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'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.


 
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The Rams enjoy the spoils of war.
  • Start(887 K .MOV)
Orlando Pace thanks the fans for their support. (41 K)
Dick Vermeil lets the fans know this championship belongs to the city of St. Louis. (77 K)
Kurt Warner is already looking forward to a repeat. (109 K)
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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