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TEAMS SHIVER AS TEMPERATURES HEAD SOUTH

Hands shivering, Chris Sanders carefully lifted the steaming, plastic foam cup to his lips.

"I don't even drink coffee," said the Tennessee Titans receiver. "I am today."

Temperatures are some 20 degrees below normal for this time of year in Atlanta and, to make matters worse, Tennessee's media functions were held in a giant tent outside the team's luxury hotel. Attempts at heating the temporary structure were futile on a 26-degree morning, with a wind chill of minus 8.

"I thought they would have heat in here," Titans tight end Larry Brown said, huddled at a table with a hood covering his head. "Oh, man, it's freezing."

The St. Louis Rams were more fortunate. They met with reporters in a large ballroom within their suburban hotel.

Both teams had to practice outside, the Titans at Georgia Tech, the Rams at the Atlanta Falcons' complex in suburban Suwanee.

The only indoor facility in the area is the Georgia Dome, site of Sunday's game. But the arena was set aside Wednesday and today for rehearsing the pregame and halftime shows.

Temperatures were expected to climb above freezing today and the Dome will be available the following day if conditions worsen, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. The forecast called for possible snow -- that's right, snow.

"I wish I had five jackets on, it's so cold out here," said Sanders, who wore a flimsy jacket to the news conference in the tent. "It feels like Alaska."

Kurt Warner's improbable run to the Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams earned another honor Wednesday. Warner won Player of the Year ahead of five other finalists, including teammate and running back Marshall Faulk, the Indianapolis threesome of quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and receiver Marvin Harrison, and Washington Redskins running back Stephen Davis.

"It was a truly incredible year that I couldn't have written a better script for how it turned out," Warner said. "All I can add would be a Super Bowl ring on Sunday."

Steve McNair took part in the Tennessee Titans' first practice for the Super Bowl despite an aching left toe, while receiver Yancey Thigpen didn't work out but still hopes to play.

Coach Jeff Fisher had described Thigpen's status as doubtful Wednesday morning. But the receiver, who has a hairline fracture in his right foot, was listed as questionable in the team's official injury report in the afternoon.

McNair is listed as questionable and has been wearing a plastic brace on his left foot to protect his case of turf toe. But he took "65 to 75 percent" of the snaps during practice.

Surely, the St. Louis Rams are destiny's team in the Super Bowl.

Caught in a downward spiral, with a coach squarely placed on the firing line and their high-priced quarterback out with a wrecked knee, the Rams staged a near-record turnaround. Fate must be smiling on them.

Ah, but what about the Tennessee Titans? Surely they, too, are destiny's team in the Super Bowl. Nomads caught on a treadmill -- three straight 8-8 records -- they changed uniforms, opened state-of-the-art Adelphia Coliseum and used a miracle play to start their postseason surge.

On Sunday, America will find out just who is charmed, who has the championship magic.

"I think you could say that, based on what has happened," Titans star runner Eddie George said. "I mean, one wild play is the difference in us being in this game. If that didn't happen, we wouldn't be here right now. I guess maybe it was destined for us to be here, but for us to win, that's a different story."

The Titans went 13-3, 8-0 at home, but were just a wild card because Jacksonville was 14-2 in the AFC Central and seemed to have been deserted by destiny when they fell behind Buffalo with 16 seconds left in a first-round playoff game.

Then came the Music City Miracle.

"We got that blessing to have that happen," George said, "so let's take advantage of it and go all the way. We have nothing else to lose. We've already experienced the pain of losing.

"There was a moment there when we were hurting. I was hurt on that bench, the pain that I felt was unbelievable. It was close to having someone die. Not quite as drastic as that, but it hurt almost that bad.

"But then the big play happened and I said, "Let's take advantage of this, because it's definitely a sign that we get another opportunity."
Thanks to come-from-nowhere players such as quarterback Kurt Warner and linebacker London Fletcher and their rise from last place last season to the Super Bowl this season, the Rams are an ultimate feel-good story.

But even their pretty picture has a smudge.

Meet second-year linebacker Leonard Little.

On Oct. 19, 1998, Little had been celebrating his 24th birthday with teammates. He was legally drunk when he climbed behind the wheel of his vehicle and headed home. He never made it. He slammed into a car driven by Susan Gutweiler, 47, at a downtown St. Louis intersection. Gutweiler, who was married and had a teen-age son, died the next day.

"That was the lowest point of my life," said Little, who was not injured in the accident.

In June, Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 90 nights in jail and four years' probation, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

The NFL suspended Little for the first eight games of the 1999 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Little's return was protested by a number of groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Going to the Super Bowl is a dream come true, but it has forced him to relive the nightmare.

"There are a ton of media here," Little said. "And I knew they were going to ask me questions about it. All my life I've been a good person, and I made a mistake a year and half ago. . . . I keep getting the same questions all the time. That's just something I have to go through. This is going to always be with me."

However, Little, who has a psychology degree from Tennessee, doesn't expect sympathy. He said that should go to the Gutweiler family.

"This a lifetime dream," Little said. "To be here is unbelievable. But I don't care what I go through the rest of my life, I'm still going to think about the situation anyway. A Super Bowl ring doesn't change this tragedy."

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