Does Super Bowl rate as an all-time classic?

Pro football fans slowly are coming down off that towering athletic high produced by the St. Louis Rams splendidly scintillating 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the Super Bowl.

So where does it rank in terms of all-time greatest moments in sports?

Or does it?

The Rams improbably build a 16-0 lead over the more talented Titans. But St. Louis falls apart and Tennessee finally ties the score with 2:12 left. Then former grocery store-stock boy Kurt Warner, pummeled the entire game at quarterback, hits Rams receiver Isaac Bruce with a 73-yard scoring pass to regain the lead with 1:54 left. St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil, thought by many to be too tough and too old school for today's players, is vindicated.

Wait, hold the vindication. Tennessee and QB Steve McNair drive the field.

On the final play, Kevin Dyson catches a McNair pass right at the goal as the game ends but is drilled by Rams linebacker Mike Jones in a brilliant one-on-one tackle, just short of the touchdown.

Warner, who wasn't even good enough to start in college at Northern Iowa until his senior year, which is why he has mostly played football in European and Arena settings, establishes a Super Bowl record with 414 yards. That surpasses Joe Montana's 357. Vermeil retires.

Whew.

On the other hand, perhaps the whole thing is no big deal because it involved two teams lacking in glamour and tradition and, maybe, ability. Few outside the inner circle truly cared who won. It was Missouri's team vs. Tennessee's team but no America's Team.

The Rams weren't wanted in Los Angeles, which is how they got to St. Louis; neither the Oilers nor their name was wanted in Houston, which is how they became the Titans of Tennessee.

So the point definitely can be argued that as great bread cannot be made without yeast, great games cannot be produced without storied participants. What's a fan to think?

Keeping in mind that sports aficionados agree on nothing, at least a case can be made that the greatest moment in pro football was in 1969 when the upstart New York Jets and braggadocio quarterback Joe Namath somehow whipped the proud Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Another mountaintop moment is Tom Dempsey's 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in 1970. It's hard to ignore the terrific 1958 NFL Championship game when Johnny Unitas and the Colts prevailed over the Giants 23-17 in overtime. In many ways, that game is still the standard for all games.

Yet, these pro-football high points pale when we scan the broad panoply of extraordinary moments in all of sport.

Many believe that the No. 1 event was the "Miracle on Ice," the still unbelievable semifinal triumph by the ragtag United States hockey team over the hugely talented Soviets in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y. Hank Aaron's 715th homer in 1974, topping Babe Ruth's record, and Bobby Thomson's 1951 homer that won the pennant for the Giants over the Dodgers are sterling moments in sports.

There are so many: The horse, Secretariat, beating all in 1973; gymnast Mary Lou Retton going gold in the 1984 Olympics; Jesse Owens and his four golds in the 1936 Games; Don Larsen's perfect World Series no-hitter; Roger Bannister's first-ever four-minute mile; Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a single game; Mark Spitz bedecked in all that 1972 Olympic swimming gold; Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle.

It's an extremely crowded stage when talk turns to most-fantastic moments. It will be hard, from an historical perspective, to shoehorn Sunday's remarkable Super Bowl into the top 20 to 25 heart-stopping moments in sports. It was very, very good but, alas, not quite good enough.

Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann says it's "the finest Super Bowl I have ever seen." But we can't forget the 1987 game when the Giants edged Buffalo 20-19.

Pretty good. And in 1971, Baltimore beat Dallas 16-13 in a nifty contest.

Pittsburgh and Dallas played two fine games in 1976 and 1979.

After Sunday's game, Kurt Warner marveled, "I am truly blessed." All who watched were, too, because the game had so much. It thrilled when we had a mind-set to be bored. It made us care when we thought we didn't.

It was a great, great sports moment, but not among the greatest. Maybe next year.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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