Kurt Warner, the storybook quarterback, came to a captivating Super Bowl chapter and wrote the happiest of endings.
In the final inning of the NFL's biggest game, the bagboy-to-riches St. Louis hero, already voted MVP of the league, won Super Bowl XXXIV with a Mark McGwire kind of shot, an historic 73-yard home run.
He'd win by The Longest Yard.
It was a low-celebrity Super Bowl, with no 49ers or Broncos or Packers. It was supposed to bore TV viewers to an early sleep. Instead, the Rams and Titans created a smash. In doubt until the final play, the final second, the final yard.
"Kurt Warner . . . it's not a fairy tale," Rams coach Dick Vermeil said. "It's real life. The guy's a book. He's a movie. His script seemed almost unbelievable, but now everybody knows it's fully legit."
It made a grown coach cry.
Warner had been a nobody. A backup player at a small-time college, then a big man in small play-for-pay ponds, Arena League and NFL Europe. Along the way, paying some bills as a $5-an-hour bagboy in an Iowa supermarket.
Bags to riches.
In pre-Super Bowl talk, Vermeil compared Warner's skills and demeanor with Joe Montana's. Greatest of all Super Bowl warriors. Some of us doubters quietly chuckled. Sunday night, as the Rams celebrated a 23-16 conquest, nobody was laughing.
Least of all the Titans.
Warner had Montana-like brilliance, with a Joe kind of finish. He passed for 414 yards, a Super Bowl record. The record was held (of course) by Montana, 357 in 1989.
Warner completed 24 of 45 throws. His performance was capped by the winning touchdown, a howitzer into the grasp of Isaac Bruce.
"I always believed in myself," Warner said. "But what an experience this season has been, unexpectedly getting my big chance among such an amazing bunch of teammates. World champions. How 'bout those Rams!"
Fate was Warner's kindly godfather over the past six months. Last summer, Trent Green was hired at great expense to be the Rams' prime quarterback, designated to hoist St. Louis from the doldrums.
Green was injured. Warner became the remaining option. Kurt who? Then the story quickly developed. He had 41 touchdown passes in the regular season, second highest in a season behind Dan Marino.
Now Warner's MVP of a Super Bowl, just like Joe Montana.
St. Louis had multiple first-half opportunities for a knockout. Warner was skewering the Titans with passes but getting clamped in the red zone. Settling for field goals.
The Titans scratched, hustled and hung around and became more potent in the second half. With just over two minutes to go, the Titans pulled to 16-all.
Your time, bagboy.
Warner had gone into temporary slumber. On two straight possessions, the Rams went three-and-out. When the score became 16-16, the onus was on No. 13. Digging in with serious spurs.
He swung for the fence.
On the first play after Tennessee tied, Warner dropped deep. Pressure was coming. Bruce streaked down the right sideline and Titans cornerback Denard Walker was in coverage.
Titans rookie Jevon Kearse was flying at Warner like a moth going for a lightbulb. The Freak almost pushed Rams blocker Fred Miller into the QB.
Bruce made an evasive, inside move on Walker. Denard's feet got out of synch. He was in heavy trouble. Isaac broke open by 2 yards. Warner, just before getting hit by Kearse, let his pass fly. Home run. Bruce caught it and ran into the end zone.
Seventy-three yards of glory.
Tennessee was knocked halfway to Savannah by Warner's bullets in the first half. After two quarters, he passed for 277 yards, completing 19 of 35. It could've been 24-0 or even 35-0, but the Rams led by a measly 9-0.
Just once in Super Bowl history had a quarterback thrown for comparable years in a first half. In 1988, Doug Williams had 306 in 30 minutes for Washington in Super Bowl XXII. But, by then, the Redskins had a 35-10 romp.
Warner had something major to prove. In the red zone, he was 0-for-12 before finally connecting with Torry Holt for a touchdown. But could he get the knockout? Putting a haymaker on Tennessee's resilient chin.
You, me, Joe and all the world found out.
Super Bowl records
Individual records set Sunday:
RUSHING YARDS, QUARTERBACK: 64, Steve McNair, Tennessee.
PASSING YARDS: 414, Kurt Warner, St. Louis.
RECEPTIONS, ROOKIE: 7, Torry Holt, St. Louis.
RECEIVING YARDS, ROOKIE: 109, Holt.
OLDEST HEAD COACH TO WIN: Dick Vermeil, 63, St. Louis.
OLDEST PLAYER: Mike Horan, 40, St. Louis.