The 1999 St. Louis Rams are the best underdog team story in NFL history.
The Rams were coming off a 4-12 season. They lost quarterback Trent Green to a knee injury in the preseason. They weren’t expected to be any good. Instead, they won a Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner has become the poster boy for that underdog story, and for good reason. Warner’s story has been told countless times: He went from bagging groceries to a regular-season and Super Bowl MVP. He ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Let’s not forget about the coach of that unbelievable 1999 Rams team. The coach who took that former grocery bagger, got the team to believe in him as their new quarterback, and oversaw a squad that won the most improbable Super Bowl title ever.
The Hall of Fame didn’t forget Dick Vermeil’s career. He finally got the call and will be inducted in the class of 2022. He wouldn’t be in if not for that incredible 1999 season.
Dick Vermeil had an unconventional path
Vermeil had an odd career. He became the Philadelphia Eagles’ head coach in 1976 after two seasons as head coach of UCLA. He led the Bruins to a Rose Bowl win in one of his two seasons there. After two losing seasons to start his time in Philadelphia, the Eagles took off. They had a run of success and ended up in Super Bowl XV, though they lost to the Oakland Raiders. Vermeil coached two more seasons with Philadelphia and then stepped away, at age 46.
He was burned out, he said. Vermeil wouldn’t coach again until he was 61.
In between, Vermeil was a popular college football broadcaster for ABC. It seemed he’d settled into his post-coaching career when the Rams made Vermeil a surprising hire in 1997. He was given control of football operations, too. And for two years, it looked like the game had passed Vermeil by. He was 9-23 after two seasons. Players didn’t take to his old-school mentality, especially to grueling training camp practices. He was in danger of being fired.
Vermeil looked like a coach that had taken 14 seasons off. Then 1999 happened.
Vermeil wins his Super Bowl
There was magic for the 1999 Rams. Vermeil memorably said through tears after Green’s injury, “We will rally around Kurt Warner, and we will play good football.” His new offensive coordinator, Mike Martz, helped. So did new running back Marshall Faulk, who was acquired in a trade brokered by Vermeil.
The Rams went 13-3 and beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl. Vermeil’s comeback, almost two decades after coming up just short of a championship with the Eagles, was worth it.
Warner got the spotlight. Martz got a lot of credit for his innovative offense. But Vermeil pushed all the right buttons for one of the greatest championship stories in sports history.
“He deserves 100 percent of the credit for the turnaround,” then-Rams vice president for player personnel Charley Armey told the told the Baltimore Sun during the 1999 season. “He made the right moves with the staff, with the players, with practices. He’s done everything right.”
Vermeil stepped away again after the 1999 season. He’d return for five more seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and while it wasn’t bad — Vermeil’s Chiefs went 44-36 — it didn’t result in any playoff wins. Vermeil retired for good after that.
Unlike the first time he retired from the Eagles, Vermeil walked away from the NFL with a Super Bowl ring from one of the greatest single-season runs in sports.
‘Winning a Super Bowl doesn’t change the person,” Vermeil said in 2014 to the Delaware County Daily Times. “But it changes the way everyone looks at him. It’s amazing. All of a sudden you become a winning Super Bowl coach and that’s how you are introduced. But you are the same person.”