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RAMS' SUCCESS DIFFICULT TO DUPLICATE

If St. Louis can win the Super Bowl, anyone can win the Super Bowl.

Football fans tempted to jump to that conclusion in the wake of the Rams' victory over Tennessee Sunday may want to think twice.

The Rams' victory in Super Bowl XXXIV was in some respects a testament to parity in the NFL. The Rams benefited from the league's weakest schedule in improving from 4-12 to 13-3. They were the first team ever to go from 0-8 in division to 8-0 in one year.

But the Rams also spent the decade drafting a hard-to-come-by core of blue-chip talent. Then they benefited from a couple extremely rare acquisitions - Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk.

That's a recipe that is not going to be easy for other teams to copy.

"I'm telling you, this was no fluke," insisted Rams coach Dick Vermeil in the Georgia Dome after his team's thrilling 23-16 triumph over the Titans.

With regard to overall talent, Vermeil can make a good case.

The Rams' average draft position in the '90s was ninth, the lowest in the league.

The anchor of their offensive line, Orlando Pace, was picked first overall in the draft. Their outstanding defensive ends, NFL sack leader Kevin Carter and Grant Wistrom (who some argue is as good as Carter) both were picked sixth overall.

Their best cornerback, Todd Lyght, was selected fifth overall. Their star rookie receiver, Torry Holt, was the sixth pick in last April's draft. Holt caught seven passes for a rookie Super Bowl record 109 yards and a touchdown. Pro Bowl receiver Isaac Bruce was taken at the top of the second round.

It's hard for a team to be awful long enough to accumulate that many high first-rounders.

"Did I think we were going to be in the Super Bowl this year? No," said Vermeil. "But I knew we were going to be a very good football team because we had a depth of mental toughness, good backups who could go in and play who a lot of people didn't know about, and we had talent. We have eight guys going to the Pro Bowl. Eight guys."

The Rams' talent took a great leap forward with the trade for Faulk, who cost the Rams only second- and fifth-round draft choices. It was a rare case in which a team - Indianapolis - was eager to unload a Pro Bowler. The NFL is a league in which big trades almost never happen, and when they do, they involve a swapping of draft picks. Trading a current Pro Bowler is unheard of.

"Once we got Marshall, now we had five guys who touch the ball on offense who could all score," Vermeil said.

Then there is Warner.

No championship quarterback ever had an out-of-nowhere story quite like Warner's.

"You've got to go all the way back to Johnny Unitas to find anything even close," said Jim Hanifan, the Rams' 66-year-old offensive line coach.

"The Colts had George Shaw, who had been rookie of the year the previous season," Hanifan said, referring to 1955. "But then George gets a knee injury, and here comes Unitas (who had come from semipro ball) into the fray, and he never left. To me, that's the closest parallel of them all, the only one that's close, I think. And that was 40 years ago."

Unitas, however, took three seasons to win his first championship. Warner is the greatest first-year starting quarterback ever.

Finally, the Rams benefited from great health, like many Super Bowl winners.

"Other than the Trent Green injury, we remained healthy," Vermeil said. "We had one offensive guard not start two games, and one fullback miss one start. Other than that, everybody started every football game. That is really tough to do in the National Football League."

Just like copying the Rams' rags-to-riches feat.

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