The 1999 St. Louis Rams is the best underdog story in NFL history.
The Rams finished the season 4–12. They lost quarterback Trent Green to a knee injury in preseason. Nothing good was expected of them. Instead, they won the Super Bowl.
Kurt Warner became the poster boy for this story of a loser, and for good reason. Warner’s story has been told countless times, from food packaging to regular season MVP to Super Bowl. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Let’s not forget the coach of that incredible 1999 Rams team. The former grocery packer coach made the team believe in him as their new quarterback and led the team to win the most incredible Super Bowl title in history.
The Hall of Fame hasn’t forgotten Dick Vermeil’s career. He finally got the call and he will be accepted into the class of 2022. It wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for that incredible 1999 season.
Dick Vermeil had an unconventional path
Vermeil had an odd career. He became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1976 after two seasons as UCLA head coach. He led the Bruins to victory in the Rose Bowl in one of two seasons there. After two losing seasons to start their time in Philadelphia, the Eagles took off. They were successful and qualified for Super Bowl XV, although they lost to the Oakland Raiders. Vermeil coached for two more seasons with Philadelphia before leaving at the age of 46.
It burned out, he said. Vermeil did not coach again until he was 61 years old.
Meanwhile, Vermeil was a popular American football broadcaster on ABC. He seemed to settle into a post-coaching career when the Rams unexpectedly hired Vermeil in 1997. He also gained control of football operations. And for two years, the game seemed to pass by Vermeil. He was 9-23 after two seasons. The players did not accept his old-school mentality, especially the grueling workouts at training camp. He was threatened with dismissal.
Vermeil looked like a coach who took 14 seasons off. Then 1999 happened.
Vermeil wins his Super Bowl
The 1999 Rams had magic. Vermeil memorably said through tears after Green’s injury, “We will rally around Kurt Warner and play good football.” He was assisted by his new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. As was new runner Marshall Faulk, who was acquired in a deal brokered by Vermeil.
The Rams went 13-3 to beat the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl. Vermeil’s return, almost two decades after nearly winning a championship with the Eagles, was well worth it.
Warner came into the spotlight. Martz has been praised for his groundbreaking offense. But Vermeil pressed all the right buttons for one of the greatest championships in the history of the sport.
“He deserves 100 percent credit for that turnaround,” said Charlie Armey, then Rams vice president of personnel. Baltimore Sun said in the 1999 season. “He made the right moves with the staff, with the players, with training. He did everything right.”
Vermeil retired again after the 1999 season. He returned for another five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, and while it wasn’t bad—Vermeil’s Chiefs went 44-36—it didn’t lead to a playoff win. After that, Vermeil retired for good.
Unlike when he first left the Eagles, Vermeil left the NFL with a Super Bowl ring in one of the sport’s greatest runs in a single season.
“Winning the Super Bowl doesn’t change a person,” Vermeil said in 2014. Delaware County Daily Times. “But it changes the way everyone looks at him. This is amazing. All of a sudden you’re a Super Bowl winning coach, and that’s how you’re presented. But you are the same person.”