S John Lynch doesn't want to look back at last year's game in St. Louis, but the sting of the loss remains
By Andrew Mason, NFL.com
Nearly 11 months have passed since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell 11-6 to the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship.
But as the teams prepare to meet again, this time on the Bucs' home turf, the wounds still haven't healed.
"I'm not over it. I think until we get to that next level, any of us that participated in that game won't be," said safety John Lynch.
For a team that has lost 247 times in its 25 seasons - an average of nearly 10 losses per season - the defeat of Jan. 23, 2000 might have been the hardest to swallow. It saw the Bucs take a 6-5 lead over the Rams, lose it on a touchdown pass from Kurt Warner to Ricky Proehl, and then march back downfield, only to have the drive scuttled when a Shaun King pass to Bert Emanuel was overturned by instant replay.
Wasted was a defensive effort that did something no one else did during the 1999 season - shut down the Rams offense. It scored over 20 points in every other game that season, including 49 against the Minnesota Vikings one week earlier.
"I felt like it was our destiny to win that game the way it was going," then-Buccaneers linebacker Hardy Nickerson told The Tampa Tribune. "They couldn't move the ball and they were getting frustrated."
For the Buccaneers, the comments of Nickerson and others were painfully familiar to the sentiments echoed 20 years and 17 days earlier in the locker room in the bowels of since-demolished Tampa Stadium, when the Bucs sat in a similarly depressed, perplexed mood following a 9-0 loss to the Rams in the 1979 NFC Championship Game.
On that chilly Florida evening, the Bucs allowed the Rams to pile up 369 yards and make three trips inside the Tampa Bay 10-yard-line, but limited them to three field goals. The defense kept the Bucs in the game, and in the fourth quarter, the offense found the end zone when Mike Rae - subbing for an injured Doug Williams - found Jimmie Giles in the end zone.
But just as would happen 20 years later, a game-turning pass was snatched away from Tampa Bay, this time thanks to an illegal motion penalty. The pass was the Bucs' last gasp.
"It's just a crying shame that we couldn't even get seven points," offensive tackle Dave Reavis told the Tribune after the loss. "I'll bet if we had gotten ahead, our defense would have held them."
The Bucs would have done anything to win the games, if asked. But on the other side, one man did.
Nobody embodied the slug-it-out, fight-to-the-end, hand-to-hand combat nature of the two championship battles between the teams than Rams defensive end Jack Youngblood. The Florida native limped off the Rams' team plane in Tampa for the 1980 NFC Championship with a broken leg incurred one week earlier in a divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys.
"They carted me into a Texas Stadium locker room before halftime and did X-rays," Youngblood, now an assistant to the commissioner for the Arena Football League, told the Times. "I told our team doctor, 'It's only a fibula. Just tape it up and let me get back on the field.'
"A week later, in the NFC Championship Game, I managed to get by against the Bucs. Lots more aspirin. But being on four losing teams in NFC finals, I wasn't about to miss my last shot at the Super Bowl. I was maybe 60 percent. Never been sorry I did it."
His teammates weren't sorry. Only the Bucs were, as he and the Rams are all that's separated Tampa Bay from the game's biggest stage.