Ricky Proehl knew he was getting the ball.
He hadn’t scored a touchdown all season, and his 33 receptions were just the fifth-most on the team. Yet with the Rams’ season and Super Bowl contention on the line, with the Rams trailing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-5 with less than five minutes remaining in the 1999 NFC Championship game, Proehl had no doubt where the ball was headed. Now 14 years removed, the memory of the play that defined his career in St. Louis hasn’t faded a bit.
“At that particular time, we had started looking at the clock, saying we had to do something,” said Proehl, who is currently in his first year as the Carolina Panthers’ wide receivers coach.
“We were thinking touchdown at that point. We had a good play called. We called 585 H choice. We were trying to get Marshall one-on-one with the linebacker and we knew in the huddle, in that situation a lot of times they were going to bring pressure. We were ready for it.”
In deciphering film the week preceding the NFC championship, the Rams noted that when sending a safety on a blitz, the Buccaneers would anticipate all slants to the middle of the field. The Rams adjusted, making a fade to Proehl the first read against the blitz. As they moved to the line of scrimmage, Proehl and QB Kurt Warner saw the safety move from his perch in the middle of the field, and the play was set.
“I gave (Buccaneers CB) Brian Kelly a step to the slant, and it just froze him enough to where I could get over the top of him,” Proehl said. “Kurt made a great throw and the rest is history.”
The 30-yard touchdown reception that gave the Rams an 11-6 win and elevated the franchise to its first Super Bowl since moving to St. Louis almost immediately garnered the moniker, ‘The Catch,’ and remains perhaps the most momentous play in Edward Jones Dome history.
‘The Catch’ was the most memorable moment in what was a multi-tiered rivalry with Tampa Bay. The game featured the league’s best offense against the best defense, and there was no shortage of competitive banter between the two teams, both on the field and in the media. Buccaneers guard Frank Middleton and Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp frequently drew the ire of Rams players leading up to and following the NFC title game.
“There was a lot of talking going on,” Proehl said. “The greatest thing about that team was that we always got a team’s best. We were facing what was probably the best defense in the league and it was a challenge for us. We loved that challenge. We took pride in what we did. We knew we could score points against that defense as we did all year, and it was just a great challenge. It was everything you want in a football game as a football player. It was the best on the best. We were going to give it all we’ve got, and they gave the same in return.”
That rivalry will be revisited on Sunday, when the Rams will wear throwback uniforms from 1999 against the Buccaneers. The memory of that 1999 team remains prevalent not only in the minds of Rams fans, who will be treated to the throwbacks on the team’s ‘Fan Appreciation Day,’ but also with Proehl.
The 17-year NFL veteran would play seven more seasons and make two more Super Bowl appearances after ‘The Catch,’ but little could compare to his experiences with the 1999 Rams.
“For me, it was so special to be a part of that team, and I emphasize ‘team,’” Proehl said. “We had a group of guys who didn’t care who got the recognition. We just wanted to win. We were just such a selfless team and for me personally, to make that play in that situation, it was a dream come true.”