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FINAL FOUR OFFER A REFRESHING CHANGE OF PACE TO FANS

Get ready for a new-look Super Bowl.

The teams that have dominated pro football the past decade -- Denver, Green Bay, Dallas, San Francisco and, yes, Buffalo -- all are sitting home.

Still playing are four teams that never have crashed the NFL's ultimate party -- at least not in their current place of residence. They will fight it out today for the right to go to Atlanta and play in Super Bowl XXXIV next Sunday.

The NFC Championship Game pits the St. Louis Rams against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In the AFC Championship Game, the Jacksonville Jaguars host the Tennessee Titans, the team that ended the Bills' season two weeks ago. Talk about the meek inheriting the turf.

St. Louis and Tampa Bay entered this season with the NFC's two worst records of the '90s. Jacksonville just entered the league as an expansion franchise five years ago. Tennessee has been the league's stepchild, bouncing from Houston to Memphis to Nashville over the previous five years and making the playoffs in none of those seasons.

Casual fans searching for a sentimental rooting interest need look no further than St. Louis.

Rams quarterback Kurt Warner is the NFL's most charming Cinderella story since Doug Flutie. This is a guy who five years ago was working for $5.50 an hour stocking shelves at a grocery store in Iowa.

Nobody in the NFL wanted him. So he played in the indoor Arena League. Then he went to Amsterdam and played in the NFL Europe League. Finally, the Rams gave him a job as a backup last year, and he took over at the start of this season when Rams starter Trent Green got hurt.

All Warner did was throw 41 touchdown passes and lead an offense that scored the third-most points in NFL history. The Rams went from 4-12 last year to 13-3.

"I can't believe this is true," said Rams fan Jim Stealey at a pep rally in St. Louis Friday. "At the beginning of the season, I would have been happy with a 9-7 record. Now we're in the NFC Championship Game. Imagine that."

The Rams are favored by 14 points to beat the Bucs. Jacksonville is favored by seven over Tennessee, even though the Titans handed the Jaguars their only two losses of the season.

The two games present similar matchups. St. Louis and Jacksonville have high-scoring offenses. Tampa and Tennessee play it safe on offense and rely on their defenses to control the game.

If the Rams make the Super Bowl, it actually will be their second trip. They got there in 1979 (and lost), but that's when they were playing in Los Angeles. They relocated to the Midwest in 1995.

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