catch made by Ricky Proehl was one of the great moments in St. Louis sports history. Here is our original coverage.

From Baltimore to Minnesota, the Rams scored 73 touchdowns this season. Everyone from Isaac Bruce to James Hodgins to Ryan Tucker reached the end zone. They all had the chance to Bob 'N Weave.

Ricky Proehl watched -- until Sunday, that is. That's when Proehl made the play of his life, a touchdown catch unlike any seen in St. Louis football history. His 30-yard TD reception from Kurt Warner gave the Rams an 11-6 victory over Tampa Bay in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. As a result, the Rams are going to the Super Bowl in Atlanta.

Do not adjust your newspaper. It's true. The previously sad-sack St. Louis Rams are taking Georgia to Georgia to play Tennessee in the Super Bowl.

"We won four games last year," safety Keith Lyle said. "Trent Green gets hurt. I said, 'Oh, man, not this.' If a psychic would have told me we were going to the Super Bowl in Atlanta, I would have asked for my money back."

No refund will be necessary, thanks to Proehl, who made the clutchest of clutch catches on third and 4 from the Tampa Bay 30 with 4 minutes 44 seconds to play.

"It's kind of funny because he is the long-lost receiver that we've got," said Warner, who persevered through a three-interception day -- a career high.

Proehl barely played in the first five games of the season. But when Az-Zahir Hakim missed the Cleveland game with a groin injury, Proehl caught five passes, and the coaching staff decided to work him into the rotation as a third-down specialist.

So there he was early Sunday evening, flanked to the left on third down.

During a timeout before the play, Warner reminded Proehl that if the safety blitzes, he should run a "fade" - or deep - route.

If the Bucs were in a normal defense and didn't blitz, Proehl was supposed to run an 18-yard "out" - or sideline - route.

Well, the Bucs blitzed free safety Damien Robinson. So, Proehl went deep down the left sideline and outfought Buccaneers nickel back Brian Kelly for the ball in the end zone.

"The ball was underthrown a little bit," Proehl said. "(Kelly) had some very good coverage, and I just went after the ball, tried to screen him off and was fortunate to make the play."


Sunday 23 January, 2000 -- Rams Roland Williams (86) and Isaac Bruce (87) congratulate Ricky Proehl after he caught a touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to put the Rams ahead of the Buccaneers 11-6 Sunday in the NFC Championship at the Trans World Dome. POST-DISPATCH PHOTO BY Chris Lee

It was the longest play of the day - pass or run - by the Rams against the rugged Tampa defense.

"It's just a great feeling," Proehl said. "I've played for 10 years, and the best I've been is 8-8. Never seen the playoffs. This is what I've dreamed about for years."

Afterward, Proehl took a victory lap around the Trans World Dome, toting the Halas Trophy, which goes to the NFC champion. What went through his mind during the moment of triumph?

"Man, this thing is getting heavy," Proehl said in jest.

But Proehl, cheered by a delirious crowd, held on to the trophy, just like he had held on to the winning TD pass, which almost squeezed through his left arm as he came down in the end zone.

"When I went up for it, I had it," Proehl said. "Then when I came down, I think his hand was in there, trying to get it out. I pinned it against, I think, my hip and my side and was able to get control of it and get my two feet in."

Then, and only then, did Proehl finally get to Bob 'N Weave. It was not a thing of beauty.

"You know what? I don't care," said Proehl, 31. "I don't give a do-do what it looked like. We're going to Atlanta."

With fellow wide receivers Hakim and Torry Holt in and out of the game with injuries, Proehl saw his most extensive action of the season. He finished with six catches for a game-high 100 yards.

But even after Proehl's big catch, the Rams defense had to make one last stand. Plucky Tampa quarterback Shaun King drove the Bucs from their 23 to the Rams 22 with 1:25 to play.


(1/23/2000 Sunday) St. Louis, Mo.--Rams QB Kurt Warner runs around the field with his game ball and closely followed by the George Halas Trophy. PHOTO BY ROBERT COHEN ( Rams quarterback Kurt Warner takes a victory lap after Sunday's NFC championship victory. Warner had a difficult game, with three interceptions, but connected with Ricky Proehl in the fourth quarter for the game's only touchdown. )

But then, Grant Wistrom nailed King for a 13-yard loss. On second down, King's pass to Bert Emanuel first was ruled a 12-yard gain, but the call was overruled through instant replay. The play was challenged not by the Rams but by league replay assistant Jerry Markbreit because less than two minutes remained in the game.

After review, the original call was overturned, and the pass was ruled incomplete.

"That's the first one we've gotten all year," said coach Dick Vermeil, whose team had gone 0 for four on replay challenges during the regular season.

That made it third and 23. Again, Wistrom came charging in, throwing King to the ground. King barely got the ball off before he hit the turf. Much to the chagrin of Wistrom, who wanted the sack, officials ruled it an incomplete pass.

So, it all came down to one play. Fourth and 23 from the 35. If the Bucs get a touchdown, they go to the Super Bowl, not the Rams. If they don't get a TD or at least a first down, the Rams win.

King's pass for Emanuel was headed out the back of the end zone. But just to make sure, Taje Allen swatted the ball out of the end zone with 34 seconds to play.

The Rams took over, Warner knelt on the ball ... and the Rams were heading to the Super Bowl as NFC champs.

The Rams defense limited the Bucs to only two field goals and 203 yards all day. In the first half alone, the Rams made a goal-line stand to prevent a touchdown and also stopped the Bucs on third and 1 from the Tampa Bay 43 and third and 3 from the Rams' 26.

"I got sick of hearing about Tampa Bay's defense all week," safety Devin Bush said. "It was all right to talk about it, but that's all you heard. To just talk about their defense and nothing else, not even mention ours, that was like a slap in the face."

For a while, it looked as if the Bucs might get the last laugh. Clinging to a 6-5 lead thanks to a third-quarter field goal by Martin Gramatica, the Bucs made things look bleak for the home team when Kelly picked off a Warner pass three minutes into the fourth quarter.

Kelly celebrated by doing - of all the things - the Bob'N Weave, right in front of the Rams and the record crowd of 66,496 at the Dome.

Oh, the audacity.

"He looked a mess," Fletcher said. "And that just ignited us."

In the end, it was Kelly who got beaten for the winning touchdown.

"And we Bobbed 'N Weaved on his head," Fletcher said.

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