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History suggests Rams-Bucs will provide must-see TV Monday night

Few rivalries in Bucs lore have provided as much hysteria and history as their clashes with the Rams.
The Bucs fell to the Rams, 9-0, in the NFC title game at the end of the 1979 season.
The Bucs fell to the Rams, 9-0, in the NFC title game at the end of the 1979 season.
Published Nov. 20, 2020|Updated Nov. 22, 2020

They are neither division nor geographic rivals. On average, they meet about once every other season. Their demographics, culture, even time zones place their cities on literal opposite ends of the nation’s spectrum.

But when it comes to creating instant classics, the Rams and Bucs have forged a kinship like few others in the NFL.

“We’ve had some great games against those guys,” former Bucs linebacker Richard “Batman” Wood said. “Tough games.”

The franchises meets for the 26th time Monday night, and history suggests at least a 50 percent chance of a doozy. Thirteen of their previous 25 encounters have been decided by seven or fewer points, including six by a field goal or less. They have converged to produce offensive shootouts and defensive stalemates, staggering comebacks and startling controversy.

At one point in the rivalry, the Bucs held the Rams without a touchdown for 14 consecutive quarters — and still lost a conference championship game in the process. And how’s this for a juxtaposition? Less than 11 months after combining for 17 points and one touchdown in the 2000 NFC title game (an 11-6 Rams win), the teams totaled 73 points and 832 yards in a 38-35 playoff-clinching win for the Bucs on Monday Night Football.

“There were so many ebbs and flows in that game,” Shaun King, Bucs quarterback in both contests, said of the latter. “Probably the best game I’ve ever played in.”

But for a moment, put the hysteria aside and consider the history.

The Rams, based for 21 seasons in St. Louis (1995-2015), have been part of some of the Bucs’ landmark moments. They were the opponent for Tampa Bay’s first preseason game (July 31, 1976), first prime time game (Sept. 11, 1980) and first two NFC title games. Their latest encounter Monday night will feature the NFL’s first all-Black officiating crew.

“I think it’s a historic night, and I think it’s fantastic,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said.

Speaking of historic and fantastic, here is a list of the rivalry’s top five games. Historical significance, stakes, dramatic effect and sheer excitement of the game all were considered.

5. Rams 9, Bucs 0

Rams receiver Preston Dennard (88) scoots past Bucs linebacker Richard Wood (54). Dennard caught three passes for 56 yards in the Jan. 6, 1980 game at Tampa Stadium.
Rams receiver Preston Dennard (88) scoots past Bucs linebacker Richard Wood (54). Dennard caught three passes for 56 yards in the Jan. 6, 1980 game at Tampa Stadium. [ Times (1980) ]

Jan. 6, 1980

Tampa Stadium

Winless as an expansion franchise only three years earlier, the Bucs’ “Worst to First” transformation culminated with their inaugural appearance in the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs already had stifled the Rams in September with a 21-6 victory in Week 4 and refused to bend in the rematch. Los Angeles amassed 216 rushing yards but couldn’t penetrate the end zone for the second consecutive game against Tampa Bay, settling for three short Frank Corral field goals. Problem was, the Bucs managed only five completions against future Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood and Co. and didn’t cross midfield until the third quarter. “No touchdowns, that’s what our decree was before we played that game that week,” said Wood. “No touchdowns, we win the game. But we didn’t say field goals.”

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4. Bucs 10, Rams 9

Doug Williams (12) and the Bucs line up during a game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 11, 1980. The Bucs won the game 10-9.
Doug Williams (12) and the Bucs line up during a game against the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 11, 1980. The Bucs won the game 10-9. [ Times (1980) ]

Sept. 11, 1980

Tampa Stadium

The first prime time game in Bucs history gave ABC’s Howard Cosell and Co. plenty about which to pontificate. Eight months after the Rams’ 9-0 triumph in the NFC title game at Tampa Stadium, the rematch was staged at the same site for a then-rare Thursday night encounter. “I just knew it was payback,” Wood said. “It was payback time, for keeping us out of the Super Bowl. … There was no way they were going to win that game.” With quarterback Doug Williams battling strep throat, coach John McKay again leaned on his defense, which intercepted Vince Ferragamo four times. A pass-interference call against Rams safety Ivory Sully near his own goal line allowed Williams to score the winner on a 1-yard run with 57 seconds to play.

3. Bucs 26, Rams 14

Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks heads for the end zone after intercepting a pass by St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner late in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' 26-14 win on Sept. 23, 2002 in Tampa.
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks heads for the end zone after intercepting a pass by St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner late in the fourth quarter of the Bucs' 26-14 win on Sept. 23, 2002 in Tampa. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press (2002) ]

Sept. 23, 2002

Raymond James Stadium

Though he evolved into one of the most improbable Hall of Famers ever, Rams quarterback Kurt Warner didn’t exactly build his Canton resume against the Bucs. Case in point: this Monday night matchup early in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl season, when Warner was sacked five times and intercepted four. The last pick was the most poignant. Veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks, who had re-entered the game despite a nagging left hamstring issue, stepped in front of a Warner throw intended for Lamar Gordon and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown with 59 seconds remaining, sealing the triumph. After reaching the end zone, Brooks kept running, right through the tunnel and toward the trainer’s room. “I didn’t want to make any sudden moves or stop running,” Brooks told reporters afterward. “I just needed to get some ice.”

2. Rams 11, Bucs 6

Bucs receiver Bert Emanuel's apparent catch on the Bucs' last-gasp drive in the 2000 NFC title game was ruled an incompletion upon review. The ruling helped preserve the Rams' 11-6 triumph.
Bucs receiver Bert Emanuel's apparent catch on the Bucs' last-gasp drive in the 2000 NFC title game was ruled an incompletion upon review. The ruling helped preserve the Rams' 11-6 triumph. [ Times (2000) ]

Jan. 23, 2000

Trans World Dome, St. Louis

Tampa Bay’s second appearance in an NFC title game possibly remains the most bitter defeat in team history. Behind Warner, the Rams offense had evolved into the “Greatest Show on Turf,” averaging nearly 33 points a game. But the Tony Dungy/Monte Kiffin defensive juggernaut known as the “Tampa Two” intercepted Warner three times and held eventual Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk to 49 total yards. The Rams went ahead on receiver Ricky Proehl’s 30-yard one-handed touchdown catch (his first of the year) with 4:44 to play, then the madness ensued. King, a rookie, drove the Bucs near the Rams red zone and, after being sacked at the 36-yard line with 51 seconds to play, flung a dart to receiver Bert Emanuel inside the 25. To the puzzlement of the national television audience, officials reviewed the play extensively and ruled the nose of the ball had touched the ground during Emanuel’s catch, making it incomplete. As a result, the NFL adopted the “Bert Emanuel Rule,” allowing for a catch to stand if a receiver maintains possession and control of the ball even if it touches the ground. Fat lotta good it did for the Bucs or posterity; 20 years later, no one still knows for certain what constitutes a catch in the NFL.

1. Bucs 38, Rams 35

Bucs quarterback Shaun King (10) celebrates with left tackle George Hegamin (79) after Warrick Dunn's game-winning touchdown in the Bucs' 38-35 win over the Rams on Dec. 18, 2000 in Tampa.
Bucs quarterback Shaun King (10) celebrates with left tackle George Hegamin (79) after Warrick Dunn's game-winning touchdown in the Bucs' 38-35 win over the Rams on Dec. 18, 2000 in Tampa. [ Times (2000) ]

Dec. 18, 2000

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

Eleven months after exiting the Trans World Dome in dejection and disgust, the Bucs got their rematch with a playoff berth at stake before a raucous Monday night home crowd of 65,653. “It was crazy,” King recalled. “I mean, the crowd was wild, there was so much buildup of emotion from what happened the year before, and everybody’s feeling like we got cheated.” As entertainment value goes, no one got cheated this night, which featured six lead changes and an enthralling final five minutes. After King’s fade pass was intercepted in the end zone, Warner made the Bucs pay, firing a slant pass to receiver Torry Holt, who turned upfield for a 72-yard touchdown and 35-31 lead with 5:18 to play. The Bucs did nothing on the next possession, but the defense forced the Rams into a three and out, giving the hosts the ball with 2:22 left and 80 yards to cover. What ensued was King’s shining moment as a pro: a 12-play drive in which the Bucs converted once each on third and fourth down. The most memorable play came on a swing pass to Dunn, who nearly was tackled by defensive lineman Kevin Carter behind the line of scrimmage but escaped in time to pitch the ball back to King. “He was coming to me and I was like, ‘Pitch it, pitch it, pitch it!,’ " King said. “Kevin had to grab the back of his jersey, he pitched it to me, and hey, I found a little seam.” King scurried down the sideline to midfield and got out of bounds at the 50, and a late hit tacked on 15 more yards. His 6-yard scramble to the 23 on fourth and 4 preserved the drive, and his 22-yard strike to receiver Reidel Anthony set up Dunn’s 1-yard touchdown dive — though it was far longer than that since Dunn took a deep pitch around the Rams 8-yard line, ran to his left and leaped from near the 4, soaring over the goal line with 48 seconds left. “I got a lot of gratification and satisfaction out of it, because I’ve always felt like we could’ve done a little more on offense (in the championship game),” King said. “We only needed to get to 12 (points) the year before. So to come out and kind of outdo the Greatest Show on Turf, the was pretty special.”

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